Wessex Culture

Wessex Culture

Thursday, 20 September 2012


I have kind of left this blog in limbo, while working on my own novel, STONE LORD, and maintining regular posting on the blog for it (book due out soon, hint, hint!)
Anyway, I am going to continue with Pre-hysterics but not with really in depth reviews of books, just a general synopsis and brief opinion of how  each prehistoric novel seemed to me.

Prehistoric novel supposed  to take place in Ireland around 2000 BC.I  was quite excited at the thought of this, as there is only one other neolithic/bronze age Irish novel out there, BENDING THE BOYNE, which I reviewed earlier.
  I was a bit disappointed. Basically, it was just a retelling of  some of the stories in the Book of Invasions, with characters a little more fleshed out. There were a few mention of stones and other monuments,  one short ritual and a human sacrifice to Crom Cruac, but the rest seems pretty standard and kind of anachronistic--people fighting with full length swords, playing  bodhrans and so on.
  There's little that would differentiate it between other periods such as the iron age, so falls into what I've described as 'generic prehistoric.'
   I actually plan to do something with the book of Invasions myself at some point--something similar, making the Invasions real instead of mythical.  However, I  hope I can get bring out the sense of it being in the real neolithic/bronze age rather than a mythical times of Kings and Queens in fancy robes and crowns.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Review: Bending the Boyne J.S Dunne

This British and Irish bronze age is my specialty; I have been studying it for 30 years. Over this time, I have found less than 12 novels actually set in this period...and many of them were pretty dreadful, poorly researched, with either fluffy ideas or else giving our ancestors some kind of mystic powers, as if they were too stupid to advance their own civilisation by building great structures such as Newgrange or Stonehenge and needed some kind of outside help.

This is one of the better novels on the subject. 

It has some flaws, such as jerky scene transitions, and in my opinion the neolithic natives are a bit too 'fluffy bunny' (ie peaceful, in tune with the earth happy hippy types--in fact, there is plenty of evidence of neolithic warfare, at least as much as in the bronze age,despite the more martial appearance of the later beaker folk.)
However, despite this, and some jarring modern turns of phrase such as 'yer man' and 'banjaxed' (I think the author was trying to show that the incoming bronze age people were the 'celts' and hence gave them Irish turns of phrase, but these are such modern expressions, it really didn't work.

The parts regarding use of trade routes between Ireland and the Atlantic coast were very good and up to date archaeologically; the copper smelting bit was excellent.

A bit more editing,perhaps one more draft for flow and a little less of the 'wise noble savage'ideology, and it would have been a very good book on this neglected era of prehistory.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


As mentioned earlier, there is very little fiction written about prehistoric Britain, or indeed anywhere else in neolithic and bronze age Europe. Paleolithic and mesolithic times seem more popular for writers (surprisingly,considering the greater antiquity) and then from the Iron age through the Roman period and the dawn of written history there are loads. Obviously the bronze and neolithic eras seem to give authors 'trouble.' This is often bourne out by the books themselves.
Here is my list of big turn offs (for me personally):
1) Fluffy bunnies. Depictions of prehistoric people as pacifist Great Goddess-worshipping vegans with nothing better to do than hug stones and 'live in harmony with earth' (whatever that means) and wait for the novel's 'baddies' to swoop down on them. Come on, folks, Gimbutas  was discredited years ago, and was mainly talking about an earlier era anyway. There's lots of evidence of warfare and even mass killing in the neolithic, and some farmers practiced slash-burning (not very green!)
2) Mean Beakers! Lots of 80's novels had the nice fluffies (see above) attacked by the mean, violent  patriarchal Beaker folk who  were just ravenously after tin and gold. Of course no one really believes in a mass Beaker invasion today (although I do believe in beaker people, unlike some! The Amesbury Archer isn't exactly Scotch Mist!) but there certainly was acculturation, a 'beaker package' that spread with what was probably a small number of people. Interestingly, despite the more martial appearance of the beaker folk, with their composite bows, wrist guards and daggers, there is actually less evidence for out-and-out warfare in the neolithic.
3) Bad nomenclature. We don't know exactly what tongues were spoken by the neolithic and bronze age  Britons...but naming your characters names like Og and Tor is just plain lazy and sounds like it comes from some 60's Dinosaur and Caveman movie. Be a bit creative! Do some research! It is  quite possible and even probable that some form of a proto-celtic language was in Britain by at least 2500 BC. before that...maybe something like Basque (as least one author writing of mesolithic Scots gave them Basque names.)
4) generic prehistoric. This is my name for what is pure laziness on the author's behalf. The setting could be anywhere, for instance if you changed the names it could be an African village. If it doesn't feel like it's really set in prehistoric Britain, then it isn't working. I also include the ones here who start out with the characters at Stonehenge, then suddenly the monument's  never mentioned again, and all of a sudden they seem to have anachronistic long swords and seem in dress and manner  as if they could be magically tranported into the early middle ages.
5) Weird ideas about what people looked like. Several novels I've read had virtually all the prehistoric Britons as blondes and redheads, who thought a dark haired person looked alien and strange. Look around you at the 'celtic' areas where the most ancient ancestry is found--the more 'traditional' you get, the darker the hair gets, with considerable black hair in Ireland for such a northerly latitude. It always amused me...if vikings were blonde and Saxons were blonde and 'celts' were blonde, where the heck did all us brunettes come from? (And please don't say Romans or I might have to kill you...)

Monday, 2 January 2012


Novels set in Britain's various historical phases are very common,especially those dealing with the medieval era through to the Georgian era. However, prehistory is a different story. A few 'celtic' novels and much Roman/Arthurian fiction exists, but the earlier eras are disapppointingly absent in literature, particularly the neolithic and bronze ages. Obviously some would say this is because there is so much subjecture about this period, but that is also true of earlier  periods and there is a plethora of  paleolithic/mesolithic fiction set in Europe ala 'Clan of the cave Bear' and its many imitators. Stonehenge is an iconic image all around the world but you can count the novels about it on one hand, and, oddly enough, several of those seem to be written by people jumping on the 'Clan of the Cave Bear' bandwagon in the 80's, and who had no real knowledge of the monument or its people--and it showed.A few authors did do some research but slightly spoiled it by giving names such as 'Peterborough Ware' people to the tribes in their books--these are archaeological terms,  not what people would have called themselves!
   Recently, many new fascinating new items about ancient Britain have hit the headlines--the huge settlement at Durrington walls and its massive midwinter feasts; West Amesbury henge which is at the end of the Stonehenge avenue, by the Avon; the definitive dating of the Marlborough mound as neolithic, a mini Silbury; the incredible painted temple complex just unearthed in Orkney. Hopefully, some of these finds will soon inspire good modern  writers to produce some books set in the neolithic and bronze ages!
(Or maybe I'll just have to write them myself!!)