I had the pleasure of attending a Manifold Press event called Queer Company 2 last weekend. I have to say I was nervous, I only knew one person and the whole thing was completely new to me. I needn’t have worried, everyone was really nice and inclusive.
I started the day stuffing the fab giveaway bags which was a great opportunity to speak to fellow writers and readers alike.
This is mine with it’s contents scattered or consumed!
How much reality do we want in our historical fiction? was the first panel with panelists, Charlie Cochrane and Chris Quinton. In it, the chair, Alex Beecroft, told a story about a historical reenactor who took his performance a step too far and harassed her and her daughter about their ‘flighty’ summer attire, shouting things like harlot, leading into temptation, and going to Hell. He then followed and cornered them. The reenactor deemed he was putting on the performance of his life, Alex and her daughter were scared.
The panel discussed whether you want your reader to be dropped into the ugliness of the past? Do you want to read about the harassment of women, queer people, people of colour, or the disabled? That would be the reality, but that’s not fun. You are a modern author telling a story to modern readers, you choose what goes into your story. Would you want your reader to leave your book feeling crushed?
Session two was by keynote speaker, KJ Charles who talked about starting points for historical romances and that people must be of their time and place, not just modern minds in Regency clothes. She said a lot more interesting and attention holding stuff but… she talks really fast! I’m sat here trying to remember what she said but all I can conjure is a woman with excellent body language, great projecting voice, kind face, and patterns on her jumper that lined up with the sleeves. KJ, if you ever read this blog… which i doubt, please accept my humble apologies.
KJ also launched Manifold’s anthology, A Certain Persuasion of which I have a copy and it’s a cracking read with a diverse set of stories. Give a gaggle of authors a prompt and you’ll get a hundred different ways of interpreting it. I love humans.
The next panel is a Q&A about A Certain Persuasion, fiction inspired by the works of Jane Austen, with the chair, Julie Bozza and two of the authors, JL Merrow and Eleanor Musgrove. The stories feature all five of the major Jane Austen stories (but Northanger Abbey) and there’s a fair few Darcy’s but they’re all completely different. Including one who drives a Morris Minor! An audience member raised the question, were there LGBTQ characters in Austen’s novels? The conclusion was a resounding yes!
Session three, Georgians aren’t Victorians, was by the very captivating Farah Mendlesohn. Now, I consider myself fairly intelligent but Farah made me feel like a twig. I was blown away by her knowledge, her passion for the subject, and her powerful delivery of the speech. Farah said far too much for my brain to remember it all (no notebook – bad writer) but I do recall an interesting graph based on population growth – people living longer, children surviving into adulthood to reproduce, mothers surviving the birth of a second child all contributed to a more ‘marriageable men’ choice for women. Georgians married someone they knew but Victorians had a wider field available to them, however, this had to be controlled. Oh God, I hope I’ve got that right! Farah spoke for an hour and held my attention the whole time (no mean feat).
Last but not least and possibly my favourite subject was a panel on, A sense of place, with chair Elin Gregory and panel Anna Butler and Sandra Lindsey. As a fantasy writer, world building is my bag, I love to create places from my imagination. We played a word association game, each of us had to write down three words to describe urban, desert, and Scandinavia (?). The different answers demonstrated how each writer approaches world building, and the same story, in other hands, would feel completely diverse. If I may, I’ll link to Anna’s very interesting blog post here about World Building.
I’ll sum up by quoting Charlie Cochrane, ‘Weren’t it a corking day?’