Historical Novel Society meeting, Oxford

I’m off to the meeting of the Historical Novel Society in beautiful Oxford this weekend. (That’s England, y’all; not Mississippi.) This trip is part of my ongoing celebration of my 60th birthday; plus, I had the frequent flyer miles. And I’ve never been to Oxford! All my characters went to Cambridge.

The history of the historical society

HNS was founded in the UK in 1997 to support and promote historical fiction. At the time, the foundershns2016 felt the genre was getting short shrift*. Apart from holding a truly enjoyable annual conference, they also write reviews. Some are published in the paper journal the Historical Novel Review, which is sent to members each quarter; others are published online.

I’m happy to note that each of my Francis Bacon books has been warmly reviewed by HNS. The Widows Guild even earned an Editor’s Choice star, which puts it on the long list for an award in 2017. That will be in Portland, OR, and I’ll be there.

The conference alternates between the UK and the US. I first learned of the organization around 2013, although I didn’t go to the conference in Florida that year. They met in London in 2014 and in Denver in 2015. I did go to that one, where I met many fellow members of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC; a great source of well-written, original historical fiction.) I wore my Francis Bacon costume and signed a couple of books. All good.

My programme

Actually, I’m writing this post weeks ahead. I don’t usually blog from abroad (although now I have a dandy new tablet, I might surprise us all.) I was going to note highlights of the program from the website when I was reminded that being British, our hosts had us register for the panels we wanted to attend in advance. In the US, we wander from room to room during the meeting, checking out all the speakers and then settling with whichever one meets our immediate criteria. Pros and cons for both methods.

I’m going to learn about Real Life Heroes and Heroines; Writing the Historical Thriller; Reader Appreciation (because writers certainly appreciate readers!); and Streets Through the Ages. I don’t remember what some of those titles mean, but I like surprises.

tea-cakeThe most fun thing for me will be hanging out with fellow HFAC members Suzanne Tyrpak and Janet Oakley, and meeting British indie authors like Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, and Alison Morton. Oh, and let’s not forget the tea cake. (The fiendish Brits put tea cake out in front of you everywhere you’re liable to stop when you’re tired from sightseeing.)

After the meeting, I’ll spend two weeks tootling around London looking at everything I can think of for upcoming books. Victorian theater, the British Army (especially the cavalry), Elizabethan printing presses, and of course, houses and gardens. I’m going on a backstage tour of the Drury Lane Theater and of the last surviving music hall in the East End, Wilton’s. Alas, the National Army Museum will be closed! But there’s music in churches, Macbeth at the Globe, tea at the Savoy… All in all, a fabulous trip. 

Pictures upon my return.

short shrift: orig. a brief space of time allowed for a criminal to make his confession before execution; hence, a brief respite; to give short shrift to, to make short work of. (OED. I was curious!)


Victorian: Friday the 13th

black-catToday is Friday the 13th, so I felt the need to write something about the history of our attitudes toward this day. To my surprise, the history doesn’t go back very far. The idea that the day is unlucky appears to be one of those arch* Victorian inventions — an amalgam of unlucky thirteen with unlucky Friday.

Thirteen is considered unlucky because there were 13 men at the table during Christ’s last supper. The thirteenth was his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. That feels like a rather monkish reason to me, but these things do leak out of the monastery and go native, as it were. In Italy, a largely Catholic country, 13 is a lucky number. 17 is the one to be avoided.

Friday is unlucky because Christ died on a Friday. On the other hand, many people nowadays Thank God It’s Friday. In Hispanic cultures, Tuesday is unlucky, owing to its association with the dangerous god of war, Mars (martes, merdi.) That makes more sense to me.

The two were combined in 1907 in Thomas W. Lawson‘s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth. In the novel, an unscrupulous stock broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on Friday the 13th.

The astute reader will notice the circularity of this argument: the superstition became popular after its popularity was exploited.

Just because it’s all in your mind doesn’t mean it isn’t real

Fear me, for I am Labrador.

However it began, the fear is real. The Wikipedia article observes, “According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, making it the most feared day and date in history. Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. “It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day.””

Astounding! And a useful excuse, for those of you still gainfully employed. If you want a fancy word to use when calling in sick, tell them you suffer from Triskaidekaphobia.

Other superstitions persist. When I was adopting Lacey the Labrador, someone at the dog rescue organization told me many people are reluctant to adopt black dogs. Ghost dogs or black dogs appear when death is nigh. You don’t want one of those in your house!

Black cats can be either lucky (Celts, Britain generally) or unlucky (Europe). I believe cats deliberately cultivate that ambiguity.

*”arch,” I word I tend to misuse. I always imagine it means, “pretending to be childlike or playful in an annoyingly exaggerated manner.” OED says it means, “Clever, cunning, crafty, roguish, waggish. Now usually of women and children, and esp. of their facial expression: Slyly saucy, pleasantly mischievous.” Either way, it was a favored attitude of the Victorians.

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