By this stage – day nine of the residency – issues of materials and equipment have been more or less resolved. There are five clays to chose from. Bricks and tiles, raw or ready-baked, have been gleaned from the factory. Slippery buckets of engobe are passed between the tables, now lined with biscuit-shaped clay samples. Half-formed objects are sweating under plastic wraps or drying under a strong light-bulb, prior to the trials of the kiln. The clays themselves are unknown quantities. Each will react to stress in its own particular way and any may crack under pressure. And, with the practicalities only partially under control, the makers face deeper dilemmas. Is it better to be careful – bending unfamiliar materials into familiar shapes – or to throw oneself into the creative unknown by making in entirely new way? There have been furrowed brows at the breakfast table... And China seems to have an endless supply of curved balls to throw at the makers. Frances, for example, is working on pieces that echo the patterns of local maps – both maps of County Louth from home, and maps of Fuping. So she asked our interpreters where she could buy a local map. They said yes, yes, yes and went away to find out. Then they came back and said no, it isn't possible. There are no local maps of Fuping, they said, the government doesn't allow it.
Here there be dragons.