Readers of my travel blog (peteandjacmotorbikingineurope.wordpress.com) will immediately appreciate the serendipity of the picture above. Tracy Chevalier, my hero and talented author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Last Runaway, and most recently The Edge of the Orchard, was a speaker at the Historical Novel Society’s 2016 conference in Oxford last weekend, which I attended. (Apologies for the poor quality of the image, taken on my phone from way back in the hall.) Her wit, modesty and plain good sense are like gold dust. Coming only a few days after seeing the Vermeer original of Girl in The Hague on the final day of our European travels, her keynote address just seemed to really bookend that wonderful trip.
I was a first-time attender at HNS, and had a marvellous time in the company of other writers. Some were much-lauded national and international treasures, like Tracy herself and other greats (Melvyn Bragg – a captivating speaker; Fay Weldon; Margaret George; Manda Scott; Simon Scarrow). Others were hard-working authors who provide the backbone of British historical fiction, writing high-quality well-researched and very entertaining stories drawn from the rich seams of British and world history. The publishing and agenting businesses were very well-represented too, and had my Romano-British novel been further developed I could have booked a session to pitch to one of them. There was a fair sprinkling of newbies like me, first-time historical novelists working with trepidation on a much-loved project and wondering whether we’ll ever get published. Everyone was friendly, enthusiastic and very willing to share experiences and tips.
There were some excellent workshops and panel discussions too. For me the highlights were Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books and Amy Durant of Endeavour Press on Going Digital; Manda Scott on building tension in historical thrillers; Simon Scarrow on YA historical fiction; and Anna Belfrage on time travel and timeslip stories. I was quite surprised to find myself apparently the only SFF writer in this workshop – to me this type of story blurs the genre boundaries between science fiction and historical fiction.
And of course there was lots of fun, including the unexpected incursion of a band of Vikings. They were eventually beaten back – by the offer of a coffee, I believe.
Two of my flash stories – “Grand Bazaar” and “Red Riding Hood” – are appearing this month in new anthology In A Flash… published by the Sinister Saints imprint of Horrified Press. I myself think of both these stories as primarily fantasy with a twist in the tale rather than horror, but hey, I don’t mind much when they get more airtime and sales! I haven’t yet got the link for you to peruse but will put it up in my next blog. I think the book will be available in both print and ebook format.