Guest Post by Indrani Ganguly –
I have enjoyed reading historical novels since I was a child but have only recently started writing my own. Discovering and joining the Historical Novel Society has been invaluable in guiding novices like me on this journey.
I decided to attend the 2021 all-virtual North America conference because it offered such an exciting opportunity to listen to and learn from many different writers and attendees when travel outside Queensland, where I live, was impossible.
I wasn’t sure how well I would survive several late nights and early starts that were inevitable given the difference in time zones, but I was determined to try as I knew the live sessions would provide great opportunities to ask questions. I’m happy to say I did!
The most important thing I learnt from the HNSNA Conference was what a diverse, enthusiastic, and supportive group of people the writers and readers of historical novels are!
There were also many useful tips on best ways to plan and write historical novels. The session on Demystifying BookBub taught me much about how this service functions.
It was inspiring to have so many authors confirming some of my own beliefs and practices on topics such as researching history, the joys and challenges of writing historical mysteries, writing about the “other,” and writing about times and places where little is known. Both presenters and moderators were respectful and inclusive of my questions and comments.
The presentations from writers from ethnic minority backgrounds on barriers they faced in dealing with stereotypes about content and characterization in their works and how they overcame them were also very enlightening.
The conversation rooms not only provided valuable opportunities to listen to diverse participants but an unexpected bonus: reconnecting with an acquaintance I had met a few years ago when I visited Philadelphia for a family event!
Another unexpected outcome was an invitation to participate in a panel on Writing the Other: Representation, Appropriation and Respectful Research by the chair of the virtual conference of the Historical Novel Society Australasia in Sydney, who had come across my American presentation.
While the Australian conference was smaller than the American one, it also provided inspiration from writers speaking about their works on unusual topics like humanising the Holocaust for adult and young readers.
The two conferences also highlighted some gaps I’m trying to cover in my own work. For example, there were many presentations on the World Wars but nothing on how the British drew on the human and material resources of colonies like India to fuel their war efforts. There were also few presentations on what the “good guys” of Europe (British, French, Dutch) were doing in their colonies. These gaps have given me some ideas on some avenues to pursue.
Both conferences provided invaluable opportunities to network and socialize with other historical novel lovers from very diverse backgrounds. It was a great idea to have the virtual cocktail sessions, as I didn’t have to worry about being over the limit. My friend from the US popped up again at the Sydney conference, and we had some more interesting chats.
I really appreciated that the two conferences provided attendees recorded sessions to be viewed or revisited for a good period of time after the actual event. Given there was so much on offer, it would have been impossible to attend everything in either a face-to-face or a virtual conference.
Having attended these conferences, I am now keeping my fingers crossed I can attend at least one face-to-face conference in 2023 and contribute as best I can. Zooming through time, space, and cultures is fun and convenient, but I believe face-to-face interactions provide many new dimensions. I hope hybrid will be the way to go for future conferences!
Indrani Ganguly was born in Lucknow, India, of Bengali-speaking parents who imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture. She studied English Honours at the University of Delhi and sociology and history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She did her Ph.D. on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University.
Indrani’s publications target a mix of academic, community sector, and creative writing audiences. Her first historical novel, The Rose and the Thorn, (2019, available on Kindle Store and Amazon) focuses on the role of so-called ordinary women in the Indian national movement and social reforms. Interested readers may access the first 20 pages here.
Indrani is now working on the sequel, tentatively titled Destiny’s Daughters, which continues the story in the immediate post-Independence period in India and also some Australia-India connections, which she hopes to expand on in the third book.