Historical Fiction Under Southern Skies: The 2015 HNS Australasian Conference

Elisabeth Storrs

Authors HNSA 2015A love of historical fiction knows no geographical limits. For years historical fiction fans from Australia, New Zealand, and south-east Asia have been envious of the opportunity to attend HNS conferences held in the northern hemisphere. With this in mind, a small band of aficionados (Chris Foley, GS Johnston, Wendy J Dunn, Diane Murray, and myself) decided to establish the Historical Novel Society Australasia to celebrate the genre in our part of the world.

The HNSA inaugural conference was held in Sydney 20-22 March 2015. Sessions showcased 40 speakers discussing craft, research, inspiration, and personal histories. The program was modest but well received by over 170 enthusiastic attendees. Internationally renowned authors included Kate Forsyth (our patron), Felicity Pulman, Colin Falconer, Toni Jordan, and Juliet Marillier, together with many talented Australasian authors.

The opening night reception featured a round table debate, facilitated by Kelly Gardiner, between Gillian Polack, Rachel Le Rossignol, Jesse Blackadder, and Deborah Challinor to explore the topic ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?’ Each of these writers boasts doctorates in either or both history and creative writing, which resulted in a substantive and entertaining discussion. We were also honoured that Sophie Masson spoke on the connection between history and fiction in her analysis of the French term ‘histoire’, which has the dual meanings of ‘history’ and ‘story.’

The year 2015 is the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign of the Great War, which holds particular resonance for both Australians and New Zealanders in the commemoration of our war dead. Accordingly, the theme of the conference was ‘The Historical Novel in Peace and War’. Colin Falconer gave a moving keynote address that transported the audience back to the horror and bravery of those fighting in the trenches. The panel, War Torn Worlds, then discussed why the world wars inspire fiction and the challenge faced in depicting characters who must endure the turbulence of such conflicts.

Other panels included Tall tales and true: how storytellers imagine history; Can CYA fiction compete with werewolves, vampires and zombies?; Intrigue, mystery, fantasy and timeslip; and The path less travelled: indie publishing and the freedom to explore. The audience was also treated to interviews with Sulari Gentill, Peter Corris, Toni Jordan, and Posie Graeme-Evans.

A particularly popular panel was the ‘First Pages’ competition. This replaced one-on-one pitch sessions. Aspiring writers submitted a short excerpt which was read by an actor/ narrator, thereby ensuring their writing was presented in a vivid and engaging way. The feedback from a panel of publishers and agents then provided insight to the entire conference audience as to what attracts their attention.

In addition to an academic session on the role of the female detective in historical fiction, the conference included super sessions which covered historical fiction writing and research, manuscript assessments, and a social media session run by myself and Marg Bates, the wonderful blogger from Historical Tapestry and The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

Finally, what conference would be complete without a saucy, sizzling and sexy session? In Bed with History featured Kate Forsyth, Colin Falconer, and Jesse Blackadder in a romp as they performed a rendition of one the racier scenes in Kate’s novel, Bitter Greens.

We appreciate Richard Lee’s support to HNSA as a regional arm of the HNS, and its conference will become a fixture alongside the current UK and US events. Our conferences will be conducted biennially, with the next one scheduled in Melbourne in 2017. We hope to see you there!

About the contributor: Elisabeth Storrs is the author of the Tales of Ancient Rome series. More information about HNSA can be found at www.hnsa.org.au.


Published in Historical Novels Review  |  Issue 74, November 2015

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