Monday, June 04, 2012

Author J.S. Dunn's research brings authenticity to novel of Bronze Age

1.) What brought you to write historical fiction, especially that set in the North Atlantic during the Bronze Age?

You mean, what eejit would spend ten years researching the early Bronze Age in cold, damp Ireland and along north Atlantic coasts! It helped to be living in Ireland at the time, where I developed a keen interest in the great Boyne passage mounds, what culture built those and why. Why were those enormous, engineered mounds later called elfmounds? That seems like quite a piece of propaganda.

As the research progressed, it became clear that Something Big happened at circa 2500-2200 BCE. Fortunately many eminent archaeologists of our day agree with that. Don't you just love it when that happens? The whole paradigm for the Bronze Age is shifting due to new archaeology, linguistics, and genetics findings. This is the first fiction to use the new approach.

So the conflict in this novel is between old and new cultures and concerns change. How will the native Starwatchers who built the mounds adapt to the incoming marauders who want to exploit Eire's copper and gold. Parts of the plot follow the myth of Aengus, but the physical setting strives to be factual. That’s another first – this novel of ancient Eire uses no anachronistic iron swords, and no fluffy fairy folk or druids.

2.) What relations do you see between the ancient world and today's world?

The novel Bending the Boyne contains many political references including a quote from Gerry Adams, “Making peace is harder than making war.”

Also, issues of ecology and sustainability come into play. Early mining and smelting left a chemical trace, arsenic and other nasty residues, that can be detected today from soil core analysis. From ancient Cyprus to southern Spain, the land denuded of trees for ancient mining has never recovered. Spain used to be green and covered with a forest, now it’s a desert south of the Pyrenees. That’s just fact and plain to see. Are we going to get it, the lessons visible from the past, and use our environment wisely?

3.) Can you tell us about some of your future writing projects?

Thanks for asking – an excerpt from the second novel has just been accepted for an anthology of historical fiction. The second novel is set around 1600 BCE, another period of change in the Atlantic Bronze Age.

4.) Who are some authors you feel have influenced you as a writer?

Definitely: Robert Harris, Mary Renault, Edward Rutherfurd, James Michener. And Jean Auel for making the Paleolithic accessible to the modern reader, which I hope to do for the Bronze Age.

5.) Which do you do more of, writing or research? And how do you relate them to one another?

Am obsessive about the research and using primary source material whether it’s astronomy, archaeology, paleobotany, or genetics. And, I must have redrafted each chapter in Bending The Boyne at least twenty times. No doubt the second novel will take several years to finish as well.

Here is an example. An article in a genetics journal concluded that the Irish pygmy shrew came to ancient Eire from northern Spain (and not the UK). So that tidbit prompted an entire new chapter and subplot in the next novel about a fellow who hitches a voyage from Spain disguised as a pack of skins – only to find shrews bothering him at night during the trip!  Solid research adds so much to telling the tale, it cannot be overlooked.

6.) According to your site, you have traveled quite a bit. Where are some of the places you have been, and where are some places you look forward to traveling to in the future?

Have explored 5000 year old copper mines in northern Spain (and the local wines and goat cheeses were excellent), and a small mound on Anglesey off Wales, and the large passage mounds and stone rows of the Morbihan in Brittany, France; to name a few. The megaliths are usually located on high with scenic vistas and can be very moving places to visit, unforgettable.

I really enjoy the travels; rough days hiking around remote sites but staying in good country hotels at night is the way to do it. Also it pays to get a local driver rather than renting a car. The local can find things much faster than the tourist – that is, once they understand my Spanglish or bad French. Later in 2012 I hope to see sites in Cornwall, and in Ar Mor/northwest Brittany, then drop down to southern Galicia and Portugal. The research sets the itinerary.

Travel tip:  RyanAir can fly you around within Europe for less than $50 USD if one books the flight(s) early enough. I’m a huge fan of that airline despite its no-frills reputation. But go online to book the flights from the States, and well in advance of your trip to Europe (via a US or major carrier).

For more on author J. S. Dunn, please visit:
J.S. Dunn Books
Seriously Good Books
Amazon page for Bending the Boyne

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