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The Historical Novel Conference 2012

Published: 4 Oct 2012  - updated: 11 Dec 2012

SilverWood’s Helen Hart looks back on an inspiring weekend...

HNS 2012 took place over the weekend of 28-30 September 2012 at Westminster University in London’s bustling Regent Street. Highlights included Bernard Cornwell, Diana Gabaldon and Gillian Bagwell with their triumphant and climactic (yes, really!) sex scene reading during Saturday night’s banquet, and the announcement of the winner of the HNS Short Story Competition (SilverWood author David Ebsworth’s story Sobhuza’s Kraal was on the shortlist of six!).

The conference started with fun and games - goodie bag stuffing with SilverWood author Helen Hollick on Friday night. This activity begged the question "How many conference delegates does it take to stuff 300 goodie bags?". No one knew the answer but let’s just say it was a lot - and what a great way to get to break the ice and get to know each other. The goodie bags were amazing too, chock full of free books, t-shirts, pens, bookmarks and even a chocolate or two.

A full day of talks and workshops

Saturday featured a busy day for the Indie and Self-Publishing Team. I joined Helen Hollick, Cathy Helms and Richard Denning upstairs in the gallery. There was a lot of interest in our display of books and resources, and plenty of wisdom and tips dispensed. Next stop was a workshop steered by author V Campbell (Viking Gold, Fledgling Press 2011) and me. 'HF for the YA Market: captivating teens with stories from long ago’ was well-attended, in spite of the fascinating panels and talks offered throughout the university building.

There’s no room to include them all, but this list gives an idea of the range that HNS 2012 was offering its delegates:

  • Haunted by the Past (an exploration of the relationship between HF, fantasy and the supernatural) with Barbara Erskine & Diana Gabaldon
  • What Are Publishers Really After? (an inside view on how mainstream UK publishers identify and select HF for their lists) with Jade Chandler & Laura Macdougall
  • Ships Ahoy! (the challenges and joy of writing nautical HF) Linda Collison, JD Davies, Helen Hollick, Margaret Muir & Richard Spilman
  • Killer Blows (making fight scenes convincing in ages when combat was hand to hand) with Angus Donald, Doug Jackson & Russell Whitfield, with a guest appearance by Bernard Cornwell

The first full day of the conference concluded with a sumptuous banquet, a grand costume pageant, and the now-legendary - or should that be notorious? - late night sex scene readings.

Mercifully hangover-free, we started early on Sunday with the Indie Team’s workshop on 'Success the Indie Way’ which was a must for anyone thinking of self-publishing. Panel member Richard Denning recorded the session and put it on YouTube.

Other talks and events on Day Two included:

  • The Problems of Visiting the Past (in fact and fiction) with Ian Mortimer aka James Forrester
  • The Many Faces of HF (what does the genre embrace and where is it going?) with Vanora Bennett, Carole Blake, Rory Clements, Sarah Dunant, Heather Lazare and Cathy Rentzenbring
  • Alternative History (methods and issues in fictionalising history as it might have been) with Christopher M Cevasco

Throughout the weekend we were treated to book signings with dozens of authors including Sarah Dunant, Vanora Bennett, Lindsey Davis, Barbara Erskine and Philippa Gregory. Some delegates also managed to squeeze in excursions to Greenwich and the Museum of London with author and HNS organisers Jenny Barden and Carol McGrath. And among all the excitement there were queues for the Literary Agent Pitching Sessions, where once again David Ebsworth did well - agent Jane Judd asked to see the full manuscript for his new novel The Assassins Mark!

The Conference was superbly organised by the HNS team led by founder Richard Lee, and the calibre of speakers and authors was extremely high. If HF is your thing, don’t think twice - sign up for the HNS newsletter and make sure you book your place for the next one!

Want to know more?

See a wonderful two-minute film that showcases the vibrancy and range of the programme.

Read about the Historical Novel Society.

Check out the HNS Conference site and keep up to date with news of the next dates - USA in 2013 and UK in 2014.

Follow @histnov on Twitter for regular tweets and updates.

See the Indie Team’s workshop on You Tube here.

If you’re planning to attend the next UK conference in 2014 and want to know what to expect from the HNS, you can download the 2012 programme.

“If you’re thinking of self-publishing, I hope you don't go at it alone. With a team like SilverWood behind you, you have the support you need to publish the best work you believe in.”

J A Higgins