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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Jun 27, 2017

What Happened at #HNS2017

The Historical Novel Society is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. How fitting that the 2017 HNS conference was the largest and the best one yet--according to me, attending for my 4th time, and to those who have attended even more of them.

I arrived Wednesday evening. Author talk began early, because my very own first cousin, novelist Justin Evans happened to be in town on non-author business. His novels are A Good and Happy Child , and The White Devil, now in production as a feature film.

Cousins and novelists

He lives in Brooklyn. I live in New England. It's mad that we had to cross the entire North American continent to spend time together.

Thursday was my one day for Portland tourism. I visited the International Rose Test Garden and the Oregon Zoo, both located in beautiful and extensive Washington Park. The day was perfect for outdoor activity. The roses were in full bloom and the zoo animals were lovely. (You must scroll past flowers and creatures to get to the conference content in this post!)

That evening the conference opened with a reception and Costume Contest. I did not compete in the contest, but I did wear an 18th century ballgown and lots of bling. There were some fantastic garments on display, and it was my first opportunity to see friends and new ones.

18th Century lady in 21st Century lift

The next day, Friday, I was on the Mixing it Up panel, discussing writing in multiple historical genres--romance, nonfiction articles, biography, etc. Susan Higginbotham was our moderator, and I was joined by Kris Waldherr and Aimie K. Runyon. A great session, and good questions from our attendees.

With my Mixing it Up co-panellists

I had the opportunity to see parts of a variety of workshops--Truth in Fiction was excellent and thought-provoking. Isobel Carr's historic fashion presentation, subtitled Clothing Before the Zipper, was a highlight. Alison Stuart covered Cavaliers & Roundheads: The Other Civil War.

Our luncheon speaker was Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Secret Chord, Year of Wonders, Caleb's Crossing, and more. So very inspiring.

I was also a reader of submitted manuscripts (2 pages only) at a Cold Reads session, with a pair of editors (Ana Michels of Sourcebooks and Lucia Macro, who was one of my editors at HarperCollins) who offered immediate feedback on the material. For me, reminiscent of my times in the recording booth when I narrated audio books and informational films, and did voice-over for radio adverts. We got through quite a lot of pages during that hour-long workshop.

The day concluded with Hooch Through History, a drinking through the centuries extravaganza organised, managed, and presented by Isobel Carr. We began our drinking journey through time with medieval mead, followed by port (prompting the immortal line, 'Real women drink red port...naked!'), then an 18th century gin cocktail (with a orangey non-junipery gin), then the dangerous, smoky-green absinthe (we were given an absinthe spoon to keep), and last of all a wet-dry martini from the Mad Men era. As you might imagine, we grew more raucous and giggly as the sampling progressed!

Gin cocktail, circa 1798

Saturday was quite busy from the start, and again I attended a variety of workshops. The day began with State of the State of Historical Fiction, a panel of agents and editors. As always, their acquisition tastes are individual, though some of their perceptions of the market meshed.

Agents & Editors on the HistFic market panel

Let's Do the Time Warp: Controlling the Chaos When Writing Different Eras (Stephanie Thornton, Kate Quinn, Heather Webb, C.W. Gortner) was a topic right up my street, having written 12 novels of the 17th, 18th, early 19th centuries--and now completing a 20th century novel before going backwards in time. My friends' insights were very encouraging and illuminating.

Our luncheon speaker was David Ebersoff, author of The Danish Girl. Another inspiring speaker who offered wonderful insights.

David Ebersoff

In the afternoon I attended The Audacity of Will, a small-group discussion of writing novels that feature Shakespeare, with Mary Sharratt and Stephanie Cowell and other. I also sat through some of Book Reviewers Tell All (with reviewers/bloggers Sarah Johnson who edits Historical Novels Review and posts at Reading the Past, Meg Westell of A Bookish Affair, and Jenny Toney Quinlan of Historial Editorial and Let them Read Books.)

During the public Readers' Festival, I co-hostessed with Gillian Bagwell our themed historical 'Koffee  Klatch' on The Merry Monarch to the Four Georges. * * * For my promised list of period films, see below.

Late in the afternoon came the Booksigning. I did lots of table-hopping, visiting friends I hadn't yet seen or continuing conversations with those I had.

With conference Program Chair Leslie Carroll

With tablemate, my fellow author Kate Quinn
The closing banquet was in the evening--another occasion for dressing up. Australian author Kate Forsyth gave a delightfully entertaining rendition of the legend of Tam Lin--you could have heard a pin drop throughout her presentation.

With Leslie again, at the banquet

Me, Gillian Bagwell, Amanda McCabe

The final event was a Hellfire at HNS Masquerade Ball, with musicians, lessons in English Country Dance, and whist tables. I danced only one dance and continued my socialising, as time was growing short.

English Country Dancing
Incognitas--with author Diana Mathur

Parting from my fellow writers was a sweet sorrow--we were all quite eager to return to our projects. I hope so much to see everyone at HNS in 2019, and perhaps at the UK conference next year.

The next morning, Sunday, I boarded my flight back to Boston. I hadn't left the hotel since Thursday. It was a beautiful morning to fly out of Portland, with stunning views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood and other mountains.

Mount St. Helens

Mount Hood

Back home now with husband, dogs, and my own rose gardens, I'm overflowing with knowledge and  inspiration, and ready to finish the current manuscript.

*** At our 17th/18th Century Koffee Klatch I promised to share my list of period films and television programmes. Not comprehensive at all, and in no particular order--just a batch that were top of mind when I compiled the list or outright faves that I wanted to share.

17thC/Stuart/Restoration/English Civil War/Louis XIV/etc.

Stage Beauty
The First Churchills
A Little Chaos
Cyrano de Bergerac
The Crucible
Forever Amber
Frenchman’s Creek
Witchfinder General
Tous les matins du monde
The Libertine
The Wicked Lady
The Three Musketeers
The Draughtsman's Contract
The Devil’s Whore
The New World
By the Sword Divided


The Scarlett Pimpernel
The Duchess
Amazing Grace
Jane Austen Novels
Barry Lyndon
The Mission
John Adams
Marie Antoinette (2 versions)
A Royal Affair
The Madness of King George
Vanity Fair
Lady Caroline Lamb
Catherine the Great
The Last of the Mohicans
A Tale of Two Cities
Jefferson in Paris

Jun 18, 2017

Historical Novel Society Conference 2017, June 22-25

This will be my 4th time attending my favourite writers' gathering, and I've had the pleasure of participating in the UK as well as the US conference. The HNS is an international organization and sponsors major conferences on three continents. This week in, Portland, Oregon, at the Hilton Downtown on SW Sixth Avenue.  In September, our Australasia branch holds its conference in Melbourne. Next year, Edinburgh, Scotland. We cover the globe!

On Friday, 23 June, I'm a panelist for the session MIXING IT UP: Historical Writing in Multiple Genres, with colleagues Susan HigginbothamKris Waldherr,  and Aimie K. Runyan. On Saturday, with fellow 17th century novelist Gillian Bagwell, I'm hostessing a Koffee Klatch for the public Readers' Festival titled FROM THE MERRY MONARCH TO THE FOUR GEORGES: 17th and 18th Century London Coffee House Conversation. And, making use of my on-stage experience, I'll be reading aloud introductory pages submitted for immediate comment and critique by editors.

The Book Signing, Saturday afternoon from 3.45 to 5.15, will feature 120 authors of historical fiction, and I'll be one of them. Two of my titles will be available, and I'll hand out bookmarks and happily chat with readers and writers.


It takes as long to fly to Portland as it does to London, and though I'll be there but a short time, I'm looking forward to the trip--a chance to meet up with seldom-seen writing comrades and editors I've worked with in the past, make new friends, and talk with histfic readers. And as an avid rosarian, I am very eager to visit Portland's International Rose Test Garden!