The HNSA Conference 

A few weeks ago I attended the HNSA Conference — (HNSA = Historical Novel Society of Australasia) in Sydney. It was quite different from Romance Writers' conferences, which tend to be mostly about the craft of writing and business and publishing. The HNSA Conference was more about ideas — issues to do with research, fine lines to walk when writing about real people's lives, research challenges across eras, truth and lies in crime fiction, historical fiction screenwriting, sources of inspiration, and much more. You can link to the full program from here. JackieFrench1

I loved the interview with Jackie French, a wonderfully prolific Australian author, who writes for children and adults and everyone in between, and whose historical novels I recommended on Word Wenches earlier this year. I was lucky enough to meet her in the green room, and she was as warm and charming as her books. She gave a marvelous speech about the importance of writing and representing people and telling the truth, and at the end I wanted to stand up and cheer. I restrained myself and clapped really hard instead. Her website is here.

It was both refreshing and inspiring, listening to people talk about historical writing from such varied points of view. As well, so many of the speakers and panelists were natural storytellers, and were so interesting I wanted to hear more, and so of course, bought their books. I learned things about history — mostly Australian history, but also South African and NZ and other times and places — that I knew very little about.

MollyDeanHistory and Mystery: truth and lies in detective fiction was a panel about crime fiction and how real incidents had inspired the panelists. Listening to them talk about unsolved crimes, and the research trails they'd followed, and how locations had inspired them, was fascinating. One story was about the murder of  Molly Dean, a young Australian woman in the early part of last century. She came from a respectable middle class background and during the day taught children with learning difficulties. By night she was the mistress of a well known Melbourne artist, and lived with him in an artists' colony. Her murder was barely investigated because, the author suspects, she was regarded as little better than a prostitute. Now, a century later, though her case might never be solved, her story has at least been told. That's it on the left. GroundHard

Another story was told by Malla Nunn, who visited South Africa, where her parents came from, and was inspired to begin a crime series set in the 1950's — a very turbulent time in South Africa, when apartheid was introduced. Someone in the audience asked whether she felt the need to "soften" some of the ugliness and racism of that time and she said, emphatically no — that history was history and if you tried to make it more acceptable to modern audience you were dishonoring the struggle and the efforts and the sacrifice of those who'd lived through it. I thought that was a magnificent response.

If gritty crime fiction isn't your thing you might like this story of two mixed race girls at boarding school in Swaziland (where Malla Nunn was born) bonding over a shared love of Jane Eyre. (That's the panel below, with Malla talking.)

Flick'sPanel

Thinking about all these different stories and aspects and approaches to history stretched my brain, in much the same way that a good brisk walk along the seashore refreshes mind and body. 

I missed a session that might have been interesting because I misunderstood the title. It was "We Need to Talk about Bette and Joan" — and who would you imagine that title referred to? I assumed it was Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, so I skipped it and went to the alternative session. Later I learned that it was actually about Queen Elizabeth and Joan of Arc!  LOL. JulietMarillierPanel

Another panel discussed "Writing Strong Heroines" – and one of the speakers was one of my favorite writers, Juliet Marillier, whose books I regularly recommend. (Second from the left.) It was another excellent discussion, as people discussed what was meant by "strong" in this case?

I chaired a panel on writing historical romance series and keeping reader interest alive across a series, for which we all dressed in costume (More about that on my own blog).

AnnaAlison&meI was also on a panel on "George and Georgette"  – ie about "mad" King George, Georgette Heyer and the Regency. The other two panelists were regency romance writer Anna Campbell and regency fantasy writer Alison Goodman. (That's us on the left, relaxing after the panel, From left Anna Campbell, Alison Goodman and me.)

It was a lot of fun. And in the questions from the audience in the last part of the session, one gentleman stood up and announced that he'd read "a lot" of regencies and in none of them was there any mention of the Napoleonic Wars. Which he thought was shocking! MJPOnceASpy

I jumped in first and told him he hadn't read enough books, that there were plenty of regencies with strong references to the war, and that many were actually set during the war and in the war. I started with Heyer's An Infamous Army, then went on to Mary Jo's many books set in wartime, from her most recent Once a Spy, to all of her "Once" series and many more. My first book, Gallant Waif, was about two people just returned from war and badly scarred by it — one physically the other emotionally. And my whole "DevilRiders" series was about heroes returned from the war and finding it hard to settle into civilian life.

Upon which I stopped for breath and the other panelists and the audience joined in, calling out the titles of the many many regencies that dealt with wartime. The poor man sat down, quite abashed.

If you missed the interview I did with Mary Jo about Once A Spy, (which was listed as one of Library Journal's 10 Best romances of 2019!!!!) click on the link above..

Fencing2On the last day, at lunchtime we were treated to a display of sword-fighting through the ages. We sat around outside in the shade — it was a hot, sunny day — while two heroic swordsmen in full fencing gear took us through the history of sword fighting, demonstrating various kinds of fishing and different swords and even pikes. We munched on sandwiches and fruit and delicious little cakes while these two stalwarts sweated for our education. It was wonderful.

The Historical Novel Society operates in the UK and USA, as well as Australasia, and holds conferences and writing competitions so you might want to investigate. If you're in Australia, you'll have to wait another two years before the next conference, but if you go, I'll be there.

Now, over to you — have you been to a historical novel conference? And if you'd been in the "George and Georgette" audience, what book(s) might you have recommended to the gentleman who thought Regencies never talked about the war. And thinking about strong heroines, what qualities do you think makes a heroine strong?

75 thoughts on “The HNSA Conference ”

  1. Oooh, Anne, that sounds like such a wonderful conference! Writers, fencers, history–be still, my heart. *G* Clearly that guy who hadn’t seen any Napoleonic war settings in historical romance hadn’t ever read much beyond Barbara Cartland. (Though to be fair, her many books might well have included Napoleonic material.) Thanks for all the delicious tidbits of the conference!

    Reply
  2. Oooh, Anne, that sounds like such a wonderful conference! Writers, fencers, history–be still, my heart. *G* Clearly that guy who hadn’t seen any Napoleonic war settings in historical romance hadn’t ever read much beyond Barbara Cartland. (Though to be fair, her many books might well have included Napoleonic material.) Thanks for all the delicious tidbits of the conference!

    Reply
  3. Oooh, Anne, that sounds like such a wonderful conference! Writers, fencers, history–be still, my heart. *G* Clearly that guy who hadn’t seen any Napoleonic war settings in historical romance hadn’t ever read much beyond Barbara Cartland. (Though to be fair, her many books might well have included Napoleonic material.) Thanks for all the delicious tidbits of the conference!

    Reply
  4. Oooh, Anne, that sounds like such a wonderful conference! Writers, fencers, history–be still, my heart. *G* Clearly that guy who hadn’t seen any Napoleonic war settings in historical romance hadn’t ever read much beyond Barbara Cartland. (Though to be fair, her many books might well have included Napoleonic material.) Thanks for all the delicious tidbits of the conference!

    Reply
  5. Oooh, Anne, that sounds like such a wonderful conference! Writers, fencers, history–be still, my heart. *G* Clearly that guy who hadn’t seen any Napoleonic war settings in historical romance hadn’t ever read much beyond Barbara Cartland. (Though to be fair, her many books might well have included Napoleonic material.) Thanks for all the delicious tidbits of the conference!

    Reply
  6. Mary Jo, it was the best conference I’ve been to in ages. And it was lovely seeing the panel and half the audience jumping to defend regencies and calling out the titles of various books.

    Reply
  7. Mary Jo, it was the best conference I’ve been to in ages. And it was lovely seeing the panel and half the audience jumping to defend regencies and calling out the titles of various books.

    Reply
  8. Mary Jo, it was the best conference I’ve been to in ages. And it was lovely seeing the panel and half the audience jumping to defend regencies and calling out the titles of various books.

    Reply
  9. Mary Jo, it was the best conference I’ve been to in ages. And it was lovely seeing the panel and half the audience jumping to defend regencies and calling out the titles of various books.

    Reply
  10. Mary Jo, it was the best conference I’ve been to in ages. And it was lovely seeing the panel and half the audience jumping to defend regencies and calling out the titles of various books.

    Reply
  11. I was there Anne and had an absolute ball. I very much enjoyed the panel George and Georgette and the fencing demonstration was fabulous, as was our little lunch boxes. The armoury workshop was great too. Can’t wait for the next one either.

    Reply
  12. I was there Anne and had an absolute ball. I very much enjoyed the panel George and Georgette and the fencing demonstration was fabulous, as was our little lunch boxes. The armoury workshop was great too. Can’t wait for the next one either.

    Reply
  13. I was there Anne and had an absolute ball. I very much enjoyed the panel George and Georgette and the fencing demonstration was fabulous, as was our little lunch boxes. The armoury workshop was great too. Can’t wait for the next one either.

    Reply
  14. I was there Anne and had an absolute ball. I very much enjoyed the panel George and Georgette and the fencing demonstration was fabulous, as was our little lunch boxes. The armoury workshop was great too. Can’t wait for the next one either.

    Reply
  15. I was there Anne and had an absolute ball. I very much enjoyed the panel George and Georgette and the fencing demonstration was fabulous, as was our little lunch boxes. The armoury workshop was great too. Can’t wait for the next one either.

    Reply
  16. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous conference. Thanks so much for sharing some insights and providing more author names to add to my unwieldy list. I recently bought Once A Spy and am looking forward to reading it while I’m in hospital this week. In response to the narrowly read gentleman I can only say that I’ve read many regencies that are set during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a dozen scenes ff the top of my head but not one title comes to mind. As a by the way, we visited Waterloo about two weeks ago and spent some time in the museum there. They have a fabulous collection of replica uniforms from just about every regiment of every army involved in that battle. Oh and I managed to climb the Butte de Lion, all 226 strps each way.

    Reply
  17. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous conference. Thanks so much for sharing some insights and providing more author names to add to my unwieldy list. I recently bought Once A Spy and am looking forward to reading it while I’m in hospital this week. In response to the narrowly read gentleman I can only say that I’ve read many regencies that are set during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a dozen scenes ff the top of my head but not one title comes to mind. As a by the way, we visited Waterloo about two weeks ago and spent some time in the museum there. They have a fabulous collection of replica uniforms from just about every regiment of every army involved in that battle. Oh and I managed to climb the Butte de Lion, all 226 strps each way.

    Reply
  18. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous conference. Thanks so much for sharing some insights and providing more author names to add to my unwieldy list. I recently bought Once A Spy and am looking forward to reading it while I’m in hospital this week. In response to the narrowly read gentleman I can only say that I’ve read many regencies that are set during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a dozen scenes ff the top of my head but not one title comes to mind. As a by the way, we visited Waterloo about two weeks ago and spent some time in the museum there. They have a fabulous collection of replica uniforms from just about every regiment of every army involved in that battle. Oh and I managed to climb the Butte de Lion, all 226 strps each way.

    Reply
  19. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous conference. Thanks so much for sharing some insights and providing more author names to add to my unwieldy list. I recently bought Once A Spy and am looking forward to reading it while I’m in hospital this week. In response to the narrowly read gentleman I can only say that I’ve read many regencies that are set during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a dozen scenes ff the top of my head but not one title comes to mind. As a by the way, we visited Waterloo about two weeks ago and spent some time in the museum there. They have a fabulous collection of replica uniforms from just about every regiment of every army involved in that battle. Oh and I managed to climb the Butte de Lion, all 226 strps each way.

    Reply
  20. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous conference. Thanks so much for sharing some insights and providing more author names to add to my unwieldy list. I recently bought Once A Spy and am looking forward to reading it while I’m in hospital this week. In response to the narrowly read gentleman I can only say that I’ve read many regencies that are set during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a dozen scenes ff the top of my head but not one title comes to mind. As a by the way, we visited Waterloo about two weeks ago and spent some time in the museum there. They have a fabulous collection of replica uniforms from just about every regiment of every army involved in that battle. Oh and I managed to climb the Butte de Lion, all 226 strps each way.

    Reply
  21. I seem to recall that Heyer’s An Infamous Army was, maybe still is, used as a text at Sandringham Military Academy for training of British army officers. Wonder what Regencies that man had read??? That’s a LOL if I ever heard one.
    That conference sounds wonderfully meaty and also highly enjoyable. Wish I’d been there for the fencing and treats, as well as the interesting panels and presentations. I’m feeling such a strong tug that I think I might have missed the boat in my career choices.

    Reply
  22. I seem to recall that Heyer’s An Infamous Army was, maybe still is, used as a text at Sandringham Military Academy for training of British army officers. Wonder what Regencies that man had read??? That’s a LOL if I ever heard one.
    That conference sounds wonderfully meaty and also highly enjoyable. Wish I’d been there for the fencing and treats, as well as the interesting panels and presentations. I’m feeling such a strong tug that I think I might have missed the boat in my career choices.

    Reply
  23. I seem to recall that Heyer’s An Infamous Army was, maybe still is, used as a text at Sandringham Military Academy for training of British army officers. Wonder what Regencies that man had read??? That’s a LOL if I ever heard one.
    That conference sounds wonderfully meaty and also highly enjoyable. Wish I’d been there for the fencing and treats, as well as the interesting panels and presentations. I’m feeling such a strong tug that I think I might have missed the boat in my career choices.

    Reply
  24. I seem to recall that Heyer’s An Infamous Army was, maybe still is, used as a text at Sandringham Military Academy for training of British army officers. Wonder what Regencies that man had read??? That’s a LOL if I ever heard one.
    That conference sounds wonderfully meaty and also highly enjoyable. Wish I’d been there for the fencing and treats, as well as the interesting panels and presentations. I’m feeling such a strong tug that I think I might have missed the boat in my career choices.

    Reply
  25. I seem to recall that Heyer’s An Infamous Army was, maybe still is, used as a text at Sandringham Military Academy for training of British army officers. Wonder what Regencies that man had read??? That’s a LOL if I ever heard one.
    That conference sounds wonderfully meaty and also highly enjoyable. Wish I’d been there for the fencing and treats, as well as the interesting panels and presentations. I’m feeling such a strong tug that I think I might have missed the boat in my career choices.

    Reply
  26. Shelagh, all the very best for your hospital stay. I hope you do get some good reading done, and get well quickly. Your Waterloo visit sounds wonderful — I caught a few snippets of your travels on FaceBook.

    Reply
  27. Shelagh, all the very best for your hospital stay. I hope you do get some good reading done, and get well quickly. Your Waterloo visit sounds wonderful — I caught a few snippets of your travels on FaceBook.

    Reply
  28. Shelagh, all the very best for your hospital stay. I hope you do get some good reading done, and get well quickly. Your Waterloo visit sounds wonderful — I caught a few snippets of your travels on FaceBook.

    Reply
  29. Shelagh, all the very best for your hospital stay. I hope you do get some good reading done, and get well quickly. Your Waterloo visit sounds wonderful — I caught a few snippets of your travels on FaceBook.

    Reply
  30. Shelagh, all the very best for your hospital stay. I hope you do get some good reading done, and get well quickly. Your Waterloo visit sounds wonderful — I caught a few snippets of your travels on FaceBook.

    Reply
  31. Mary yes, I think several people in the audience mentioned it was used at Sandhurst for training and analysis. As for missing the boat, I think it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

    Reply
  32. Mary yes, I think several people in the audience mentioned it was used at Sandhurst for training and analysis. As for missing the boat, I think it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

    Reply
  33. Mary yes, I think several people in the audience mentioned it was used at Sandhurst for training and analysis. As for missing the boat, I think it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

    Reply
  34. Mary yes, I think several people in the audience mentioned it was used at Sandhurst for training and analysis. As for missing the boat, I think it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

    Reply
  35. Mary yes, I think several people in the audience mentioned it was used at Sandhurst for training and analysis. As for missing the boat, I think it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

    Reply
  36. I am responding to a side issue. You mentioned the mysteries set in South Africa during apartheid. There exists a detective series set in Australia in the 1940s. The detective is a half aborigine name Napoleon Bonaparte; the author is a British writer named (Arthur?) Upfield. I did enjoy this when they first appeared, but with a faint touch of unease. I CANNOT reread them. The author is SO patronizing about the Intelligent man! His racism is sickening. This would have been such a wonderful series if only the racism were missing. It disturbed me at age 16, it is unbearable at 92, considering all I have learned since then!

    Reply
  37. I am responding to a side issue. You mentioned the mysteries set in South Africa during apartheid. There exists a detective series set in Australia in the 1940s. The detective is a half aborigine name Napoleon Bonaparte; the author is a British writer named (Arthur?) Upfield. I did enjoy this when they first appeared, but with a faint touch of unease. I CANNOT reread them. The author is SO patronizing about the Intelligent man! His racism is sickening. This would have been such a wonderful series if only the racism were missing. It disturbed me at age 16, it is unbearable at 92, considering all I have learned since then!

    Reply
  38. I am responding to a side issue. You mentioned the mysteries set in South Africa during apartheid. There exists a detective series set in Australia in the 1940s. The detective is a half aborigine name Napoleon Bonaparte; the author is a British writer named (Arthur?) Upfield. I did enjoy this when they first appeared, but with a faint touch of unease. I CANNOT reread them. The author is SO patronizing about the Intelligent man! His racism is sickening. This would have been such a wonderful series if only the racism were missing. It disturbed me at age 16, it is unbearable at 92, considering all I have learned since then!

    Reply
  39. I am responding to a side issue. You mentioned the mysteries set in South Africa during apartheid. There exists a detective series set in Australia in the 1940s. The detective is a half aborigine name Napoleon Bonaparte; the author is a British writer named (Arthur?) Upfield. I did enjoy this when they first appeared, but with a faint touch of unease. I CANNOT reread them. The author is SO patronizing about the Intelligent man! His racism is sickening. This would have been such a wonderful series if only the racism were missing. It disturbed me at age 16, it is unbearable at 92, considering all I have learned since then!

    Reply
  40. I am responding to a side issue. You mentioned the mysteries set in South Africa during apartheid. There exists a detective series set in Australia in the 1940s. The detective is a half aborigine name Napoleon Bonaparte; the author is a British writer named (Arthur?) Upfield. I did enjoy this when they first appeared, but with a faint touch of unease. I CANNOT reread them. The author is SO patronizing about the Intelligent man! His racism is sickening. This would have been such a wonderful series if only the racism were missing. It disturbed me at age 16, it is unbearable at 92, considering all I have learned since then!

    Reply
  41. Sue, I know those Arthur Upfield “Bony” novels. I also read them many years ago, and agree with you about the patronizing (though I think unconscious) racism. The thing is, they were written in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and the world has changed since then — so much.
    It’s the same for me with a lot of authors from those times. Enid Blyton, Neville Shute, Mary Grant Bruce . . . and hundreds more. Casual, unconscious racism. I remember sending a friend some of my favorite Enid Blyton books from when I was a child, and then I reread my copies—and was horrified.

    Reply
  42. Sue, I know those Arthur Upfield “Bony” novels. I also read them many years ago, and agree with you about the patronizing (though I think unconscious) racism. The thing is, they were written in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and the world has changed since then — so much.
    It’s the same for me with a lot of authors from those times. Enid Blyton, Neville Shute, Mary Grant Bruce . . . and hundreds more. Casual, unconscious racism. I remember sending a friend some of my favorite Enid Blyton books from when I was a child, and then I reread my copies—and was horrified.

    Reply
  43. Sue, I know those Arthur Upfield “Bony” novels. I also read them many years ago, and agree with you about the patronizing (though I think unconscious) racism. The thing is, they were written in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and the world has changed since then — so much.
    It’s the same for me with a lot of authors from those times. Enid Blyton, Neville Shute, Mary Grant Bruce . . . and hundreds more. Casual, unconscious racism. I remember sending a friend some of my favorite Enid Blyton books from when I was a child, and then I reread my copies—and was horrified.

    Reply
  44. Sue, I know those Arthur Upfield “Bony” novels. I also read them many years ago, and agree with you about the patronizing (though I think unconscious) racism. The thing is, they were written in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and the world has changed since then — so much.
    It’s the same for me with a lot of authors from those times. Enid Blyton, Neville Shute, Mary Grant Bruce . . . and hundreds more. Casual, unconscious racism. I remember sending a friend some of my favorite Enid Blyton books from when I was a child, and then I reread my copies—and was horrified.

    Reply
  45. Sue, I know those Arthur Upfield “Bony” novels. I also read them many years ago, and agree with you about the patronizing (though I think unconscious) racism. The thing is, they were written in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and the world has changed since then — so much.
    It’s the same for me with a lot of authors from those times. Enid Blyton, Neville Shute, Mary Grant Bruce . . . and hundreds more. Casual, unconscious racism. I remember sending a friend some of my favorite Enid Blyton books from when I was a child, and then I reread my copies—and was horrified.

    Reply
  46. What a great post, Anne, about what sounds like a wonderful event. Thanks for sharing some of the details with us.
    For the regency reading gentleman, I’d have recommended Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.

    Reply
  47. What a great post, Anne, about what sounds like a wonderful event. Thanks for sharing some of the details with us.
    For the regency reading gentleman, I’d have recommended Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.

    Reply
  48. What a great post, Anne, about what sounds like a wonderful event. Thanks for sharing some of the details with us.
    For the regency reading gentleman, I’d have recommended Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.

    Reply
  49. What a great post, Anne, about what sounds like a wonderful event. Thanks for sharing some of the details with us.
    For the regency reading gentleman, I’d have recommended Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.

    Reply
  50. What a great post, Anne, about what sounds like a wonderful event. Thanks for sharing some of the details with us.
    For the regency reading gentleman, I’d have recommended Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.

    Reply

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