Attention, good people of the United States of America.
I know these are strange and testing times in your wonderful land.
I am told, for example, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt might no longer be your President, that your government has been shut down since
1789 last month, that I Love Lucy is no longer the mainstay of your TV schedules, and that a baby called Ruth is no longer running home.
However, these trials are as nothing to that which awaits you in this new year of 2019. Yes, my transatlantic friends, your mighty border wall is being built in the wrong place, because, ready or not, I’m coming your way – and coming from a completely different direction.
Seriously, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that I’ll be attending, and presenting at, the Historical Novel Society North America conference in Maryland in June. (Full details of dates, location etc can be found here.) This is all down to my friend Gillian Bagwell, author of such terrific books as The Darling Strumpet, Venus in Winter and The King’s Mistress, who successfully pitched to the conference organisers the idea of a panel featuring myself and Jeff Shaara, one of the conference’s two guests of honour. The multiple prize-winning author of fifteen novels, spanning conflicts from the 1770s to the Korean War, Jeff is probably best known for his novel of the American Civil War, Gods and Generals, which was made into a film starring Robert Duvall as Robert E Lee. While I haven’t yet read the book, I’m probably one of the relatively few people in the UK who has the DVD sitting on his shelves!
(The American Civil War has been an interest of mine since childhood, but then, so has American history as a whole. The period from independence to the civil war was effectively my second specialism at college, which is why I don’t particularly want to go to see Hamilton – I already know all the spoilers.)
With Gillian as our moderator, Jeff and I will be talking about ‘The Way of the Warrior’, trying to unpick such issues as defining ‘the warrior’ (something more than just ‘a soldier’?), the ways in which novelists write about war and warriors, and the often tricky judgement calls that novelists have to make when doing so (such as, how gruesome should one be without having one’s readers retching violently?). It should be great fun, and hopefully thought-provoking too.
I’m also looking forward to catching up with as many old friends as possible, with making some new ones, with attending lots of the other panels (sooo much choice!!), and to exploring the area. The conference venue looks to be a stone’s throw, or rather a short ferry ride, from the likes of Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, and Washington DC itself, so I’ll definitely be going into full ‘British tourist abroad’ mode. Having been brought up in the 1960s on a diet of both Western B-movies and classic British war films, I’ll look forward to tipping my bowler hat respectfully to everyone I meet and greeting them with the cheery local salutation, ‘howdy, pardners!’, uttered in my best Laurence Olivier accent, permitting very slight movement of my stiff upper lip as I do so.
See you in June, America!
(Unless you’re still shut down then, of course, or I can’t get out of the UK after Brexit…)