Here I am at the HNS conference in Oxford. It feels a bit strange. And not because it will take me the entire length of this ten-day visit in England to get used to the coinage. Nor is it the unfamiliar surroundings. My instincts have already adjusted to keeping to the left and watching for traffic coming from the wrong direction when crossing the street. And I speak the language, in a manner of---um...speaking.
|I took this shot for you, Michael. I am sure you recognize the building|
It's just this: here I am among writers with very similar interests to my own. And there are many with whom I connect easily one or two at a time. I am, after all, just as essentially a historical novelist as I am a mystery writer. It's just that the overall ambience, the feel of the crowd is distant. It takes effort to start a conversation, as if one must prove oneself with each encounter. None of that warm, open tribal feeling I get with a crowd of mystery writers in the States. A part of this stems from this conference being organized on an academic model, with people submitting proposals, including bios and credentials for all the speaker/panelist opportunities, which are then juried and selected on criteria that are unclear. And most of the conference schedule is given over to general sessions,(Big Names) and much less airtime for panels (Lesser Known Authors). This cuts down considerably on the spontaneity and energy level of the presentations.
The opening event featured Fay Weldon, greatly amusing and engaging, who delivered the following quips:
"Indignation is a great thing,"
"Tearing the marriage apart is the ambition of all step-daughters." (This Freudian insight will turn the tables on your favorite fairy tale.)
"Boys come of age at thirty. Girls come of age at about the age of eight." (I have three brothers. This struck a chord with me!)
At one session, the only one devoted to crime writing, I was finally able to imagine that I might learn to write a real thriller, rather than a hybrid mystery-thriller. At least I hoped I might when I drew this diagram. I am not really sure that this insight will turn out to be all that helpful in practice.
I liked the panel on truth and lies in how we all handle history. There were several trained historians in the room--on the panel and off--who were open to talking about where the two endeavors converge, instead of the usual outrage I have often gotten from scholars who resent and vilify the likes of me for having the audacity to write about the past without possessing a PhD.
My all out favorite was the regular closing event in which a panel of veteran historical novelists are pitted against the audience at large in a contest of who has the greater knowledge of historical fiction. The audience wins of course, proving one of my favorite dictums: three hundred heads are better than three!