Literary Festivals – worth attending?

I’ve been thinking about this over the last couple of months since I attended the Harrogate History Festival. There are so many festivals and events to choose from and I had no idea if there would be any real benefit in going along. I attended all of the events on Friday 21st and the ‘Revolutions’ event on Saturday 22nd October last year.

The Friday line up started with Janina Ramirez and ended with Philippa Gregory.

book cover lives of saintsI’ve seen and enjoyed Janina Ramirez’s historical programmes on the BBC and I was hoping that she would be as enthusiastic in real life about history as she is on TV. I was not disappointed. Her love of history was immediately apparent and I found her thoroughly entertaining and humorous. She discussed her book ‘The Private Lives of Saints’ which I’m reading now.

In between there was a ‘New Blood’ panel where new history writers were discussing their books and at which Cecilia Ekbäck was awarded the HWA Goldsboro Debut Crown for her book Wolf Winter. The panel was chaired by Andrew Taylor who facilitated in a way that allowed all the writers to speak about their work. Every single book sounded interesting.

All the authors described plots that were intricate but the ones I couldn’t resist on the day were Wolf Winter (Cecilia Ekbäck) and Mrs Engels (Gavin McCrea). It is the first time I have ever received a signed copy of a book and this was made possible as Waterstones had specially set up a shop for the event, indeed some people were lining up with armfuls of books to be signed.

For myself, as a lone unpublished author who has been trudging through many iterations of a complicated plot, it was an eye opener. One questioner brought up a subject I was deeply interested in by asking about the writing process that each author uses. The age old question of when should research stop and fiction kick in. It is an issue that every author writing historical fiction has to face as it is so easy to keep on finding new information about a given period. They all gave different answers but they all agreed that it was difficult to get the balance right.

The next event ‘Fiction: New Takes on Literary Greats’ was particularly interesting as I like Jane Austen and I enjoy reading Agatha Christie too. The discussion between the authors on their beliefs and considerations when writing this type of book was really engrossing.

phillippa gregoryLast, but by no means least, there was Phillippa Gregory. I was flagging by the time Phillippa arrived at 5 pm but I was fully alert the minute she began speaking as she was so humorous and entertaining.  She showed the document that originally lead her to discover The Other Boleyn Girl and talked of other Queens she’s written about. I’ve read The Other Boleyn Girl and I was reading another book of hers at the time but, having seen her generous and open performance, I’m going to try and read all of her novels particularly the 17th century ones. Phillippa was quite rightly awarded the Festival’s Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award.

On the Saturday the ‘Revolutions’ event would have benefited from having Katherine Clements on the panel as she actually believes there was an English Revolution in the 17th century and that it was underpinned by many radically new ideas. I was slightly perplexed as to whether 1066 had anything to do with Revolutions, surely it was a foreign invasion and occupation followed by massive land grab!

So was it worth attending the event?

Yes absolutely. I love history and encountering other writers who are working historical novelists was most refreshing. I haven’t met many fellow historians since university having ‘worked for money’ in various day jobs and done my obsessive compulsive history on the side. Some authors thrived on the panels and were confident speakers while others did not get as much time to talk. I suspect the individuals who were able to create more of a presence in such a setting would sell more books. Many of the authors were open and friendly and it was a real pleasure to get to speak to them.

My Friday ticket included lunch and a goody bag for my books but I left with much more than that.  Writing can be a solitary occupation and there are times when it is good to be amongst other people who have already successfully gone down the path I’m striving to take. I will definitely attend more!

More information about the event and contributors could be found by checking the event website .

PS We’ve now booked our tickets for the Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate in July. We’ll post on that event too.

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