How I Found My People at My First Historical Novel Society Conference

Carol M. Cram –

I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to writing historical fiction. My debut novel, The Towers of Tuscany, set in medieval Italy, was published in 2014 when I was in my late fifties. But since then, I’ve been making up for lost time. I joined the Historical Novel Society in 2013 and discovered that a conference was scheduled for September 2014 in London. Since I was already planning to be in England to visit my niece, I simply shuffled a few dates, and I was all set. Although I’d attended writers’ conferences in Vancouver, BC, and had co-founded and run the Write On Bowen Festival of Readers and Writers on Bowen Island, where I live, I’d never attended a conference specifically for writers of historical fiction. I had no idea what to expect!

I remember feeling very nervous as I approached the Marylebone campus of the University of Westminster in London for pre-registration and the opening reception. I didn’t know a soul and hoped, as I clutched my glass of wine and circulated through the room, that I’d find someone to talk to. I needn’t have worried! One of the first people I met was Phyllis T. Smith, author of I Am Livia, that I’d recently read (and loved). Also, coincidentally, it was published by Lake Union Publishing, which was about to publish The Towers of Tuscany. We had an interesting conversation, which set me up for many more over the course of the evening.

My nerves vanished as conversation after conversation confirmed that, indeed, I’d found my people. Following a welcome address by HNS founder Richard Lee and the presentation of the HNS Indie Award by Elizabeth Chadwick was a dinner event. I hadn’t signed up for it and so headed for the door, planning to grab a bite at a local pub before taking the tube back to my hotel.

On my way out, I started chatting with a woman who invited me to come to dinner with her and a group of about ten other conference-goers. That dinner was so much fun! I’m still in touch with several of the authors I met there. Everyone was so animated and excited, the talk flowing about research and character development, historical periods, and publishing, marketing, and current trends. I learned so much.

The next morning, I attended a panel session on “Selling Historical Fiction: The Challenges and Triumphs,” where I learned that Tudor-era fiction was still hot, listened to a keynote address by Conn Iggulden, and attended a highly informative session led by Emma Darwin and Suzannah Dunn about methods and approaches for recreating past voices. After lunch (during which I met even more interesting people!), I waited along with other short- and long-listed authors who had submitted a story to the short story competition to hear the winner announced. Alas, I didn’t make the top three, but that barely detracted from my enjoyment of the day. I ended it by attending a very entertaining pane, “My Era is Better than Yours,” that included authors Angus Donald (Medieval), Suzannah Dunn (Tudor), Antonia Hodgson (Georgian), Giles Kristian (Viking & Civil War), and Harry Sidebottom (Ancient Rome).

I wasn’t able to attend sessions on Sunday because first thing in the morning, I hopped a train for Scotland with my niece and my daughter, who had arrived from Canada a few days previously. But my appetite for HNS was definitely whetted. In 2016, I attended the HNS conference in Oxford and had an even better time; signed up for the HNS conference in Durham in 2020 (alas canceled, but I’ll be there in 2022!); and attended the HNSNA virtual conference in 2021, during which I participated on a panel and co-led a session with Australian novelist Elisabeth Storrs.

In the summer of 2021, the HNSNA Board accepted my application to serve as their Marketing Chair, so now I don’t have to wait until the next conference to connect with other historical novelists. I’m also enjoying getting to know my fellow board members and having an awesome time helping to plan the 2023 conference in San Antonio.

If you’re thinking about attending an HNS conference, let me strongly encourage you. I’m so glad I took the plunge back in 2016. Few things are more satisfying for an introverted novelist like me than being in a roomful of like-minded people who know what it feels like to unearth a nugget of history so compelling and so exciting that you can’t help featuring it in a novel.

Carol M. Cram is the author of three historical novels: The Towers of TuscanyA Woman of Note, and The Muse of Fire, and a contemporary novel, Love Among the Recipes. She also expresses her passion for sharing the written word, the arts, and her love of travel on two websites Artsy Traveler (www.artsytraveler.com) and Art In Fiction (www.artinfiction.com), and on The Art In Fiction Podcast on which she chats with authors who write novels inspired by the arts. In addition to writing novels, Carol is the author of over sixty college textbooks in computer applications and communications. Carol lives with her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, BC, where she also teaches Nia, a holistic dance/fitness practice and is co-director of Write On Bowen: A Festival for Readers & Writers on Bowen Island.

Photo of Carol M. Cram, author and marketing chair at the HNSNA

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