Almost 100 keen readers packed a very warm room in the Mechanics'Institute, Manchester, eager to take part in the Pages Ago Historical Readers Day, programmed in partnership with Manchester Literature Festival and the Historical Novels Society. The audience was a happy mix of readers and writers- some with an expert interest in historical fiction and some attending a readers' event for the first time.
Alison Weir gave a keynote speech, in which she outlined her writing career, explaining how she now alternates writing biography with a linked fiction. Over the course of this talk she covered some of the key debates which dominate the territory- does historical fiction "dumb history down"? how much imagination is it OK to use? How do you fill in gaps in knowledge credibly?
This led seemlessly into a panel debate facilitated by Jerome de Groot. Describing the panel of Alison Weir, Douglas Jackson, Robyn Young, Maria McCann and Sarah Dunant as the "dream team" he asked them each to talk from their perspective about the renewed and very current popularity of historical fiction. A question about historical romance led to an impassioned conversation about researching sexual behaviour in the past. There is what we are told happened and what we can learn from pictures , but much harder to know is what actually went on.
It is what actually happened to ordinary people which is of most interest to most authors of contemporary historical fiction and everything has to be credible within what is known about the period. Passions ran high as each writer talked enthusiastically about their own work.
Following this very inspirational discussion everyone dipersed to lunch then into separate workshop sessions with the individual writers. These were intended to give participants opportunities to find out more about writers and their work. Our "celebrity" panel were joined by 4 other published writers who led workshops on specific aspects of historical writing; Adele Geras spoke on writing history for young people, Mary Sharratt talked about being inspired by place, Sarah Mallory talked on research for historical romance and Andrew Martin covered creating atmosphere.
People bought books, had them signed, met the writers as well as friends. The atmosphere was lively and the impression of an enjoyable and spirited day lingered in the room .
Jane was the co-ordinator of Time To Read, a partnership of people working in public libraries in NW England, to develop the audience for reading.
She retired in August 2015 and is now very busy doing other things.