27 September 2012

Today's HNS Conference Guest Richard Lee

The Founder and Mainstay of the
 Historical Novel Society 

Richard founded the Historical Novel Society in 1997 after trying to join it, only to find it didn’t exist. The society has since developed in many unforeseen ways, following the enthusiasms of the active membership, with Richard trying to keep as light a hand on the tiller as possible. It is with bemusement but great pride that he regards the society’s robust health fifteen years on.

So please welcome Richard for this the last Conference Guest post:

Some people are born into history. Royalty, people of eminent family, prodigies: some begin and simply continue in the spotlight. I do not find these kinds of people as interesting as those who begin in normality, and then change because of some conspicuous event. These are the people I would most like to meet – but to meet them before their lives changed. The poet Thomas Gray memorably wrote about the kind of talent that any country churchyard can boast: ‘Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.’ But if we were to meet great people before they were great – at a dinner party, say – would we recognise the qualities that might soon shine?
In serious-mode I would probably invite a truly fearsome and terrifying group of soon-to-be extraordinary guests. Jesus, before he decides to teach those things that he has already seen in his heart; Michelangelo, before his hands have found that remarkable feel for marble; Shakespeare sharpening his quill to write a first jobbing play. I think you can guess the sort of list, and why I would choose it. When faced by somebody complete in themselves they become removed. They have a confidence that may suffer cruel doubt, but which is never the same doubt that people feel before achievement. I think that would be exciting – and wouldn’t it be difficult (supposing we believe in this time-travel ability) not to try to tell them how things will work out for them?

Richard's Banquet Guests

But this is not serious-mode. Also, I feel that as someone who so vocally loves historical fiction (as opposed to fact), my choices really have to be fictional ones. So here they are...

Dr Iannis (from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)

You need someone who loves talk, who loves ideas, and who thinks that the table is a fine and appropriate place to spend your life (the last thing you want is action heroes who will bore you about their exploits!). Dr Iannis is a dinner guest par excellence: someone to stay up late into the night with, drinking some ghastly syrupy Greek drink with an illegible label, discussing whatever next comes into your head.

Elizabeth Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice)

I would love to meet Elizabeth (of course) at the height of her attractions as she is in Austen’s most sparkling novel. I’d also be intrigued to know how she copes with her change of status, and if love stays alive for her. Perhaps when she has a thirteen year old daughter herself, and is struggling to guide her? 

She would still be a charming and attractive guest, but not so arch, and not so willing to be impressed by the Wickham type (I hope).

Sophia Weston (from Tom Jones)

I think Sophia might have become tiresome as Tom’s wife, but she has real fire as the trapped (but loyal) daughter of Squire Weston – and equally loyal sweetheart of the frequently wayward Tom. Married man though I am, I would nevertheless invite her at exactly the age she is as she takes to the road in the novel, and I would insist she wore her muff to and from the dinner.

Porthos (from Les Trois Mousquetaires)

A sadder, wiser Porthos would be best, I think. You don’t want too much boasting around the table. In his early days Porthos would have been too French, too flamboyant, too much the bon viveur. I imagine him gouty and a little haggard in later life – like the older Fielding – but probably the better company for it. And in later life he might leave some of the food for the other guests

Stephen Maturin (from Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series)

Stephen would be good company at any age, if on form. You wouldn’t want to catch him in one of his morose phases, or too intoxicated, and you would definitely have to avoid his touchy subjects or risk fighting a duel. It might also be an idea to have him visit a bathhouse before the event. He is one of those kinds of people whose happy intellect is particularly interesting on any subject that they do not know much about.

Rebecca (from Ivanhoe)

What happens to Rebecca after the book is finished? I’m not the only person to wonder: Thackeray wrote a spoof sequel. But Scott’s Rebecca is much more intriguing than Thackeray’s. In truth I have no idea how she would deport herself at a dinner party, and she might be utterly demure – but I expect that even silent she would be an adornment: she is exactly the sort of person that men imagine a character for, which can be more potent than a real character.

Harry Flashman (from George Macdonald Fraser’s eponymous series)

Probably a very bad choice, but in the right context I think Harry might be fun. Maybe we should not invite him to the dinner, but just to port and billiards afterwards? Certainly any of the women I have invited would see straight through him, and his manly mutton chops will almost certainly get resoundingly slapped at various stages of the evening.

Amy Dorrit (Little Dorrit)

Dickens indubitably had a thing about the sort of girl-woman who looks like a child but takes on all the responsibility and cares of mother and matron. Amy Dorrit, for me, was his best evocation of this. I would want her at dinner because she deserves to be at an entertaining dinner, and because she’d be too self-effacing, too modest to push herself forward. She’d also be just the person to have on hand if I had ‘dined too well’ and started letting the wine talk for me. She would lead me quietly away without slighting me or making me realise in any way what a fool I’d made of myself.

Merlin (The Crystal Cave)

We have a table full of beauties, topers, philosophers and scientists – and I do not know if someone more spiritual would fit in. Perhaps not. Though Merlin was used enough to soldiers’ revels, and latterly quite able to make a fool of himself over a pretty face. Merlin wouldn’t say much at table, but if it was the sort of event where you could also take a stroll around the gardens, I think he’d be worth talking to under the stars. Every event needs an outside-looking-in character.

A bit about the HNS - 
the Society that Richard founded:

"We are a literary society devoted to promoting the enjoyment of historical fiction. We are based in the USA and the UK but we welcome members (who can be readers or writers) from all round the world. Through our print magazines, conferences, website, social media and through the dynamism of our membership we help bring the excitement of these novels to the widest audience. Find out about joining us..."

The HNS was founded in the UK in 1997. At first it was conceived of as something of a campaigning society, because historical fiction was in the doldrums then. Or at least that was the perception. Our magazine Solander aimed at trying to alter that perception amongst authors and publishers. Quickly a second magazine was conceived, the Historical Novels Review, because we found our members enjoyed reviewing, and publishers and authors appreciated the feedback. In time we began to realise that the sheer scale of the review magazine was the best argument you could make for the strength of the genre. We also realised that our reviews could grow to be the best and most complete guide to the genre, and that there was a unique value in that.

Over the last 15 years we have become very much an international society. We aim to review all US and UK mainstream published titles, and as many other English language books as we can. Ideally we would also love to cover foreign language titles.

We also run competitions to discover new authors, conferences bringing authors and readers together, and maintain internet groups and lists. This website is our latest project and the hub of our activities: a home, we hope, for historical fiction enthusiasts wherever you live.

We are an entirely open membership – no-one has ever had to jump through hoops to join. If you enjoy historical fiction of whatever kind and for whatever reason, you’re welcome.

We are also an open organisation in terms of who can participate in society activities – our writing, editing or social events. Obviously these things need a structure, and so we have society officials, but the way to be an official is simply to volunteer. Everything we achieve is done through the unpaid voluntary work of enthusiasts – and new people can get involved at any time.

If you love historical novels, please join us, and help us make a noise about them.

This is the last Conference Guest Post 
I do hope everyone has enjoyed reading the interesting and inspirational items
 Thank you to all for taking part either as guests or readers.

26 September 2012

Today's HNS ConferenceGuest: Elizabeth Chadwick

Directing the Passion

or how I became 
a historical novelist for a day job

I am a born storyteller. I can clearly remember being put to bed at three years old on a warm, light summer evening. I wasn't ready to go to sleep and I can distinctly recall taking a folded cotton handkerchief from under my pillow and opening it out on the bed spread. It was a little girl’s hankie, printed in each corner and the middle with pictures of fairies.  I remember making up a tale around these fairies until I grew tired.  I could neither read nor write at this stage, but I already had the art of story.

Throughout my childhood I continued to entertain myself in this way, always verbally, never writing down the words. The subjects of my stories although wide-ranging, often involved horses or mythical elements. I would take exciting moments from books I was currently reading and change the story.

I would invent new episodes - I guess it was a form of fan fiction but not labelled thus back then.  I would often revisit the same story but change something about it, a little tweak at the beginning, a different character or chapter ending. The stories themselves never had complete endings but were always left open ready for the next episode.  I didn't realise it at the time, but I was conducting my own apprenticeship in the art and craft that was going to become a huge part of my career later on.

I had no idea as a child that I would end up writing historical fiction for a living. The idea of being a writer did not occur to me in my childhood at all, but that changed when I was fifteen and for the first time put my ideas on paper.  Suddenly I had a visual record of the stories that until then had been talked into thin air and it was an epiphany moment. The spur to writing it down came from the mundane.  I was bored in the school holidays and set myself a project.  It was only after I embarked on that project that the full spark ignited.  I wrote the novel in a spare Geography note book!

Why historical fiction? I suppose it's one of those moments of fate where you arrive at a fork in the road and something happens to direct you down one path rather than another. I had always been a voracious reader and my favourite books were myths, legends and ghost stories. With that sort of background I may well have drifted into fantasy writing, but my road was directed not by the written word but by the visual experience.  I had become glued to a historical drama put on by the BBC. It was called the six wives of Henry VIII and starred a handsome actor called Keith Michelle.  Of course there is nothing new under the sun and we now have The Tudors and Jonathan Rhys Meyers!

Inspired by the programme and for the first time, I wrote my story down - a Tudor tale of a young woman coming to attend at court. It was a false start in that I didn't continue with the story beyond the school holidays, but it is significant that I began to read historical fiction which I had never really done as a child. I picked up Jean Plaidy’s novels about the Tudors and thoroughly enjoyed them.

The Mediaeval hammer struck the following year when the BBC aired another historical programme aimed at older children and teenagers. It was called Desert Crusader and was dubbed from its original French. The series starred a handsome knight in flowing white robes having adventures in the holy land. I fell for him in a big way and began writing my own story based on his character.

 However, it quickly developed a life of its own. I didn't know anything about the 12th century crusader period and had to begin researching. The more I researched, the more interested I became and the more I wanted to write about the period.  It took me around a year to complete a 500 page handwritten novel and by the end of it, now aged 16, I knew what I wanted to do for a living was write historical fiction set in the Middle Ages filled with romance and adventure. My goal was set and everything else was peripheral. I worked in shops to earn a living. I filled shelves in the Asda superstore and the Co-op, not caring that the work was mundane - it was just a means to support myself while I got on with the real business of obtaining myself a career.

 It took me 17 years from penning the first words of that first full novel to achieving publication at the age of 33 with my 8th attempt.  It was a long learning curve, but the perseverance was worth it.  That first novel, The Wild Hunt, won a major award and is still in print 22 years later, having been joined by another 21 novels, with more prizewinners and bestsellers among them, including The Scarlet Lion which HNS founder Richard Lee nominated as one of his historical fiction choices of the decade, and To Defy A King, which won last year’s Romantic Novelist’s Association Award for the best historical novel of the year.

 To follow your dream you have got to be tough and persevere. If novels are rejected, sometimes it is because the novel is not in the right place at the right time or there is too much competition, or the editor or agent doesn’t recognise enormous talent and potential.  And sometimes it's because a writer is just not ready and needs to be realistic about how much work still needs to be done.  I view my eight reject novels as my apprenticeship pieces. I still have them in my drawer, and I suspect that's where they are going to stay in my lifetime, but they were worth every moment, and gave me enormous satisfaction and enlightenment.  Perhaps that's the most important lesson I've learned. Above all, enjoy what you do, and do it with a whole and true heart.

Elizabeth's Banquet Guests

It would be a medieval feast of course!

John Marshal and his wife Sybilla, William Marshal and his wife Isabelle de Clare,
Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Joanna. I wouldn’t want to invite her husband Henry II or her sons because I’d want the conversation to be wide ranging but amicable. However,  I’d  invite his father Geoffrey le Bel Count of Anjou to see if he really was as handsome as his legend says. He was reckoned to be charming, extremely intelligent and well read, so I think he’d make a good dinner guest. Out of interest and curiosity

I’d have Roland the farter to provide the cabaret – it was his job to turn up at court every Christmas and perform a ‘leap, a whistle and a fart’ in front of the King. My mind boggles and I need to unboggle it and see if these were the general duties of a court jester. To recover from this, I would have troubadour Bernard de Ventadour sing us some of his songs.

25 September 2012

Today's Conference Guest: Kathryn Johnson

writing as
Mary Hart Perry

Looking back over the authors and stories that have most influenced my writing, I recognize one very important element. They were all fun reads. Not one of the authors tried to preach or teach (at least that I was aware of), or overwhelm me with verbal acrobatics. The characters, historical elements, and fantasy blurred together in a way that swept me into their fictional world. Every time I read a story by Arthur Conan Doyle or Kenneth Roberts or even Isaac Asimov, I fully gave myself over to their tale, wishing it would never end. 

 If there is one thing I want to do for my readers, and I've tried my very best in my latest novel, The Wild Princess (inspired by events in the life of Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll), it's to entertain. To whisk readers off on an adventure that will make them forget, if only for a few hours, the turmoil, stress, and possibly even the pain or loneliness of their own lives. 

 No, I don't believe all readers of historical fiction are hurting. But I know that some of the very hardest times of my own life were made bearable by disappearing into a wonderful novel. And, to me, simply being there for my readers when/if they need me--that's enough reward for me. I wish you all amazing reading, and writing, adventures. Kathryn Johnson, aka Mary Hart Perry

Kathryn's Banquet Guests

Jane Austen--Pride and Prejudice was the very first real novel I ever read, and it changed my life. As a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina, but in my teens I decided that writing novels was my new dream.

Tchaikovski--Because when I listen to his Violin Concerto in D Major I can write with passion...and very, very fast.

Christopher Kendall, Director of the 21st-Century Consort--Because I'd love to hear Tchaikovski's reaction to modern classical composers.

Anna Pavlova--My childhood idol. Oh, to dance like Pavlova!

Shakespeare--How could I not invite the man who stands at the top of my profession-the greatest story teller of all times?

Christina Rosetti--Because her poems and life intrigue me, and I want to learn more.

Michael Dirda--As a literary critic for the Washington Post and NY Review of books, as well as Pulitzer Prize winner and the author of witty essays focusing on the love of books and storytelling, he'd keep conversation flowing.

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll--Her 21st century attitude toward life, art, and a woman's value in the world--though she lived mostly in the 19th century--so fascinated me that I had to write about her in The Wild Princess. Go, Louise!

Charles Dickens--He did what all writers hope to do, tell irresistible tales. And he'd feel entirely comfortable in our digital age, where serializing novels is becoming the next "new" thing. (He was doing it over 100 years ago!)

FB :  Facebook  
Twitter : @Mary_Hart_Perry
Twitter:  @KathrynKJohnson

A brief thing-y about my latest book:
The Wild Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria's Defiant Daughter  
by Mary Hart Perry

Published July 31, 2012

The novel is a romantic Victorian thriller, inspired by history
but venturing into the imagined adventures of Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll,
fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
Previous novels:
                The Gentleman Poet   by Kathryn Johnson
                HarperCollins/Avon Published 2010
                A novel inspired by Shakespeare's masterpiece, "The Tempest"

24 September 2012

Today's HNS Conference Guest: Graphics Designer Cathy Helms

Cathy grew up with a healthy interest in anything related to the Arthurian legends – thus the inspiration for naming her design business ‘Avalon Graphics’. She has always been fascinated with British history, the Dark Ages in particular. She regularly attends local Renaissance Festivals in North Carolina where she resides, and will be traveling to the UK for the first time in 2012 for the Conference. Cathy offers an array of design services and has particularly geared Avalon Graphics to suit self-published authors and small businesses in need of quality design while on a tight budget. She provide full book jacket layouts, marketing materials such as flyers, postcards, bookmarks, web graphics, book trailers for YouTube and portfolio websites. 

Meet Cathy at the Conference at the 

Indie Advice table(on the balcony opposite the Waterstones book stall) She will be delighted to answer any questions regarding marketing material, cover design or Book Trailer production - for all Indie and mainstream authors and publishers.

Avalon Graphics (est 2009)
Greetings ladies and gents! I'm Cathy Helms writing  to you from rural North Carolina, USA. First of all I want to thank my phenomenal friend Helen for inviting me to her blog! It is great to be here and to be introduced to all of her readers.
 (HH lovely to have you here!)

Cathy's Work Station
I primarily read historical fiction, always on the lookout for anything 'Arthurian',  and while perusing the fiction section at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore spotted The Kingmaking. And that book discovery is what led me to Helen! I wrote to her with a letter of praise for her Pendragon's Banner Trilogy (which is still one of my favorite Arthur-centric novels of all time),  and that initial contact led to her hiring me to re-design the cover for her pirate novel 'Sea Witch'....

and I've been working with Helen ever since! She's introduced me to a whole bunch of great folks in the industry, so I owe a great deal of my recent successes to her!

My husband, Ray, and I reside in Maiden, North Carolina, relocating over a decade ago from Florida (USA), where we both grew up. After years of working in billing and customer service, I finally had enough of crunching numbers and creating invoices. So I applied and was accepted into my local community college where I earned a degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2008. 

I call the college experience my own version of a 'mid life crisis' since I waited until I turned 40 to further my education. After graduating, I established Avalon Graphics and have been working out of our home growing my design business steadily since 2009. And I feel that my big break came when I reached out to Helen and ended up fulfilling all of her graphic needs.

Cover design for
Richard Denning

I grew up with a healthy interest in anything related to the Arthurian legends - thus the inspiration for naming my design business. Fantasizing about castles, knights in shining armour and all that frivolity were (and still are!) my favorite pastime. Also, I have always been fascinated with British history; in particular the Dark Ages. Bucket list item - walk a section of Hadrian's Wall! I regularly attend local Renaissance Festivals here in North Carolina, and plan to travel to the UK for the first time in 2012.

I am also an passionate digital photographer and often use my own photography in my design creations. I grew up with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, or a singer, or an artist, and so I've always considered myself a creative soul. As a teenager, I sang in my school's choir, played the trumpet, and was student director of many school stage productions. 

I graduated with the distinction of being named Drama Student of the Year in 1985. But it wasn't until much later in my life that I returned to my creative roots. Fresh out of high school, I failed to follow those dreams. Instead, I followed the job market earning a steady income for the first twenty two years of my professional life, working in dull cubicles.

Besides all things 'Arthurian', I also fell in love with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels while still working in the drab office environment. And when Peter Jackson produced the stunning films back in 2001, I found my muse again for imaginative pursuits. I began writing poetry and dabbling in fan fiction writing. And I wanted to create my own computer desktop wallpapers based on the Lord of the Rings and other fandoms.

Desktop Wallpaper

So after some research into how these digital wallpapers were created I discovered a computer software program called Adobe Photoshop. Years before I went to college to gain a formal education in the medium I taught myself how to create graphics for the web and print media with Photoshop. What my formal education gave me was the technical skills that I would need in order to apply my creative skills in the field of Advertising and Graphic Design. Most importantly, I learned how to prepare digital designs for print and quickly discovered a particular love for book cover design.

How I do it - I am often asked about my process in designing book jackets and my initial response goes something like this: each project is unique and it 'depends....' I know, that is incredibly vague. *laughs* I ask the client about their manuscript first, then ask a few questions about favorite colors, other book covers that they favor and if they have any specific elements they'd like to see on the cover.

Cover Design by
Avalon Graphics
 Then I begin my concepts (in Photoshop, not by hand which usually surprises folks) based on the client's input and largely on my own gut instinct after interacting with the client. I like to work directly with the client in developing a cover design that truly speaks to them and represents the story that they are telling within the pages of their book. While my education taught me the 'rules' of formal graphic design, I like to step outside that box and go for something more unique whenever possible. 
Not all publishing houses allow free styling in book cover design, but I certainly push that envelope! I fashion myself a photo manipulator with a serious addiction to typography. However, my resume simply says 'Graphic Designer' as that would be the prim and proper title for my profession.

So what I do -  offer an array of design services and have geared Avalon Graphics to suit the self-published and small businesses in the market in need of quality design while on a tight budget. I provide full book jacket layouts, marketing materials such as fliers, post cards, bookmarks, web graphics, book trailers for YouTube and even portfolio websites for my clients. I have signed on with UK publisher Knox Robinson Publishing to handle all their book cover needs in 2011 while I also continue to work with many individual authors directly including Richard Denning, John Baird, Pauline Barclay and Helen!  

I want to thank Helen again for allowing me to descend on and take over her blog for an entry. It has been a true pleasure! Cheers!!

HH - My pleasure to invite you Cathy - not only have I a wonderful designer with a fabulous talent, I've also found a treasured friend!

Covers for Historical Fiction

Cathy's Banquet Guests

Lucius Artorius Castus (Roman Commander who lived 140-197): He led a legion of Roman soldiers based at Ribchester against the Caledonii tribe during a large campaign to push the enemy back north of Hadrian's Wall in his time. I think the man would give me a fantastic insight to life along the Wall...whether or not his campaign was in part the basis for the Arthurian Legends...well that is anyone's guess. But he's high on my own personal list of contenders for the real Arthur. And any man of that caliber I'd love a long chat with over a strong wine and in front of a roaring fire.

Clive Owen (actor, 46): My favorite actor! I think he'd be an interesting dinner party guest because he always seems friendly and impeccable in interviews. He comes from humble beginnings and I'd like to hear more about how he'd made it all work in such a tough industry as movie making.  I'm a bit curious about his obsession with David Bowie too, and I would ask him all sorts of questions about learning to ride horses for the filming of King Arthur - and his own thoughts on the legends. What was it truly like to portray 'Arthur'?

Steven Spielberg (director, producer, screenwriter, etc) - my idol filmmaker since I first saw his films back in the early 80's. Fascinating man. I would ask him about his inspirations and whole creative process. And why exactly did Indiana Jones hate snakes so much?

Gaius Julius Caesar (probably most famous Roman Emperor..er...Caesar of them all / 100BC to 44BC): I've always been fascinated with this man's life story - what we know of it at any rate. I'd love to hear all about it in first person. What was the Roman Empire truly like day in and day out? And how much did he truly trust Brutus?

Howard Huddleston (b. March 1912 d. Dec 1988): My paternal grandfather. I adored him and he adored me. I never had enough time with him. He is the reason that I have a particular love of animals...especially horses. He bought me my very own pony before I could walk. And much to my mother's dismay, he always took me out to his pastures to feed the horses; allowing them to lick my hair and such when I was still a toddler.

Linda Hostetler Tucker (b. Oct 1968 d. June 2008): My beloved cousin. I lost her too soon. I miss her. She was my twin in life.

Ashley Argo: My best friend! She's my writing partner; she understands and most importantly accepts all my quirky ways. And how could I have a dinner party that included Clive Owen without inviting Ashley? She would murder me. *laughs*

Captain Jack Sparrow! (fictional - Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) Don't tell Jesamiah Acorne that I picked Sparrow over him! It was a tough choice mind you. Perhaps I would have better luck getting the rum if I invited Acorne instead! Jack Sparrow is one of the most beguiling and bewildering characters ever to grace the screen...or the Caribbean.

Richard Cypher (fictional - The Seeker): Terry Goodkind gave us the best of all men when he created Richard for the Sword of Truth series. And I would love the chance to share a meal with the modest woods guide who turned out to be the savior of their entire world. I want to know what it is like to be a War Wizard! And I bet he could prepare a better meal than any fancy restaurant on the planet today.

Contact Cathy for all design work

view some more of Cathy's work -  marketing material she has designed