I attended my first writing conference at the beginning of September. It was the Historical Novel Society conference held in the beautiful town of Oxford and it was a truly wonderful day.
You see, I’ve never experienced it, that incredibly swell of excitement when you walk through a crowd of writers. When you know that every one of them, if you were to stop them and tell them the buzz you get from writing; the fact your characters don’t behave; and that you’d give anything to walk through 1790s London; would be able to understand.
There’s something rather special about that.
And then there’s so many of those authors that you admire, and you’re getting to sit with them, meet them, hear them give there tuppence worth.
Mixed with this crowd are the heads of industry, the titans who have previously only been a name on a website, in an article or on your query letter. You get to hear them talk about historical fiction, its importance, its direction, its future.
My highlights in no particular order were: meeting Authors I’ve known online for years, normal author-people, and the warm welcome made by everyone.
1. Meeting people I’ve known online for years
It really was an absolute pleasure to meet people I’ve known online for years, interacted with, promoted books with, had guest blog posts and interviews with, in the flesh!
In fact, it was one of the first things I did when I came through the door. I spied out the authors who I knew and went straight up to them introducing myself. It was wonderful to chat to Helen Hollick who had done a fascinating and popular post on my blog about Riding Aside. She’s lovely by the way.
Then there was Anna Belfrage, a woman who’s writing and knowledge I admire immensely. We chatted about POV (the bane of my life by the way, which Emma Darwin made a little better in her workshop) and writing. Anna has a lot of knowledge bouncing around in her head.
And Paula Lofting, who I have tried to meet before at a book signing which was cancelled. It was great to see her in her re-enactors garb, shouting war cries and threatening the conference-goers. What a rush. You can see the picture I tweeted here.
2. Normal author-people being there.
This was fabulous and mainly down to one lady (though I assume that the majority of attendees were normal ;-). I thoroughly enjoyed Jean Fullerton’s workshop on creating believable historical characters.
Jean is just so normal and practical. That’s the kind of person I can relate to. She gave the most straight-forward, applicable and easy-to-implement advice on creating believable characters. Especially interesting were her points on attitudes in the past and how to best represent them in your stories.
Although I wouldn’t usually go for her era of books, I have to say, in this case after meeting her, I’d make an exception!
3. There really was a spirit of camaraderie.
I walked into the large, glass entrance hall not knowing anyone in the flesh for a Saturday of conference lasting 9am-6pm. I’m a chatter, but there are times my heart is in my throat. This was one.
To say that the staff and delegates were friendly is an understatement. I was greeted by two ladies on the reception table who were lovely, and not only told me all the info I needed, but we’re very warm and welcoming.
When I had grabbed my coffee and looked around nervously for some people to hang with I recognised Laura Purcell from afar. I’ve known her online for some time and she had sent me a friendly message to come and say hi and so you know what? I did. I went over and introduced myself. Laura was with Jacqueline Reiter and Lizzy Drake and they were all so welcoming. They were so friendly and made the whole thing all the more enjoyable.
Finally, at lunch, I had been chatting too much and at workshops etc, so only had half an hour to quickly eat. Most people had eaten or were already in groups, so I quite happily sat on a table on my own, checked notes I’d taken and any tweets. Lo and behold, I hadn’t been sat down five minutes before a fellow author just came and sat down with me, asking if the chair was free, introducing themselves and becoming a lunchtime companion. No sooner had they then disappeared, but another person did the same! How friendly can you get?
So, it turns out, that though I had been accepting that I may well spend the day ‘alone’ with people at the conference without anyone to chat to, the opposite was the case. I’ve been to a few work conferences and nothing quite rivalled this one in the spirit of unity amongst all the authors and industry professionals. It wasn’t like we were there, worrying about copying each other’s notes or industry secrets.
We were all together, on the band-wagon that is historical fiction, and we were laughing and joking and enjoying the ride.
I guess that’s what made it so great.
The only thing which would have made it better, would have been if I could have attended with M.M. Bennetts. It was wonderful to be around people who knew her, and to hear her commemoration when the M.M. Bennetts Literary Award was given, but I would have loved to have sat with her again and listened to her satirical comments on all the happenings.
That being said, I am sure I shall be attending again when I can, and as I only made the Saturday this year, perhaps I’ll manage to make more of it next time.
You know what makes it an essential for writers? Writing is a lonely occupation, and this event makes you realise you aren’t in it alone.
Thank you, one and all
Thank you to the organisers, the volunteers, the authors, the industry professionals and everyone who made it such a blast!