William Doonan

I write books and stories.

historical & prehistorical fiction

with 8 comments

As an archaeologist, and student and teacher of anthropology, I’m always on the lookout for novels set in the past.  Writing convincing characters is hard enough without having to reconstruct an entire ancient world.  The fact-checking alone is a huge job.  I learned this the hard way while researchng my upcoming archaeological mystery, American Caliphate.  In one scene, set in sixteenth-century Spain, my protagonist eats one of the first potatoes ever to reach Europe (from Peru).  That’s nice, right?  But then for some reason, in the next scene, I have him listening to an iPod.  So that had to go.

But I found a brave new book recently that goes further back than most.  Kimberly Todd Wade’s Thrall takes us back to the dawn of conscious thought.  It’s quite a book, so I asked Kimberly to be a guest blogger.  So have a look at what she has to say.

Welcome, Kimberly!

Thanks, Bill, for the opportunity to talk about my novel, Thrall.  Seeing as you’re a mystery writer, I thought I’d talk a bit about the mystery at the heart of my book.

 Assume that self awareness is something that evolves.  Various species of animals have different levels of self awareness.  A dog has some, a chimpanzee more.  So far as we know, humans are unique in having a fully developed sense of self.  The internal dialog we maintain with our inner “selves” is nearly constant.  So who was the first “person”?

 There must have been bands of highly cooperative hominids long before there were individuals within the group who thought of themselves as, well, individuals, and “thought” is the pertinent word here.  Any animal is perfectly capable of acting in its own best interest without any recourse to thought.  But what about a complex band of cooperative animals like humans?

 We have evidence from the archaeological record of some complex thought going on as far back as a million years.  Surely, Homo erectus was a hunter.  Unlike wild dogs, who instinctively hunt in packs, the first humans must have made some effort to coordinate and plan their hunts.  Being intensely social animals, they must have been keenly attuned to one another, and like modern hunter gathers, hyper-aware of their environment.  But something else happened within the human psyche about 35,000 years ago.  Suddenly there was art.  Is art the first evidence we have of self awareness?  And what must it have been like to be the first self aware human?

 These are some of the speculations that led to my writing Thrall.  The humans I describe are modern except that they lack full self awareness.  It’s possible that such a thing could have developed so slowly that it escaped notice.  But there’s more drama in a sudden personal awakening.  And don’t we all remember some moment near the end of childhood, say age twelve or thirteen, when we suddenly became concerned about what others thought of us?  In this way, Hoolow’s story becomes a personal story.

 I invite your comments and questions here or on my blog:  www.kimberlywade.livejournal.com

 You can read more about Thrall here:  http://www.hadleyrillebooks.com/thrall.html



Written by williamdoonan

September 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

8 Responses

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  1. I’m don’t think Dr. Doonan agrees with my on this, based on in class discussions; but I don’t buy that 35kya date for the first “art,” nor the 50kya “explosion.” Body adornment evidence in the form of ochre use and beads made from shells is found at twice that far back. The cave paintings appear, imo, because human populations were forming settled communities along migration routes of large animals. They’d dig a hole in the permafrost, line it with something, wait for the migration one way, and fill up the freezer. Repeat on the return trip. They now have leisure time to make festival in the caves that give some of them numinous experiences. A human tendency that was always there now gets projected onto the walls of the caves. I think the real awakening was way farther back.

    Bill Rozell

    September 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    • You’re probably right. And the “awakening” happened at different times in different parts of the world.

      kimberly wade

      September 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  2. Regardless of when the real awakening may have happened,
    the fictional awakening you present is a very good story.


    September 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    • Thank you.

      kimberly wade

      September 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

  3. I still think of that scene when Hoolow realizes he is alone in the world, and get chills. Great interview. Thanks!


    September 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    • Thank you!

      kimberly wade

      September 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm

  4. Great post. I love the concept of your novel and am really looking forward to reading it.

    Karin Rita Gastreich

    September 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    • Thanks, Karin!

      kimberly wade

      September 2, 2011 at 2:24 am

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