On writing: Gold among dross

Gilded artesonado ceiling in the Guest Room of the Convent of Santo Domingo in Lima, Peru

Every now and then you stumble across articles that make you snicker, help you take the world less seriously. The Paris Review, a literary magazine established in Paris in 1953, has all kinds of interesting tidbits for inspiration and historical material (if you’re a budding author, you might want to check it out). It also, as I recently discovered, has a delightfully-themed column called Sleep Aid, which they describe as “a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain”.

Here’s an excerpt from one featured article that caught my eye, one of the chapters in the 1905 book Glue, Gelatine, Animal Charcoal, Phosphorous, Cements, Pastes and Mucilages, by F. Davidowsky, for which the Review has thoughtfully provided the link to the full text on the Project Gutenberg website:

“Gilder’s glue is found in commerce in very thin, pale yellow cakes tied up in packages weighing about 2 lbs. each. It is a variety of skin glue bleached with chloride of lime, and dissolves with difficulty in water.”

Despite that less-than-scintillating introduction to Gilder’s Glue, the subject is one that would interest me as a writer. The heroine of my trilogy is a professional archivist who specializes in illuminated manuscripts. Gilding, i.e. applying a thin leaf of metal – like gold – to another surface, was a technique used historically for everything from manuscripts to picture frames to architecture. Gold and other metals had to be applied, of course, with something sticky to make them adhere to the other surface – hence, ‘gilder’s glue’, made from things like egg white, gums, collagen from animal skins and other materials.

Although my books are technically fantasy, they take place in the real world and incorporate a fair amount of genuine historical detail to provide authentic background. I spend a substantial amount of time doing research, wading through articles like the one on glue mentioned above.

Those articles actually don’t put me to sleep. It’s like a treasure hunt sifting through all kinds of materials to find the golden nuggets that I can use in my writing. Admittedly, the internet makes research a lot easier – keywords are a godsend 😊

I copy many articles verbatim into Word documents so that I can refer back to them as needed. That way, if our wifi connection goes down, I can still access the material (instead of just bookmarking the site). I imagine all writers have their own methods for accumulating relevant details for their backstory – the thousands of details that may not make it directly into their novel, but that fill in the picture just as the pixels on a colour television screen do. Readers/viewers don’t see all the individual pixels, only the completed image that tells the story.

So don’t discount the snoozers, even if they can be as unintentionally amusing as bad sci-fi movies – they must have served a purpose at the time, and there could be valuable things tucked amid the dross. And speaking of gold, the more I look at my lead photo above of the gilded ceiling, the more I think I’ll use that piece of architecture in one of my books!

All photos by me unless otherwise specified and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

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