Visiting Washington DC can only be described as a unique experience. For some this city is the centre of the Western political world, even though The White House appears as distant to the ordinary tourist as a magical white palace placed upon the moon. It is a city set out on a grid system of clean squares, circles and imposing buildings, some of which are free museums.
It was my first visit and the occasion was not to see The White House but rather to cross the Potomac River to Maryland and The National Harbour. My goal was The Historical Novel Society Conference which this year was held in The Gaylord Conference Centre and Resort.
The Society was started by Richard Lee, graduate of Merton College, Oxford. During the nineteen nineties he established the HNS to review and discuss Historical Novels. The Historical Novel is generally defined as a novel set, or in part set, fifty years since. This covers dual-time novels and historical mysteries.
Initially conferences were held in England. However, the society grew, was supported by well-known authors on both sides of the Atlantic, and soon conferences were being held in America biannually and in Australia annually. I first attended one in York, England in 2008. After this event I was hooked, joined up and began reviewing for the society’s highly respected Historical Review Magazine. All conference organisers and reviewers are volunteers. The Conference can be a huge event but it can be intimate too as was last year’s conference held in Scotland. I organised the Oxford HNS conference in 2016 for 400 attendees. Maryland had in excess of this number of delegates.
I enjoyed every precious moment of this year’s conference. The Gaylord Resort was a superb location and the conference suite fabulous. I loved the location. The events offered by HNSA were informative and there were wide-ranging events designed to appeal to a diverse audience. My own presentations on The Women of Tudor London and on Thomas Cromwell were successful. Help was on hand with the power-point presentation set ups. I signed more than a dozen books and had I more of The Handfasted Wife would have sold them all. The new cover is so attractive it gathered comment.
A delicious lunch was provided over the two main conference days. Guest of Honour speakers Jeff Shaara and Dolen Perkins-Valdez spoke during these lunches on approaches to Historical Writing. Jeff Shaara is a Pulitzer Prize winner. His books are mostly about The American Civil War. The speakers’ messages included not getting overly obsessed with research but keep ‘story’ and ‘characters’ on the front-line. We are, after all, storytellers.
On Thursday before the main conference I attended two workshops. One was on Scrivener and the second Marketing. I won’t really use Scrivener properly until I move to an apple laptop. It’s painful to use on a PC. An Industry Panel spoke of the popularity of Historical Mysteries and Dual Time Narratives and also approaching traditional historical eras in a fresh way. The Girl with the Pearl Earring is a good example.
Both the Historical Costume Competition at the opening reception and the final Gala dinner were delightful.
These conferences also provide sound net-working opportunities and agent interviews as well as manuscript critique if interested. I was delighted to make new author friends and meet old friends too. Accent’s very own superb editor jay Dixon attended this one as did Ann Friedman who is from Kansas, is a brilliant writer and has an exciting new two book deal with Accent. Her interest is the seventeenth century and Versailles, both of which are combined in her upcoming novel, A Fine Tapestry of Murder. I really enjoyed meeting Ann at last.
By the way, the English HNS Conference is currently seeking a co-ordinator. If you are interested go to the HNS website. Contact Richard Lee. It’s very rewarding but time-consuming for busy authors, and I personally cannot do it again, having too many deadlines ahead.
Finally, I did get to visit the fabulous Smithsonian affiliated museums on offer in Washington DC. We do not yet know the location of the next HNSA Conference, but it will be somewhere in the middle of the continent. I shall be attending.