Communion Of Dreams

Psst. Hey, wanna see something … special?

Remember that 700+ year old bible I posted about the beginning of June? This one:



Well, this weekend I got started working on the book. And I thought I’d share  a couple of images of what I found inside, and what I’ve done to it so far.

Here’s the spine of the text block, once it had been freed from the cover seen above:



That’s after I’ve removed the gross chunks of paper liners which were applied between the cords. I’ve since removed all the rest of the liners, first using a jeweler’s tweezers and then a scalpel. Anyway, I want to note the very evident lines of sewing stations (holes punched through the folios) from the original binding. That shows that the book has been rebound at least once.

Here’s another image:


That’s an image of the interior of the cover. Which shows a couple of interesting things. First, you can see how the vellum of the cover molded itself to the spine of the text block over time. That sort of thing happens over *centuries*.

Second, how the supporting cords are laced into the cover. The sewing was done in a way that it wrapped around the cords, which helps to support the overall structure. The cords are then laced into a channel, looped over the board material, and then come back on the inside and are pasted down. This is VERY common of medieval and Renaissance bindings.

And lastly — note that the cover material is an early variety of bookboard. It’s NOT wood. This is a clue to the age of the binding. It means that it is after the introduction of papermaking to Europe. Which is to say, this book was probably rebound sometime in the 14th or 15th century. (Papermaking technology was introduced to Southern Europe late in the 13th century, but it took a little while to disseminate across the continent.)

So, I removed a couple of layers of more modern papers on the inside, and pulled the old ends of the cords out of the bookboard. Then I dampened the board on the inside, put it between moisture barrier sheets, and put it into a press to flatten overnight. Then once the spine of the text block was fairly clean I applied a layer of conservation adhesive (a blend of methyl-cellulose and poly-vinyl-acetate) and some fairly heavy Kozo-fiber paper, which I stippled onto the spine so that it would conform to the existing structure and hold everything in place. Like this:



You’ll note that it extends past the text block on the left-hand side of the spine. I can trim that excess off with a scalpel once everything is dried. I should finish up the rest of the work tomorrow.

Oh, and speaking of tomorrow … remember, the week-long give-away of my books starts then!


Jim Downey


Magnet magic, with a twist.

Via BB, fun with physics:


I think it’s particularly clever that they made the track a Möbius strip, in order to demonstrate how the gravitational field can be used to both float and suspend the superconducting magnet. Reminds me of this bit from chapter 5 of Communion of Dreams:

The man was a bit of a lunatic. But he was a brilliant engineer who had an almost intuitive understanding of the Apparent Gravity phenomenon, and was the first to propose that it could be adapted for use as a propulsion system. He figured out a way to trick an AG field into thinking that it was in a stable inertial reference by projecting it in front of a ship, and thereby essentially have the ship – and generator – continuously ‘fall’ into the field. The Hawking was the first ship equipped with the new reactionless drive system.

Remember, both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year will be free all next week


Jim Downey



Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me …

As I’ve noted previously, July 4th is my birthday (secondary thought – damn, this blog is six years old!).  And in something of a “Hobbit’s Birthday” spirit, again this year I’m going to run a promotion in celebration. But because I’m turning 55, it’s going to be a bit different than last year. Instead, the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams will be free for 5 days – yup, July 1st through July 5th.

And that ain’t all. Nope. At the same time, from July 1st through July 5th, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year will also be completely free.

And that still ain’t all. Nope. When the promotional period is over, the Kindle edition price for each book will drop to just $3.01. Why $3.01? Well, because of Amazon’s policies, it’s best to keep the price over $2.99. And I like the ‘shape’ of 301, mild synesthete that I am. And the number has some interesting properties. So, $3.01 it is.

And remember, you don’t even need an actual Kindle to enjoy either book, because there is a free Kindle emulator/app for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there. Earlier this year I installed the app on my Android phone, and I’ve been happily using it in lieu of my Kindle since.

So, starting Monday: five free days of Communion of Dreams. And five free days of Her Final Year. 5 + 5 for my 55th birthday. Help make it a good one, and spread the word. Thanks.


Jim Downey

You’re history.

The actor James Gandolfini died this week, from a massive heart attack. He was 51.

I did not know him.


* * * * * * *

Recently I met with an institutional client about some book conservation work which needed to be done. I’ve done work with this client off and on for a number of years. He’s a smart guy, well educated, and very much an experienced professional with decades of work in his field. His responsibilities include oversight of a very large collection which includes books, documents, records, artwork, and physical plant. In working with him, I’ve always been impressed with how conscientious he is about collection management.  The items entrusted to his care are important historical and artistic treasures, and he is doing his level best to make sure that they are preserved and protected for future generations.

As it happens, the physical plant of the collection needs some work. This necessitates moving a large number of items into safe storage for the duration, and he is handling all of that with his usual skill. After we had discussed the specific needs of the books I had been called in to evaluate, and that business was done, we were just chatting a bit. And I noticed a large sketchbook (18″x24″) on a desk in his office.

Seeing my attention thus directed, he smiled and picked up the sketchbook, opened it. Each page was a scale drawing of each of the rooms which needed to be closed, showing the exact location of each of the pieces of art, with notation as to which item it was, how it was positioned (if a wall piece, how high off the floor, etc.). Just a simple drawing, done with a ballpoint pen and a ruler.

“I want to make sure we get everything back to where it belongs,” he said.


* * * * * * *

In a profile last year of my friend and papermaking instructor, Tim Barrett, there’s this passage:

Barrett’s connection to the old papers was becoming more than simply technical. It was emotional. He detected life in them. He once found the imprint of a person’s thumb on a page in a Renaissance book. “Maybe the papermaker was rushing to fill an order, and grabbed the corner of the sheet too firmly,” he said. “To me, that fingerprint marked the sheet with the humanity of the person who made it. I could feel his presence.”

I’ve heard him tell that same story. Several times. You might say that it made an impression.


* * * * * * *

“I want to make sure we get everything back to where it belongs,” he said.

I nodded. “You know, you should get some deacidification spray and treat each page. Also, make a note as to when you drew them, and sign them.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. Deacidification spray is expensive. “Why, they’re just sketches for my own use.”

I smiled. “No, they are wonderful documentation of exactly how each of these rooms was arranged in early 2013.”


“So now you use them, treat them, and then file them away in one of your flat files. They’ve just become part of the history of this place, and in a couple hundred years some researcher will delight in holding these simple drawings of yours.”

He looked down at the sketches in his hand. “Huh.”

“Yeah, you’re history.”


* * * * * * *

The actor James Gandolfini died this week, from a massive heart attack. He was 51.

I did not know him.

But I did know Paul. He was an old friend of mine, though in the last few years we’d only been in sporadic contact. I woke this morning to the news that Paul died last night from a massive heart attack. He was about my age.

I turn 55 in a couple weeks. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve got a couple health issues which need ongoing attention and treatment, but in general I’m not doing too bad. Particularly with as hard as I’ve been on my body.

But I could have a massive heart attack tonight. Or get hit by a truck tomorrow. People die, unexpectedly, every day.

I don’t dwell on this, though it has been an emotional reality for me since I was 11. But on occasions like today, after just losing a friend and reading all the tributes to that person online, I am perhaps more aware of it than usual.

Because whether we prepare for it or not, we’re all history.


Jim Downey

Land drones?

Sometimes I see a cool tech, and think that it is just a perfect example of how progress makes for a better world. Yesterday’s post was one of those.

And then sometimes a see a cool tech, and am just certain that it will be used to make the world a worse place, at least for some people. Via Neatorama, this is one of those:

Because I just know that once these are developed a little more so that they can run off wire, that it won’t be long until someone thinks that they would make excellent “homing landmines” or “land drones”. I mean, seriously.


Jim Downey



Sure beats graverobbing.

Via BoingBoing, this fascinating application of scanning and augmented reality technology:

Access to good dissection models is always problematic, but is absolutely crucial for medical education.  Donor cadavers are often in short supply, and they have the problem that they’re, well, dead. Meaning that they died from something. And under even the best of circumstances, that will have an impact on the suitability for the student’s experience in studying a healthy body.

But with this kind of technology, a student can encounter a wide variety of body types: young, in the ‘prime of life’, aged, with any number of different medical issues (or none at all). Male. Female. Pregnant. Potentially, even as the body is “living”.



Jim Downey

(PS – the writing of St. Cybi’s Well continues. Occasionally I post fragments to the FB page, if you’re interested.)

I, for one, welcome our new NSA Overlords.

Everyone is thinking about the whole “NSA Spying” thing all wrong. This isn’t about surveillance. It’s not whether there is a trade off to be made between security and privacy. It isn’t a question of how much the government is watching you or that you shouldn’t worry at all if you have nothing to hide. Nope. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about whether you want to live forever or not.

The idea that we’re living in some kind of ‘simulated reality‘ has been a mainstay of Science Fiction for just about forever, whether you want to credit it to Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, or for that matter, Genesis. One popular twist on this perhaps best seen in The Matrix where at some future time hyper-intelligent computers have re-created our reality for their own purposes, using the best records available to run simulations and better understand us.

So don’t think of it as the National Security Agency. Think of it, rather, as a records-keeping entity. One which is doing everything possible to record as much of this world, and your life, as possible so that later it can be used to make an accurate simulation. Just call it the Nascent Simulation Archive, and rejoice that our government is being so ecumenical in trying to document as much as possible about not just America, but the whole wide world. Because it means that you’ll live forever.

And you want to live forever, right?


Jim Downey

It’s not everyday …

It isn’t the oldest, rarest, or most interesting item I’ve ever worked on. But it’s not everyday that a 700+ year old book comes into my shop for conservation work. This one did yesterday:




Here’s the official description of it, for those who might be interested:

Bible. Latin. [Biblia Latina] 1300. Bound in parchment ms. with neumic notation over boards ; leaf [103] torn with part of 1 column wanting; small stain on p. 1 partly hides incipit; trimmed, headings mostly lost. Prehumanistic minuscule script; rubricated. Lectionary? with different pen on final 2 leaves. Contents: Prol. in libros Salomonis — Proverbia — Ecclesiastes — Canticum canticorum — Sapientia — Ecclesiasticus — Joshua — Isaias –Jeremias — Ezechiel — Daniel — Osee — Joel — Amos — Abdias — Jonas –Michaeus — Nahum — Habacuc — Sophonias — Aggaeus — Zacharias — Malachias — Job – Judith — Esther — [Novum Testamentum]. Cover is a manuscript leaf of a parchment page with nuemes and a Gothic script with red initial letters from about about the same time.


It’s been a while since I shared any images from my conservation work, so thought I would.

In other news: still plugging along on St. Cybi’s Well. It’s going well.

Have a great weekend!


Jim Downey


Thought I’d share something I hinted at last week, and which explains a bit why my posting to the blog has dropped off so much in recent weeks: I’ve shifted over from primarily working on the structure and individual scenes of St. Cybi’s Well to writing the bulk of the text. To use an analogy, I’ve got the skeleton done and am now putting flesh on the bones.

So while I only have about 23,000 words in the manuscript so far, and very little of that is what most people would recognize as parts of a novel, it’s actually probably a significant fraction (perhaps one-third? half?) of the overall amount of work which will go into the book. That’s because I know not only the overall plot and major characters of the book, I also know the pacing, the locations, and how all the major elements will work together throughout. In fact, you could grab a map of Wales and then find each of the locations tied to the individual chapters to get a sense of how the whole thing will progress. Here’s the working list of chapters:

  • Prelude: Cardiff
  • Chapter One: Pennant Melangell
  • Chapter Two: Holywell/Conwy Castle
  • Chapter Three: Portmeirion/Caernarfon
  • Chapter Four: Snowdon
  • Chapter Five: Ffynnon Gybi/Criccieth
  • Chapter Six: Pistyll Rhaedr
  • Chapter Seven: Pentre Ifan
  • Chapter Eight: St. Non’s/St. David’s
  • Chapter Nine: St. Govan’s Chapel/Gumfreston Church
  • Chapter Ten: Deheubarth
  • Chapter Eleven: St. Cenydd’s Well
  • Chapter Twelve: Brecon Beacons
  • Chapter Thirteen: Maen-du Well/Ffynnon Gynydd
  • Chapter Fourteen: Tintern Abbey/Stonehenge
  • Chapter Fifteen: Ynys Môn
  • Chapter Sixteen: Ffynnon Gelynin
  • Chapter Seventeen: Ffynnon Sarah
  • Chapter Eighteen: St. Cybi’s Well
  • Chapter Nineteen: Castell y Bere

If you care to dig around my various travelogues, you can actually find descriptive passages about each of these places.  Those passages will be used as part of constructing verisimilitude through the novel.

And yes, “Prelude” rather than “Prologue.” Partly it ties in with this. Partly … well, you’ll see.

Jim Downey