Yesterday I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference in Cumbernauld to talk about children’s historical fiction. My fellow Cranachan author Barbara Henderson shared the session with me, and it was great to hear about her experience and advice for writing historical novels for children.
We decided we’d give a short presentation on how we wrote our books, then open the floor up to questions. If we were faced with a deathly silence we were prepared with readings to fill in the time!
I drew the short straw and did my presentation first.
I covered the origin of The Wreck of the Argyll in my history growing up at lighthouses combined with the Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize. I then talked about how The Beast on the Broch stemmed from my fascination with the Picts, and with the real Viking attack on the Pictish village of Portmahomack, where I used to live.
Then it was Barbara’s turn.
She talked about her visit to a deserted Highland village, devastated by the Clearances, and how it inspired her to write Fir for Luck; then she talked about how her love of puppetry led to Punch.
If there’s one thing you can take from both our experience, it’s that your best work will come from a story that you feel a personal connection with in some way.
Question time followed.
The audience had some great questions, such as how we keep the vocabulary appropriate for children (answer: we don’t think about it; but when you’re writing in the voice of a 12-year-old, the age-appropriate vocabulary should follow naturally) and why we decided to write historical fiction for children (my answer: I don’t know! I always thought I was a scifi author…)
In the event, we didn’t have to resort to our prepared readings at all – the attendees were very switched-on and engaged.
After that, we had a short signing session.
Notice the signing pens ready in hands! We had a little bit of a rivalry going, and it was going well for me until Barbara scored a couple of last-minute goals and took the lead.
It was a superb event, and I enjoyed it a lot. I particularly enjoyed catching up with Barbara, whom I’ve not seen since the launch for The Beast on the Broch; Barbara, my partner Sandra, and I had a great chat about all things writing related.