In years gone by I’ve been to countless conferences. Haven’t we all? But a big upcoming event organised by the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, for which I’m an invited speaker, will be different from those past occasions.
It’s a virtual event, taking place in what you might describe as ‘an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ (Actually that’s a medieval definition of God, but it seems to fit the case!)
Long before anyone could envisage what a virtual conference might be, Australian author Frank Moorhouse depicted a typical talkfest forum of the traditional sort in his amusing book Conferenceville. Back then (1976), it seemed obvious that the raison d’être of any colloquium was face-to-face interaction, even when (like Moorhouse’s narrator) an attendee wasn’t sure whether direct contact would eventuate:
‘I found my way to a seat in the empty auditorium…
I wondered who would sit with me…’
That was conferenceville 45 years ago. Since then our world has changed utterly — especially since the pandemic curtailed our face-to-face interactions.
This HNSA virtual conference is not, of course, the kind of where researchers present formal papers on esoteric topics, nor the kind where people gather earnestly to make Important Policy Decisions. It’s really a literary festival, featuring diverse writers linked by a common interest in stories that imagine the past. And because its program is unimpeded by geographical constraints, this ‘online celebration of one of the world’s most popular genres’ (to quote the HNSA conference website) will include an unusually large number of participants from several countries.
I’m delighted to be taking part in a panel session chaired by HNSA Director Elisabeth Storrs on the subject of “Show and Tell: Weaving a Story around a Treasured Possession.” My novel The Madwoman’s Coat, longlisted for the ARA Historical Novel Prize, lends itself well to discussion of that topic. Details here.