Thursday, September 4

A Beginner's Guide to the HNS Conference 2014

Yes, it's finally nearly here! Just the one more sleep before the Historical Novel Society's London 2014 Conference kicks off. From Friday 05 to Sunday 07 September 2014, all #histfic roads lead to the University of Westminster. Exciting times, yes?

But I'm sure there will be some folk attending who haven't quite yet achieved excitement. Probably more like a heady mix of dread/terror. For if you are a conference newbie/first-timer, the prospect can be absolutely terrifying.

Us writers are, by the virtue of what we do, a fairly solitary lot. We like to be alone, doing the words on a page thing. We may poke our heads above the parapet on social media. A bit. But the advantage of that is you don't even have to leave the house. Heck, if you choose your social medium (look, correct singular) wisely, you don't even have to get dressed.

Not so with the dreaded conference. You, as a newbie, have chosen to spend three days among living, breathing, sweating human beings. Lots of them. That you've never met. Who will all ignore you for three days and nights, and you will spend any free time alone in your teeny-tiny room, weeping for the time when you can back to being...alone.

Now, that would be just silly. And as a writer, you're probably able to conjure up far more elaborately hideous circumstances than that. Which would be a great shame and will keep you awake all night tonight.

This will be my third HNS conference. I may have done a bit of fretting prior to my first one.

So in the spirit of HNS support and co-operation, here are my pointers for a successful conference:

  • Everyone will be labelled. Even you.Not in a judgy way, but as in a wearing a name tag way. This really helps in that initial panic of trying to remember the names of multiple strangers.  And it means that people will know your name, too! (It also helps with identification gaffes. I once attended a classical music concert where I hassled a polite man into fetching me a chair. Turned out he was the conductor.)
  • Say hello to whoever is sitting next to you. They won't bite. If they do, change seats.
  • I write across genres, so go to different conferences. Thriller conferences tend to be a little testosterone-heavy. Romance ones favour oestrogen. HNS is more likely to have people arguing for hours about who first invented hormones. It's nice. And very relaxed.
  • There will be beards. The men will have some too. (I include myself in this particular heh-heh. My tweezers are packed.)
  • But if you have forgotten your tweezers/tights/good shirt/herbal tea bags: don't panic. The conference is in London. There are shops. 
  • Special notes for those travelling from abroad. For my countrymen and women travelling from Ireland: DO NOT BRING FOOD. No matter how many times your Mammy put rashers/sausages/brown bread in your suitcase, you need to now stop. London has food. It really does. For those coming from the US/Canada: you can drink the water. There will be no ice. At least no communal ice. People would just steal it.
  • If you're pitching to an editor or agent, try to remain calm.They are not waiting to catch you out or pour scorn on you. They want to hear about your book. Having said that, you might want to have something else in the locker as well. I pitched to Marcy Posner (a sweet, gracious lady) at the 2010 conference. I had honed those words to memorised perfection. Arrived in, every syllable ready. She smiled and said: 'Tell me about yourself.' I couldn't remember. The label came in handy. 
  • There will usually be weapons. 
  • If you have chosen an amusing Twitter handle like @Henrysseventhwife or @Historywhore or @Colossalmeatsword, I appreciate you never contemplated having to say it aloud. But you have nobody to blame except yourself. 
  • If you don't have arrangements for evening meal times, ask someone if you can come along with them/their group. That is a completely accepted way of doing things at conference. (Just not at home time).
  • Tell Richard Lee he's a good egg.
  • Enjoy spending time with a group of like-minded, enthusiastic individuals who love this marvellous thing that is Historical Fiction.

Simple, eh? See you there!


  1. This was wonderful! I'm laughing - that's just what I needed to read! Thanks for the tips. :)

  2. You're so welcome- lovely of you to leave such a nice comment!

  3. Thanks! This is my first hns conference so feeling less anxious now. Any other Canadians out there?

  4. So pleased that it helped, Carol- make sure you come and say hello!

  5. Richard Lee isn't merely a good egg. He's one of the very best of eggs! Have a great con, will be there in spirit. The 2012 one ranks high in my list of conference experiences. And you are so right about the advice for pitching!

  6. Thanks for your good wishes- and all hail Richard Lee!

  7. Hilarious! More so, because I was just worrying over tweezers. British Airways lost my bag. Thanks for the giggle, I'll see you there tomorrow!

  8. Looking forward to it Dianna- fingers crossed on the lost bag! Grrrr...

  9. I hope you enjoy it. I was there in 2012, but we have a family holiday this year. And afterwards, you can get back to doing some serious reviewing for the HNS!

  10. I read this post-con (sadly I couldn't make this one) but it made me laugh. Have made some mental notes for the next time. I was worried about being alone for my dinner, but had expected the beards and weapons. Must be the company I keep!

    1. Indeed that's a historical fiction mindset! Hope to see you at the next one. (BTW, your kind comment showed up as a duplicate so I removed one. Not because you're a spammer :))

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