Festival of Historical Writing 2011 – a weekend well done

Novelists Anthony Riches (left) and Ben Kane

If you visited Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire, this weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped onto a field prepared for battle. Tents as far as the eye can see, the sound of bullet and cannon and the marching of boots. On closer inspection, you’d detect something a little odd – Roman soldiers brushing arms with Jacobite rebels, while Knights Templar look on and First World War troops get ready to go over the top once more. And then there’s the Battle of Bosworth in the background. This is the Festival of History, English Heritage’s annual showcase event in the heart of England.

This year, there was something new, yet another reason for making the long drive on both days. The Historical Writers Association, newly formed by Manda Scott (Boudica, Rome: The Emperor’s Spy), has launched the first Festival of Historical Writing. While one tent saw a series of debates and talks by some of the most familiar names in current historical fiction, the next gave readers the chance to meet their favourite authors and talk with them about some wonderful books. And, if they were anything like me, they might discover new authors to follow. A look at the guide here gives you some idea of what was on offer.

Douglas Jackson

I left Kelmarsh with what feels like a carload of books, not to mention aching feet and a strange taste in my mouth thanks to eating a big scoop of Gunpowder Mustard, and felt like this was a weekend well done. Not least because I was able to meet an author whose Roman novels have captivated my imagination – Douglas Jackson. Even better than that, on his table, with the ink almost still wet, was Doug’s new novel Defender of Rome, not out until mid August. Its predecessor Hero of Rome is one of my favourite novels of the last year and if you’ve not read Caligula and Claudius, the original story of Rufus and the emperor’s elephant, do yourself a favour and dive in. Reviews to follow here shortly.

Doug’s first thriller is also published in August, The Doomsday Judgement, written under the name of James Douglas.

Anthony Riches

Other Roman novelists (or the writers of Roman novels) I met included Anthony Riches and Ben Kane. Ben is probably most well known for his Forgotten Legion novels although he is currently riding high with his take on Hannibal. Personally, I’m looking forward to the first in a new series on Spartacus, published next year. It was particularly interesting talking to Ben about the dedication needed to writing that first novel and how if the character grips your imagination, the history will follow. For Ben’s photo see the head of the post.

I have yet to read Anthony Riches and so I was pleased to get hold of a copy of Wounds of Honour. This is the first in a series (Empire) that focuses, more unusually, on Rome in the 2nd century AD, in this case on the fringes of imperial rule, on Hadrian’s Wall.

Simon Scarrow

I didn’t get a chance to meet Simon Scarrow, but the length of the line gave him away. Simon Scarrow is possibly the most well-known of all Roman novelists with his stories of Centurions Macro and Cato in his Roman Legion series. I am a great fan of the books of Simon’s brother Alex Scarrow (I’m currently reading TimeRiders 4 and devouring every word). It’s probably just as well then that I didn’t get to speak to Simon because I’m not sure how well my enthusiasm for The Brother would have gone down.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch sight by her book stand of another Roman-period novelist I’ve enjoyed, Manda Scott, but no doubt organising the event kept her busy behind the scenes.

Giles Kristian

Medieval historical novelists were in short supply but I was very pleased to meet Giles Kristian who covers that gap between ancient and medieval with his tale of the transition of Raven, a carpenter into a Viking warrior. I am now looking forward to reading his first.

This is the first event like this I’ve attended but I’ve come away with books by authors I’ve not yet read along with the latest from novelists that I can’t read enough of. And I’ve been able to tell them that. I think that counts as a resounding success. Roll on next year.

5 thoughts on “Festival of Historical Writing 2011 – a weekend well done

  1. Kate Post author

    It’s a lovely picture of you! I had others but I loved the spirit of this one. Thanks for posing – and for inspiring me. I really felt driven after I spoke to you that I could have a go. I’ve ordered Hannibal – looking forward to it! And to Spartacus 🙂

  2. Kate Post author

    Hi Anthony and thanks for commenting! I think you look great – Ben looks scared… 😉 Thanks for signing Wounds of Honour for me!

  3. Gayle

    It was sooo exciting to put faces to the names of authors!!! Brilliant! Worth coming to the Festival alone for that. Simon Scarrow’s work excited me enough to become an ancient history student so meeting him was inspirational 🙂 Everyone was so friendly and very willing to talk and chat about history with a passion. Big thumbs up!


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