The presidential election is in full swing in the US. And as with most election cycles, the political talking heads all have a favorite catch-phrase. This year’s seems to be “unpack.” As in “let’s unpack these numbers,” or “there is a lot in this report to unpack.” Usually I roll my eyes when I hear it, kind of like when the media’s favorite word was “gravitas.”
But today, there is no more appropriate word for what I’m doing. You see, I got back this week from the Historical Novel Society Conference in London. I am still literally unpacking my bags, but also unpacking all that I learned from the people I met and the sessions I attended.
The conference was a wonderful mix of historical writers, readers, agents and editors. It is my second HNS conference and I have to say that from my experience there are no nicer people on the planet than historical fiction buffs. It didn’t matter that I was 3,000 miles away from home as I could sit down next to just about anyone and have something in common– a love of history.
There are so many highlights, but I guess Philippa Gregory’s exhortation that we be proud of writing historical fiction is the one that really set the tone of the weekend. She quoted an historian who said that her books consist of four known facts, thus he deduced that there was one fact for every 75 pages of her novel. I loved that she shared this without the slightest hint of bitterness (though she added some hysterical asides about said historian). She went on to say that for every known fact there are unknown facts that are just as real. Historians make their own assumptions based on the known facts and so do we as writers–only we aren’t ashamed to admit it. Hurrah!
And the always gracious Margaret George shared with us some of her childhood memories and her attempts to revisit the places of her past. Her poignant and thoughtful words reminded us that historical fiction, in a way, reminds us of who we are.
But most off all, I guess I come away from HNS London 12 with a more sincere commitment to honoring this craft of writing. I met with some wonderfully talented fellow writers (Hazel Gaynor and Catherine Delors come to mind) and agents who inspired me with their passion, creativity and determination.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more unpacking to do. . .