Oxford - HNS Conference and a lot of rushing around

The 2016 Historical Novel Society in Oxford –  fabulous speakers, sharp engaging talks, lively expert panels plus rampaging Saxons – a celebration of all things historical and fictional. This was the feast before us.


Battle of Fulford 1066 tapestry. (Click image for more info)

Many colleagues have written accounts which make compelling reading for different reasons. I’ve picked out a few I that made me laugh and/or made me think:
Christina Courtenay
Anita Chapman
Ruth Downie 
Lorna Fergussonhere and here.

I’m not going to duplicate their excellent posts, but I urge you to read them!

So, my little interim post gave a few glimpses of the weekend. But my involvement with the conference began last year. I was asked to join the organising committee and became the deputy publicity officer working alongside publicity officer Anita Chapman who runs the social media consultancy neetsmarketing. I also took on responsibility for co-ordinating indie activities including an indie display table and (with Helen Hollick) an indie panel. Somehow I volunteered for front of house (problem solver) which occupied a lot of my time!


With Anita at the London Book Fair (Photo courtesy of Anita Chapman)

Well, Anita and I launched our PR plan nice and early letting HNS members across the world know about the exciting things planned for the conference. Although she lives in the UK and I’m in France, we kept up to date with each other as we rolled the phases out. We even managed a meeting during the London Book Fair earlier this year in April.

Our PR campaign led to record breaking early sales and more importantly generated huge enthusiasm from those who booked to come to the conference. I loved liaising with delegates and hoped I answered all their questions fully! I couldn’t get to many committee meetings, but I kept in touch with Anita, front of house manager Antoine Vanner, bookselling contact Liz Harris and fellow indie co-ordinator Helen Hollick by Skype throughout the run-up.




Well, the weekend arrived!  Leading the excursion to Blenheim Palace on 2 September was a total pleasure, and a pizza and salad dinner amongst friends (organised by Elaine Powell) was the perfect end to the day. But that was relaxation before the frenzy.




with-antoine-vannerFrom Friday evening until Sunday lunchtime, I was in perpetual motion! My Fitbit records over 12,000 steps each day! I reported to Antoine, the front of house supremo whom we christened “The Master”. (He does write naval fiction after all!) Streams of delegates were booked in, questions answered, directions given, queries solved. And so it continued for two days.



With Derek Birks and Laura Morelli (sitting) and Helen Hollick (standing, left)

Helen, Anna Belfrage  and I set up the indie table Saturday morning  and the first of our (pre-organised) volunteers arrived promptly at 9 am; people buzzed round it non-stop.

Anita Chapman and I had the pleasure of speaking (she more than me) to Michael Caines of the Times Literary Supplement who wrote a splendid piece about the conference.


Justin Hill, Matthew Harffy, Harry Sidebottom, Douglas Jackson and Simon Scarrow. Not a clue what Matthew, Harry and I were joking about!

I managed to get into a few sessions, including the one on ‘Battle Scenes: Guts, gore and glory’ with Justin Hill, Matthew Harffy, Harry Sidebottom, Douglas Jackson and Simon Scarrow. It was a bit ‘laddish’ but very entertaining. No, I didn’t ask the ‘women in battle’ question as it went past so quickly, there wasn’t time!

AURELIA which was one of the four finalists for the 2016 HNS Indie Award didn’t win, but apparently, the judges had a terrible time deciding. 😉 The joint winners were Lucienne Boyce’s Bloodie Bones and Barbara Sjoholm’s Fossil Island.


Tilla, the Romano-Briton (alias Ruth Downie)


Scrambling into my frock and posh shoes for the gala dinner, I was disappointed to see the weather had made good its dark promise: it was belting down. Raincoat to the rescue… The bonus was that we had a Roman at our table. Well, Romano-British if we are truthful!

On Sunday, Tracy Chevalier was on excellent form, succinct and clear: “The past is what happened, history is the account we make of it.” I remember her talk at the London Book Fair – entertaining yet full of sound common sense.


Antoine Vanner, Lorna Fergusson, Helen Hollick and me

Our panel ‘Going Indie: Questions and Answers’ with Antoine Vanner, Lorna Fergusson, Helen Hollick and me had a packed house, even a couple of people standing!

Unfortunately, Helen had eye problems so handed over the reins to me. We had so much to pack into an hour and all the panellists were passionate about striving for quality, retaining control and communicating with readers. Helen Hollick explained about the HNS Indie Review scheme, Antoine Vanner gave his marketing expertise, Lorna  Fergusson explained the intricacies of editing and I frightened everybody by saying what a lot of hard work it was.

We’d be here all day if I noted down all the friends and colleagues I spent time with over the weekend and I’m bound to miss somebody out, but I was particularly pleased to have a good coffee chat with Chris Gortner with whom I’d shared a book signing table with last year at HNS Denver, my agent Carole Blake, Douglas Jackson (who endorsed INSURRECTIO!), Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Chadwick and the delightful Ruth Downie.

My sincere thanks to the indie table volunteers: Derek Birks, Laura Morelli, Lucienne Boyce, Nicky Moxey, Anna Belfrage, Jane Steen and Elizabeth Johns. Helen and I were delighted but not surprised by the mutual support that exists between indie colleagues and the buzz they created.

Oh, and I sold and signed a few books…


Alison Morton is the author of the Roma Nova thriller series, INCEPTIOPERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The fifth in the series, INSURRECTIO, was published in April 2016.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

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