‘It is more exciting to enter imaginary worlds than to be told what really happened,’ Patricia Duncker has written. Many contemporary writers interweave historical knowledge with narrative, whether in biographies, memoirs, historical fiction or fictionalised histories. This day of talks and discussions will look at the various ways in which authors negotiate between the factual and the fictional in an attempt to ‘know’ the past.Speakers: Rose Tremain, Patricia Duncker, Elaine Feinstein, Judith Flanders, Jane Dunn, Tahmima Anam, Marilyn Heward-Mills, Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Sunny Singh.
11am The Telescope of Time: Reflections on Historical Fiction
Rose Tremain, author of Music and Silence and Restoration gives the keynote talk, explaining why she has been attracted so often to the genre of historical fiction; and talks about her fascination with the ways the past can mirror the present. She addresses how the genre is currently regarded by critics and the marketplace, and talks about her recent decision to abandon historical fiction for the time being. She also presents a personal view of how to do historical research and how to work with research material.
12 noon Writing Personal Histories
Patricia Duncker, Jane Dunn, Judith Flanders, Elaine Feinstein
This session will examine the different impulses of the biographer, historian and novelist when constructing narrative and conjuring ‘characters’ from history. Each writer explains how she has explored the contested border territories between the factual and the fictional in an attempt to ‘know’ the past.
Jane Dunn has written biographies of Mary Shelley and Antonia White and a study of the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell; her most recent book is a dual biography of the rival queens, Elizabeth and Mary. Judith Flanders is the author of Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain, and A Circle of Sisters, a joint biography of Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynder and Louisa Baldwin. Patricia Duncker is author of novels such as Hallucinating Foucault and James Miranda Barry, where her ‘own’ characters share the pages with re-imagined ‘real’ figures.
The session is chaired by poet, novelist and biographer Elaine Feinstein. Feinstein’s biographies include lives of Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva and Lawrence’s women.
2.30pm Writing Nation History
Tahmina Anam, Marilyn Heward Mills, Delia Jarrett-Macauley
Is it sensible to trust the facts a fiction writer gives you? Whose facts are they, and how were they come by? Should a novelist feel responsible to ‘tell the truth’? What are the constraints and liberations of writing for an audience unfamiliar with the story’s background. This session explores the creative and practical dilemmas faced by novelists dealing with a historical evidence base, and researching internationally.
Tahmina Anam, is the author of A Golden Age, set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence. Marilyn Heward Mills’s first novel Cloth Girl is set in the Gold Coast of the 1940s. Delia Jarrett-Macauley wrote about Sierra Leone in the novel Moses, Citizen and Me, later revisiting this ‘factually’ in a radio documentary. The session is chaired by novelist-playwright Sunny Singh, course leader for Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University.
Tickets £30/£18 concs including refreshments & lunch
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