Take it away, Susanna....
One of the key things I have to decide when I start a new book is what method I’m going to be using to make the connection between past and present. In The Shadowy Horses, which isn’t a time slip—the whole story happens in one place and time—the nature of the history itself meant an archaeological dig would be perfect to give me the link that I needed, a link that was helpfully physical.
I have to confess, archaeology’s one of my “things”. I love reading about it, and learning about it, so losing myself in the research was easy. But reading about something can only take you so far, and with every book there comes a time when I have to get out there and find a real person to help me.
I wrote this book back in the mid-1990s. Although I’d been published by then, I was still shy of saying that I was a writer. And while I’d left my job as curator of a community museum, I’d stayed active in the Ontario Museum Association and was keeping up my qualifications, just in case. It was actually during an OMA seminar that I got talking to one of the presenters, an archaeologist, who seemed approachable enough that I got brave enough later to dig out his business card and call his office in hopes I could ask a few questions about doing actual field work. It turned out that he wasn’t working that day, but by a stroke of luck his business partner, fellow archaeologist Heather Henderson, picked up the phone when I called, and as soon as she heard what I wanted she offered to help me herself.
Heather became an invaluable consultant for me, helping me set up my fictional field crew and telling me what they would need, and advising me, from her experience, how they should tackle the field.
Some of the work was familiar to me. The whole process of cleaning and cataloguing finds, for example, was much like what I had done as a curator. I knew how to do that, and knew how it felt.
Here’s my heroine, Verity, starting to deal with a day’s worth of finds in The Shadowy Horses:
‘It took a certain twist of mind to do this work. Jeannie, after watching me labor for twenty minutes, had pronounced my job “fykie”, and when I’d later looked up the word in my trusty Scots dictionary I’d thought it awfully appropriate. Like cleaning whorled silver or painting in miniature, dealing with finds was indeed a fykie task.
I’d always felt a wistful sense of envy for my colleagues who broke open long-sealed tombs, or for film heroes who scraped about in the dirt for twenty seconds before pulling out some rare bejewelled and golden statue, carefully preserved, intact.
Almost everything I’d ever touched—with the notable exception of one small military dagger—had come to me in pieces, dull with dirt and worn with age.
The Rosehill dig, so far, was no exception. Every new day brought more bits of animal bone and shattered pottery and broken metalwork. And every scrap and fragment, no matter how unimpressive it might appear, had to be cleaned, sorted and labeled with an identifying number.’
It’s the kind of unglamorous, tedious work no one talks about much when they write fiction set in museums, although it consumed a great part of my time when I worked in one.
I knew, from having seen archaeologists in the field, that their work was just as unglamorous and tedious in places—all that digging and scraping and mapping and sieving and measuring—but with Heather’s help I was able to balance realism with a close view of the parts that I found fascinating (why you don’t smoke cigarettes on dig sites, for example, or why you don’t sit on the edge of a trench).
She told me, as well, there’d be differences between the way we did things on this side of the pond and the way that they did things in Scotland, so to help me at that end I contacted an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh—the very place my hero, David Fortune, would be working. Not only did I learn what it would take to plan and run a dig in Eyemouth, in the Scottish borders, but the people I was dealing with took Davy on as if he were a member of their faculty, scheduling him for meetings and informing me he couldn’t possibly go down to work in Eyemouth one week, because he should be invigilating end-of-term exams!
|The Field at "Rosehill", in Eyemouth"|
And now I’m curious—if you could join (or lead!) a field crew digging anywhere at all, where would you want to go, and what would you be digging to uncover?
A huge thanks to Susanna Kearsley for such an interesting guest post! I've been fascinated by archaeology since I was little and it's always been a dream of mine to be on a dig in Egypt. One day, maybe!?
About the Book
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
With its dark legends and passionate history, the windswept shores of Scotland are an archaeologist’s dream. Verity Grey is thrilled by the challenge of uncovering an ancient Roman campsite in a small village. But as soon as she arrives, she can sense danger in the air.
Her eccentric boss, Peter Quinnell, has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he’s finally found it – not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local boy has ‘seen’ a Roman soldier walking in the fields, a ghostly sentinel who guards the bodies of his long-dead comrades.
Surprisingly, Verity believes in Peter, and the boy, and even in the Sentinel, who seems determined to become her own protector...but from what?
About the Author
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