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History club

HNS Conference.

22 replies

happybirthdayHiggs · 05/10/2012 18:08

I spent last weekend in London, attending the Historical Novel Society conference at the University of Westminster. Had a wonderful time. The rollcall was a dream for any reader of historical fiction. Philippa Gregory, Gillian Bagwell, Ian Mortimer, C W Gortner, Diana Gabaldon, Margaret George, Gillian Green, Sarah Dunant, Lindsey Davis, Elizabeth Chadwick to name but a few, and Bernard Cornwell was the after dinner speaker at the banquet.
Did anyone else go too?

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ParsingFancy · 05/10/2012 18:11
happybirthdayHiggs · 05/10/2012 20:07

Smile Hello Parsing.
Bit quiet here 'innit.
Is everyone out on the lash, or have I just managed to make a brilliant event sound very, very boring?

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ParsingFancy · 05/10/2012 20:09

They're all off knocking back the wine with Mary Beard, I reckon.Wink

happybirthdayHiggs · 05/10/2012 20:17

Hoping to look in on that, too. I'm not sure how things are going to pan out next week yet though.
Who do you read?

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ParsingFancy · 05/10/2012 20:33

Blush Embarrassingly few on that list. In fact embarrassingly few books at all these days. I blame MN...

But I would lurrrve to hear how they go about constructing a historical novel and getting snootily indignant in the back row about anachronistic thinking.

ParsingFancy · 05/10/2012 20:35

Any lovely bits you fancy sharing?

happybirthdayHiggs · 05/10/2012 21:29

Barbara Erskine ran a fascinating workshop discussing past life regression. She explained how it had been a perfect vehicle for her to marry a modern woman's inquisitiveness with a medieval woman's lack of power.
There was a brilliant panel comprising of writers, agents, editors, publishers and bookshop buyers, discussing what sells historical fiction from their POV. But what will stay with me forever was Bernard Cornwell , Diana Gabaldon and Gillian Bagwell reading the MOST hilarious scene from Gillian Bagwell's Book The Darling Strumpet, concerning Nell Gwynn learning how to give the ultimate blow job.
(This was after the banquet, when much wine had been consumed.)

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LRDtheFeministDragon · 09/10/2012 13:08

Oooh ... I would love to have heard Bernard Cornwell. He's amazing!

I am very jealous. Any other highlights? What were they all like?

Btw, I met someone the other day who had a summer job working for Antonia Frazer, and apparently she used to bitch about Philippa Gregory viciously! Grin

happybirthdayHiggs · 09/10/2012 20:20

Bernard Cornwell was an absolute star! I think they filmed the blow job reading and will be posting it on their YouTube Channel. I'll keep an eye out for it and post the link here.
I found everyone there to be very approachable and more than happy to answer anything you threw at them ? even if the agents were a bit Shock , so glad I didn't need to brave that Lion's Den!
Margaret George ran a Tudor workshop, Bernard Cornwell and Angus Donald ran one on writing realistic fight scenes. Elizabeth Chadwick and Barbara Erskine ran a Landmark Books one, discussing The Greatest Knight and Lady of Hay , all were excellent.
Philippa Gregory gave a spellbinding talk on historical research, she was supremely eloquent.
But the revelation for me was Lindsey Davis. The Romans have never really been my period, so I've haven't read any of her Falco books. She was a brilliant speaker ? bone dry wit, quirky, sharp and very, very smart. Needless to say, Amazon was my first port of call when I got home.
What I took away from the conference most of all, though, was the reassurance that wanting to be a published author is not an unachievable dream. Plenty of folk manage it, many of them with nary a history degree or a creative writing course to their names.

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TunipTheVegemal · 09/10/2012 20:40

That sounds brilliant Higgs. I would love to know more. I've just finished Ian Mortimer's Elizabethan Time Traveller's guide which is splendid.
Go on then, what sells historical fiction?!

happybirthdayHiggs · 09/10/2012 22:03

I've read Ian Mortimer's Medieval TT Guide, but not the Elizabethan one. I didn't get to his workshop as it was at the same time as the Landmark Book one.

The What Sells HF panel was really interesting, as it had such a broad range of answers depending on whether it was the author, the agent, the publisher or the book seller's POV. The agent thought you needed a great 30 second pitch concept to hook the publishers interest, the publisher thought it hinged on the book cover and an eye-catching tag line. The author wished the publishers would move away from the headless lady in beautiful period dress for women's HF and shields/ daggers/swords posed in a variety of angles for male HF. They would far prefer the cover designer actually read the book and come up with something that actually relates to the narrative. The book seller vetoed this however, saying that people spend a max of 3 seconds perusing a book on a shelf and the cover needs to convey in shorthand exactly what sort of book it is. Interestingly, he also said this would become all the more important with the increase of ebook sales, as then you would only have a thumbnail image to catch peoples eye.
A great story didn't seem to enter into it Grin presumably, that was a given.

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ParsingFancy · 09/10/2012 22:40

Wow, thank you for dispatches.

The comments about covers are interesting, as apart from Jean Plaidy type covers (don't shoot me!), what springs to mind are Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost and Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Which don't meet the period dress or dagger criteria and were highly successful.

TunipTheVegemal · 09/10/2012 22:46

Oh that's very interesting, thank you. Makes sense.

I've heard Lindsey Davis speak too - she was President of the Classical Association one year (they pick someone who has done a lot for Classics) and she gave a speech at the conference. She was great but I've forgotten what she said because it was about 13 years ago Blush. I read one or two Falco novels and enjoyed them but they're not really my thing - too knowing.

Was there anything about historical novels for children/young adults? I'm attempting to write YA historical but have never published anything other than a few short stories & it's my first bash at historical fiction though I've always wanted to do it.

It's good that you found it encouraging. I'd be afraid that something like that would terrify me as there would be so many people there who were talented and hardworking but still unpublished Blush

happybirthdayHiggs · 11/10/2012 21:03

Hi Parsing.
The discussion did meander onto multiple jacket designs (wasn't Jonathon Strange available in reverse black and white covers?) and embedding images/links within the text of ebooks. Cost seemed to be the issue though as far as multiple jackets was concerned. It was also a problem for embedding images to some degree too. Most seemed to agree that it would be a mistake to pull readers out of the historical world they had worked so hard to establish by encouraging them to follow very 21C links.
I thought the illustrated version of the Da Vinci Code worked very well, although admittedly, there wasn't much of world to be pulled out of, was there. Grin

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happybirthdayHiggs · 11/10/2012 21:19

Evening Turnip
As it happens, I thought I was writing YA too. Turns out I wasn't.
There was a workshop discussing HF for the YA Market, but again, it clashed with another panel I wanted to attend.
It seems YA has a very particular voice at the moment. Very short sentences and only one story arc from what I can gather. Neither of those are me. Grin
I'm currently just finishing introducing a third story arc into my book, to increase the word count, as the publishers my agent submitted it to asked for it to be resubmitted as an adult HF novel. (Needed to be about 25,000 words longer to be adult HF)
I think you would have enjoyed the conference, Turnip. It was such a joy to be amongst like minded souls who just assumed you would write rather than being the odd one out for a change. I don't know when there will be another one over here. Next years is in Florida. Perhaps a bunch of us MNetters could go and hold each others hands next time. Smile

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TunipTheVegemal · 11/10/2012 21:32

LOL, it's true the sentences are short. Still, ours not to reason why.

So many teens read adult fiction - I'm sure you will still reach the audience you want to reach, just via a slightly different route.

What period do you write about?

happybirthdayHiggs · 11/10/2012 22:01

Exactly the conclusion I came to Turnip , get the blinkin' thing published and let it find it's own audience.
I'm writing 12C. Following the trials and tribulations of a pair of 14 yr old boy/girl twins suddenly and traumatically thrown onto separate and very different paths by the death of their mother in childbirth. The boy stumbles onto a outrageously treasonous plot to steal the ransom being collected for Richard the Lionheart, while the girl is drawn into mysticism and healing. Witchcraft.
How about you?

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TunipTheVegemal · 12/10/2012 11:04

Oh, that sounds fantastic! I'd want to buy that.
My second attempt at a YA novel had a brother and sister in it and consequently 2 story arcs. It never got as far as submission but it sounds like that would have done for it anyway. Certainly when I think about the recent YA I've read there's little that isn't totally straightforward in structure.

How are you getting on with the rewriting?

I'm Tudor now.
It's the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace and a knight's daughter had been about to make an advantageous marriage to an earl when both families got caught up in the rebellion and subsequent crackdown.
That's the background, the plot is not yet fully conceived.

happybirthdayHiggs · 12/10/2012 13:24

Well, the thing is, having boy/girl story arcs allows you to explore the very different constraints and expectations placed on the different sexes at different points in history, doesn't it.
I'm not sure I agree with the industry's judgement that YA are best suited by simple sentences and straight forward plotlines (in fact, I know I don't) but unpublished authors aren't best placed to argue really, are they!
Almost done with the revision. Hoping to get it away before the end of Oct/Nov (I'm sure you understand how time vanishes when you're trying to get something finished)
Love the Tudor period! There was a very lively discussion at the conference regarding popular periods in history. Publishers say "Oh no, not more Roman/ Tudor/ War of the Roses" when presented with yet another tale of Anne Boleyn, or whatever, but equally shake their heads when presented with a novel set in the times of Edward III or Harold Harefoot, because no ones ever heard of them.
The only solution is to write a great book, and the only way anyone can do that, IMO, is if you write about an era you love, popular or not.

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TunipTheVegemal · 13/10/2012 11:28

You're almost done then, that's so exciting! Was it harder revising than it was writing it in the first place?

When it was aimed at YA, did you see your book as being for girls or boys or both? Most things seem to be so very sharply gendered, but I assume girls read the stuff apparently aimed at boys, as they always have. It would be nice if The Hunger Games set a new fashion for boys reading books with girl heroes. (Last time I talked to my 12yo nephew he couldn't decide if the most fantastic book that had been written ever was The Hunger Games or The Knife of Never Letting Go.)

happybirthdayHiggs · 14/10/2012 12:35

Umm, well, writing the sparkly new character arc (it was the twin's father's story; where he was while all this was kicking off) wasn't a problem. But I decided as I was writing his story that I was going to change the relationship between the girl and her "witch" mentor (mainly because of some mindblowing archeological evidence I came upon by chance. It really was too perfect to not incorporate) This is somewhat trickier because its very easier to mess up continuity in the already existing storyline.
At the moment I'm working on braiding the three story arcs back together, and this I'm finding time consuming and not nearly so much fun as just writing.
But you're right, it is very exciting! Grin

Initially, I wanted to tell the jaw-dropping story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Given my other fascination with herbalism and ancient healing I decided to do this by having a healer, who happened to be lifelong companion of Eleanor's, assuming the role of mentor to a young girl and recounting Eleanor's story to her young protege. Then I decided this was limiting my market to girls, so wrote the brother's story to broaden its appeal.

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TunipTheVegemal · 15/10/2012 10:18

The more you say about it, the more interesting it sounds.
Is it your first book/first historical novel/first YA? Have you published anything before?

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