Hot, tired and stressed out after flight delay and snail-slow taxi ride from Liverpool Street Station, I arrived at Marylebone Hall, the accommodation block at the University of Westminster, fit to drop. I flung on a clean shirt, combed my hair and abandoning unpacking, I hurried down to the lobby. The sound of chatter and clinking glass and broad smiles of people who had spotted me instantly dispelled the weariness and frustration. Here were friends, here were book people; readers, writers, agents, publishers, colleagues.
It was a good twenty minutes before I reached the wine table – possibly a record for me. Glass in hand, I listened to Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), shortlist judge, and Elizabeth Chadwick, final judge, announce the HNS Indie Award prizewinner The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox. Prizes were donated by donated by Orna Ross, and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G.
Greetings, chats, faces I knew, introductions to those I didn’t know all passed in a blur and ended at Hardy’s Brasserie a little later with a delicious meal of smoked mackerel, steak and ale pie and chocolate and orange cake with vanilla ice cream, all washed down with (more) wine.
Saturday morning, coffee and Danish later, we started with a welcome by HNS chair, Richard Lee, then straight into the first panel. Agent Carole Blake chaired ‘Selling historical fiction’ with Matt Bates from W H Smith, Katie Bond of Bloomsbury, Nick Sayers (Hodder & Stoughton) Simon Taylor of Transworld and Susan Watt from Heron Publishing. Usual things: a cracking good story, great cover, well-edited. The strongest trend was still Tudors, with all other periods well behind.
Next up was Conn Iggulden, the best selling Roman author, who gave a stellar performance, telling self-deprecating stories with a comedic edge about his writing career. We were captivated. The two things about writing historical fiction I took away were: fill in gaps intelligently, and fiction benefits from history and history benefits from fiction.
For me, the Roman theme continued. ‘Veni, vidi vici’ workshop with Douglas Jackson, Harry Sidebottom and Margaret George discussed our continual fascination with the Romans.
The length of the civilisation, its richness of archaeology and sources, its organised, dominant state and military machines and, as Margaret George noted, all those films that Hollywood and TV has produced were possible reasons. I was in my element and contributed enthusiastically!
The HNS Conference Short Story Award (open to all HNS members attending the conference) came after a sandwich lunch and I was delighted that fellow ALLi member Lorna Fergusson won!
A slightly recovered Lorna sharing the good feeling with me and fellow indie author Anna Belfrage.
Then came a highly entertaining session called ‘My era is better than yours’ with Philip Stevens keeping order, and panellists Angus Donald (Medieval), Suzannah Dunn (Tudor), Antonia Hodgson (Georgian), Giles Christian (Viking and Civil War) and Harry Sidebottom (Ancient Rome).
During the tea break, I chatted with my heroine, Lindsey Davis, the author of the Falco mysteries set in 1st century AD Rome. I managed this time not to be fazed by her greatness and she was charming (Photos courtesy of Dave and Ann McCall).
Lindsey was a good sport to talk to a relatively new kid on the Roman writing block. Of course, I went to her interview with Jerome de Groot.
Then it was back to Hardy’s that evening for London Particular (pea and bacon soup), kedgeree, and pear and ginger crumble with custard. Yumm!
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