Welcome to my writer's log. I'm using this blog as my writer's notebook to keep a record of my writing and research activities. You're quite welcome to swing by and have a look.

By Helen Steadman, Mar 10 2018 03:01PM

Last weekend, I finished writing Sunwise, the sequel to Widdershins and sent it off to my publisher, Impress Books. There’s sure to be a lot more rewriting and editing to do before it’s published later this year or early next, but in the meantime, I need to get started on novel number three.

This novel will be inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who originated in Solingen, Germany. For now, I’m calling it Running Wolves (a reference to the Solingen blade mark), but as I often change my mind about names, it may well end up being called something else.

As with Widdershins and Sunwise, this novel is set in the seventeenth century, and it needs a huge amount of research to underpin it. I wrote Widdershins for my MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School and I’m writing Running Wolves for my PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen. The name of the research project is ‘Elsewhere to be’.

So far, I’ve carried out a literature review and read lots of books about swords, swordmakers, swordmaking, early metal working, metallurgy, and local history in both Derwentside and Solingen. Next, I buried myself in the archives to study the swordmakers’ correspondence. It was a deeply humbling experience to read letters to and from the swordmakers, which were written over three hundred years ago.

Other research will include practising blacksmithing techniques and later this year, I’ll be making my own sword! This can be a helpful way to carry out research; for Widdershins, I did some herbal medicine training at Dilston Physic Garden, and went on to grow my own herbs and make herbal remedies at home. It was a great way to get inside characters' heads, and it helped me to create the characters of Meg Wetherby, and Annie and Jane Chandler.

Later this year and early next year, I will go to Solingen to visit the blade museum there and to soak up the place where the swordmakers originally lived. And I plan to visit the Koln museum to see the original Solingen indictment that threatened the swordmakers with death if they failed to return home.

In the meantime, though, I plan to talk to the swordmakers’ descendants to find out more about them, and hopefully to see any family heirlooms. I hope that local people with swordmaker ancestors will be interested in letting me interview them, so I’ll be putting out a call on Facebook to seek volunteers.

So, if you know of anyone descended from the Solingen swordmakers, please point them in my direction! I’ve set up a Swordmakers page on my website dedicated to this novel where you can find out more.

All being well, the novel should be ready for publication in late 2019...

Best wishes, Helen

By Helen Steadman, Oct 24 2016 11:12AM

To kick off my PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen, I’m starting with the literature review. I chose to review Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica [On the Nature of Metals] first as it will give me a period-specific view of metal mining and smelting. It was published in 1556, which is a bit earlier than the Shotley Bridge swordmakers’ time (c.1687), but as this text remained the most authoritative text for 200 years, then it should provide me with an accurate guide to metal working at that time. (The next authoritative text was Cristoph Andreas Schlűter’s book on metallurgy in 1738, Gründlicher Unterricht von Hutte-Werken [Through Teaching from Hut-Works], which was published some time after the period I'm writing about, so I may read this, depending on how far forward in time my novel goes.)

De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola
De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola

Apart from being a mine (sorry) of information about metal, it also provides broader insights into the period. The book contains many detailed woodcuts showing miners and metalworkers at work. There are also pictures of women and children, as well as working animals (dogs and horses). The wooden machinery is very interesting, and the detailed drawings reveal fascinatingly complex machinery.

De Re Metallica: Book VI
De Re Metallica: Book VI

My favourite part of the whole book is the section where Agricola is dismissive of people who dowse for metals with divining rods (p. 40). He calls them wizards, and he also gives short shrift to astrologers. Fair enough. But then he goes on to discuss gnomes at great length – going so far as to describe their height and their clothes (p.217).

Woodcut showing 'wizards' dowsing for metal with divining rods
Woodcut showing 'wizards' dowsing for metal with divining rods

Apart from this minor (sorry again) aberration, it is a serious book and Agricola’s knowledge of mining and minerals is very impressive. The book covers:

• Arguments for and against mining (both biblical and environmental)

• Miners and how they find mines

• Veins, stringers and seams in rocks

• Functions of mining officials

• Digging ore

• Miners’ tools and machines

• Assaying of ore (this made my head hurt)

• Roasting, crushing and washing ore

• Separating silver from gold and lead from gold/silver

• Separating silver from copper

• Making salt, soda, alum, vitriol, sulphur, bitumen and glass

My plan was to read the book and make lots of notes to write up and keep. Then, at some further point in time (next year, maybe), I’d start doing some writing.

Copy of notes for De Re Metallica: Book I
Copy of notes for De Re Metallica: Book I

But there was so much interesting information in this book that I couldn’t help myself, and I had to start writing. So, after taking notes for each chapter, I wrote up some key words on magic whiteboard sheets and used those as prompts for freewriting.

Magic whiteboard sheet for De Re Metallica: Book 1
Magic whiteboard sheet for De Re Metallica: Book 1

So far, I’ve managed about 6,000 words, which is not bad going! They’re not really in any particular order, and I doubt any of them will make the final cut. The very first words I wrote on 9 October 2016 are below. (Apologies in advance for my terrible handwriting.)

First page of freewriting from De Re Metallica: Book I
First page of freewriting from De Re Metallica: Book I

I bought a copy of this book as I need to scribble all over it and refer to the pictures, but if you just want to read it, you can read it online here. If you want to see the Schlűter book (in German), there is a link to it here.


Georgius Agricola (1556) De Re Metallica [On the Nature of Metals], Trans. Herbert Clark Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover [1950], New York: Dover Publications Inc.

Cristoph Andreas Schlűter (1738) Gründlicher Unterricht von Hutte-Werken [Through Teaching from Hut-Works] Braunschweig: Meyer.

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