Catching Up – BristolCon

As some of you will have noticed it has been quiet here on the website for a while – all for very good reasons, I assure you. I have been working hard on Strangeness and Charm: Book 3 in The Courts of the Feyre series, and I am finally at a stage where I can take a short break from it and catch up with other things.

One of those things was facilitated by Sandy Auden, writer, reviewer, and photographer. Sandy was at BristolCon this year and had the foresight to bring her camera with her. One of my reasons for being there was to give a talk on Archery in Fantasy, a whirlwind tour of the use of the bow and arrow in genre fiction, and Sandy was on hand to take some shots.

Mike with a Magyar Horse Bow (photo courtesy of Sandy Auden)

Pictured left is is a Magyar Horse Bow, or rather a replica example of one, made by the Hungarian Bowyer Csaba Grózer. This is the design used by the nomadic tribes of the open grassland of the Eastern Plains of Europe.

You can see that the bow is quite short, but it will draw easily out to thirty inches (which is about my limit) and is fast and sweet to shoot. It doesn’t jar against the hand but has a very ‘live’ feel.

The ends of the limbs, as you can probably see in the picture, are solid wood, and are called Siyahs. They act as levers on the end of the limbs so that the geometry of the bow evens out the draw weight over the length of the draw, making it smooth and fast.

Magyar bows of this nature were typical of a period about 4,000 years ago, so this is more ancient that an English Longbow, which would have been more common about 500 – 600 years ago.

Drawing a Compound Bow (photo courtesy of Sandy Auden)

In contrast,  the bow on the right is a very modern example. This is a compound bow, typified by the eccentric cams on the ends of the limbs which act to change the apparent weight as draw it. This bow is set at 55 lbs peak weight, but at full draw I am holding only around 20 lbs, allowing me more time to aim and settle before releasing. Obviously I didn’t actually release, as there’s no arrow on the bow, and dry shooting a bow is very bad for it since all the energy stored in the bow has nowhere to go but back into the bow.

Compound bows were invented in the 1960s and have been developing ever since. This is an American design, manufactured by Bowtech Archery or Oregon, and is my competition bow. It’s a Bowtech Guardian – very fast and very quiet.  A superb feat of engineering and design.

So I had a great time explaining how even the masters of Fantasy can get archery very wrong – and how some get it so right. I explained paradoxes, demonstrated stringing, showed off bows ancient and modern, with a really friendly audience who asked lots of interesting questions.

The only problem was we ran out of time. If I do it again, I’ll try and get a longer slot. Many thanks to Sandy for some excellent photos in tricky lighting conditions.


  1. #1 by Peter McClean on December 13, 2011 - 10:05 pm

    I didn’t know you were into bows.
    My eldest son took up archery about two years ago and loves it. He would love to have been at your session. If you’re over any time and he corners you he will have you talking bows all day.
    He auditioned and was called as an archer for The Game of Thrones. Much to his chagrin it coincided with his starting work elsewhere. 🙁

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