Writing About People

by martinhesp

I recently began a new series looking at the region’s traditional crafts and pastimes for my newspaper the Western Morning News – and I have a hunch that my travels among the artisans might well bear fruit when it comes to ideas for my Cornish Snapper crime stories.

Crafts-people and artists are a passionate lot – and where there’s passion there are fertile growing conditions for the shoots of human idiosyncrasy and foible.

This is how I began the series….
A long time ago mankind began to evolve differently from all the other creatures on Planet Earth – and tens of thousands of years later the subject of what differentiates we humans from our fellow species is still fascinating us.
One great leap forward must have been when we learned to make tools which helped us hunt, fish and complete other life-sustaining exertions more quickly and efficiently. With the extra nutrition gleaned – and the extra time on our hands – the act of thinking must have progressed in line with our creative capacity.
What we began to do was to recognise a basic need and then to make things which addressed that requirement.
This might sound a rather odd way of introducing a major new Western Morning News series about traditional crafts and pastimes, but I begin in this prehistoric fashion for two reasons…
One is that most people in the Western World no longer use their brains or hands much to make things. We might be creative on computers – we might even do a bit of DIY around the house – but how many of us regularly create something out of nothing more, say, than a bit of wood or a lump of clay?
What links the people we will meet in this series is this simple act of creation. They form things, design and manufacture objects, bend nature to their will or adapt this, that or the other. In general, they bring something in to being that wasn’t there before.
These crafts-people and artisans do not get someone else to make bits for them. They do not order parts or ingredients off the internet. They do use their own skills to produce. It is as simple, and wondrous, as that.
And so it is a truly ancient concept – and you could argue that many more people should learn to enjoy the basic arts of creating things.
The other reason I begin the series by mentioning the folk of ancient times is that one of the first skills our forefathers learned was to take the bare earth on which they stood and form it into some kind of useful object. By which I mean pottery.
Our first traditional craftsman in the series does just that – although he happens to be one of the most famous potters in the world and his work is known from Tokyo to New York. Having said that, there is something refreshingly basic and organic about John Leach and his Muchelney Pottery.
For a start, he has a wood-fired kiln – which is, of course, the same fuel that the Beaker Folk used to create their basic pottery more than 4000 years ago.    
The Beaker People extended their range across Western Europe between 2800 and 1800 BC – and perhaps it’s worth sitting back for a moment and trying to imagine what life would have been like before humans had objects in which to cook and store things. The best you could have hoped for was a handful of raw fruit or a lump of meat roasted on a stick.
Suddenly, though, all manner of cooking and storage opportunities would have opened up, which would have made unimaginable differences to the lives of folk in places like Exmoor and Dartmoor where shards of 4000 year old pottery are still found.

Now, today, I am off to meet a group of dynamic young blacksmiths who turning the tide on economic recession and making a go of rejuvenating an age-old industry that sees local people purchasing locally made hardware. Something that England hasn’t done much for a long time….

Last time I visited them I shot this video…