Well, it seemed nearly five hundred and it happened at the grand banquet of the semi-annual Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. Writers who are fairly famous and those in the middle and those unknown to this point met together for two glorious days at the historical Renaissance Vinoy hotel whose veranda overlooks the bucolic Tampa Bay with its expensive boats and amazing old trees with Spanish moss.
The hotel comes with its live-in ghost, but the writers brought their own ghosts and packed thousands of years in their pockets. Biblical scholars discovered each other at the banquet, authors of royal fiction embraced. A great deal of talk was overheard about Victorian England and the life of Tudor spies. Someone walked around with a t-shirt which said, “Just finish the damn novel” – words I should heed. There were so many published authors at the book signing that I had a hard time finding a place to sit. Novelists stormed the bookshop and bought each others’ novels.
If the Babylonian exile or Marie Antoinette’s court is where your soul lives, St. Petersburg Florida was a good place to be the third weekend in June.
According to their website, 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. 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. 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.”
This was the fifth North American convention and writers came from all over the states, England, Ireland, South America and beyond. Panels on all subjects from truth in historical fiction to building an online presence were held. Authors looking for agents or editors pitched their novels and practiced their pitches with each other over wine in hotel rooms. Many cheerful overworked volunteers held it altogether. There were guest speakers including the inspirational Anne Perry who told us that a familiar loved book can hold your hand in dark times and get you through and C.W. Gortner (Christopher) who found his first publisher at the very first convention in Salt Lake City and who told a story of dedication and endurance for fourteen years before his wonderful career began.
The glorious lobby was full of soft chairs and sofas with new and old friends in small groups intensely conferring; the bars and tables of the three restaurants overflowed with writers talking about three millenniums of stories. And at 7:00 in the morning outside on a terrace to the sound of birds chirping, writer and yoga teacher Stephanie Renee Dos Santos gave a free class to early-rising writers.
The Saturday gala included a costume pageant with Margaret George wearing a dress from the movie Titanic and Teralyn Pilgrim as a very pregnant Vestal Virgin, inspired by her upcoming novel.
We all left each other with many hugs, many e-mail address interchanged. My dear three hundred colleagues: ten weekends would not be enough with all of you.
It is very little money to join the Historical Novel Society and worth every penny. http://historicalnovelsociety.org/ Perhaps I’ll meet you at the London convention in Fall 2014.
About the author: Historical novelist Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of the American Book Award. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Stephanie’s new novel on the love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning will be published in 2014. Her website is http://www.stephaniecowell.com