This week has been rather busy: recovery from half term, the production of the parish magazine which I now edit for my sins and a visit from McOther’s folks. As a result there hasn’t been time for much.
However, this afternoon, I got out into our garden for a spot of metal detecting. Our garden is a bit hit and miss. The first thing I found in it was a clay pipe head; early because it was small, from the period when tobacco was still expensive. The second thing was this.
So, this afternoon, I thought I’d go and have a look outside and see what I could find. One hole was left with the ‘treasure’ in situ because Harrison, our nut bar cat, wee-ed in it. Several other holes were left open so Harrison could dig vigorously in them, gnaw at roots and roll in the diggings, leaving me free to find more
shite old nails treasure uninterrupted by the constant signal from the identity disk on his collar.
With a LOT of help from the cat, I finally managed to discover that our lawn appears to have been laid on a large piece of crappy 1970s carpet.
I also managed to dig up this impressive collection of total crap.
The nails range from modern to hand made and a couple of hundred years old. The round blob on the right is a lead thing and is… well I’m hoping it came out of a cannon because that would make it interesting to me even if it’s worth jack all and of no interest to anyone else.
So, in summary, metaphorical frogs kissed: 10. Handsome princes found: none.
Meanwhile sometime in the last two years or so, McOther had found a… um… metal thing in the garden. After a great deal of thought and brain wracking he has come to the conclusion that he probably found it while sieving the stones out of the earth for a flowerbed he made. After a few months of it lying about in his office he got round to showing it to me, just before Christmas.
“Can you show this to your metal detecting club,” he says.
“OK,” I look at it and shrug. It looks like a shite bit of faux old metal, the kind of thing that gets imported from China on pretending-to-be-medieval boxes and the like. “What is it?”
“If I knew I wouldn’t need you to ask them.”
“Fair point. Where did you get it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“What do you reckon this is?” I ask the chairman of the club, who is pretty knowledgeable.
He perks up at once as I hand it over.
“This looks really old, where did you get it?”
“I’m not sure, McOther found it.”
“Hmm, I think it might be part of a Saxon cruciform broach. It’s a horse’s head. It’s got copper bug eyes, a stylised snout and those round things are it’s nostrils. There’s a line across his head where the browband* goes too.”
“Show it to the FLO.”
* part of a horse’s bridle, brow band above the eyes, nosemband across the nose.
So I join the queue for the FLO, that s, the Finds Liaison Officer which is always good because I get to see some of the amazing stuff my fellow club mates have dug up. In this case, highlight is a bronze age axe head, that another member of the club has dug up and he also has a really cool celtic coin.
“What do you think it is?” the FLO asks me when I present him with McOther’s piece of tat.
“I dunno, the Chairman reckons it could be Saxon, and a horse but I thought it was probably an arts and crafts bracket or some bit of Victorian shite.”
“Hmm… what if I told you the Chairman is right and your bit of old shite was actually over a thousand years old?”
Yes, so it turns out it’s a bit of a 5th Century Saxon cruciform broach and McOther found it on the surface of the soil, the way I found the bead. Yet when I get the detector out and dig, suddenly, I have a garden full of shite. Except that I know I don’t. The stuff is there and I will find it eventually. I just have to perservere… and find the cat something else to do while I’m going about it.
So how is this relevant to writing?
Well, this week, I discovered that, like the second one, the last two books of the K’Barthan Series have failed dismally to make the cut for the Wishing Shelf Awards. I’ve kind of hoped that they might squeak onto the short list. I’ve kind of hoped that with all three because the first one came third, or second, they said third at the time but they say second now… the point is I was expecting it to come nowhere.
However, try as I might, the kids who voted the first one onto the list have not enjoyed the subsequent ones enough. Or maybe there are just a lot more books around that are way better than mine, or at, a lot more of the books that are miles better than mine are being entered. Or maybe I’ve lost my mojo. Or maybe there was a t in the month and an r in the day and I needed it to be the other way around. Who knows? Whatever it is, I have been unable to repeat the feat. Maybe the current work in progress will be good enough to get onto the 2015 short list… maybe but probably not. The thing is, I’ll enter it anyway. The feedback, alone, is worth the price of entry.
You may be wondering how this ties in with finding Saxon stuff when you’re not trying, and a selection of nails, three milk bottle tops, a lead thing and the head of pitching wedge when you try really hard. Well, I guess my detectoristic plight reflects two tenuous and slightly contradictory lessons.
First thing: don’t force it. Sometimes, if you just relax and go with the flow you’ll hit gold… or at least second/third, or a Saxon copper horse head.
Second thing: keep trying. Because just as any detectorist will tell you, to find your gold stater you will have to dig up a lot of shite. So whatever it is you’re doing, trying to dig up Saxon stuff, trying to write a book – or at least one that you don’t wish someone else had written – or trying to write a book that’s good enough to get onto an award shortlist, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time trying before you get it right. Or, as any fairy godmother will explain, if you want to find your handsome prince, you are going to have to kiss a lot of frogs.