I wasn’t looking forward to my first HNS Conference. I was going more out of a sense of “I should” than “I want” – but I had a thoroughly interesting time .
The day kicked off with a panel discussion among editors, agents and the historical fiction buyer from WHSmith. The topic was Selling Historical Fiction and my main take outs were
- build a personal profile on social media before considering advertising
- get a brilliant book jacket
- right now it helps to be Tudor (13 of the top 20 HF book sales in WHS are Tudor – and that’s excluding Hilary Mantell and Philippa Gregory.
TV programmes have a huge influence so Medieval history is getting a boost from Game of Thrones. Outlander will be the next big thing. Interesting that publishers keep stressing to writers not to follow trends while slavishly pursuing them themselves.
The keynote address was from Conn Iggulden (Ancient Rome and now the Wars of the Roses – HNS people always refer to themselves by period!) – a thoroughly entertaining off-the-cuff talk from a great raconteur. Key message was the need for the fiction writer to make choices and fill in the gaps – whereas the straight historian can keep all the options open and weigh them in the balance.
I did a workshop with Susannah Dunn and Emma Darwin on Figures of Speech – recreating past voices. Having done the brilliant Self-editing course that Emma runs with Debi Alper I was confident this would be a good choice – although with so many interesting options I wanted to clone myself and go to at least another 3 sessions. The usefulness of the workshop is confirmed by the fact that following this session I re-worked a crucial scene in my latest book.
Susannah Dunn later participated on behalf of the Tudors in a knockabout debate on the topic My Era is Better than Yours. Representing the (winning) Georgians was Antonia Hodgson but as the remaining 3 panellists were all male (Giles Kristian – Vikings and Civil War), Harry Sidebottom (Ancient Rome) and Angus Donald (Medieval) it soon turned into a my weapon’s bigger than yours debate between the boys! Very entertaining – but as we all love a loser the audience embraced the vomiting syphilitic Georgians with gusto – something that the great British public has yet to do.
The day finished (for me anyway) with another panel discussion on Tackling the Big Issues – Freedom, Independence and Equality with Emma Darwin, Elizabeth Fremantle, Margaret George, Andrew Taylor, Robyn Young – and as it was chaired by a Scot, Douglas Jackson, the discussion inevitably ended with Scottish Independence (a consensus for Better Together). Key takeout of the session was to approach the big issues via the personal. Some of this harked back to the debate on Era – when Giles Kristian told us that he agonised whether to let his hero participate in a rape – and came down on the side of probability – as that’s what Vikings do – attempting to redress the balance by the man subsequently feeling bad about it. There was much discussion on how far to go with some of these weighty issues in order to retain the sympathies of the modern reader while staying true to the realities of what were often pretty brutal times. I found this interesting as in my latest book I have to deal with attitudes towards race that are different from today’s norms. I think it was Emma Darwin who said “Ask the questions and don’t judge”.
I left wishing I was going to the Sunday sessions and delighted to have met so many warm and friendly people – historical novelists are awfully nice! Anne Cleeland from Orange County kindly gifted me a signed copy of her book, Daughter of the God King which I look forward to reading.
I’m very tempted to nip over to Denver next year for the US conference