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1 July 2015


 I had intended to write my blog on Tuesday, but somehow my dippy blonde brain got muddled between US and UK time. So I am now writing this on Wednesday, except it is almost 2pm here in Cathy Helm’s living room in hot and humid North Carolina (thank goodness for efficient air conditioning). Back home in the UK it is now nearly 8pm. By the time I get to post this I’ll have no idea what the time is where-ever you (the reader) happens to be reading this. So I give up. It might still be Wednesday, it could be Thursday – it could be, well, whenever!

I think suffice to say I am having a great time. (Although missing home, family and animals very much.)

BleeBear in his holiday bed
The flight over was somewhat bumpy. In fact I think it might have been smoother by sea…. Even before I got on the plane I hit problems. No one told me I needed a Visa to enter the US. Not even the airline website said so. In fact I DID look it said ‘Visa not necessary if visit under 90 days or as vacation only.’ Turns out I did need one.

The airport staff were very helpful (which makes me think they know perfectly well that there’s no information saying a visa is needed) apparently they have to deal with this issue on a regular basis. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay $x and hey-presto I would have my Visa. A really nice young man assisted me –unfortunately he was also on duty at baggage check-in so couldn’t give me his undivided attention. It was a task that eventually took us a mere 20 minutes to accomplish. Pity my flight had already taken off.

Again, the Heathrow staff were helpful they booked me into a hotel and re-arranged the same flight for the next day. No idea how I kept cool and calm. I just kept telling myself that my flight had been delayed for a reason.

Missing home - Devon on the morning I left
Sunday, everything went fine and there at Charlotte Airport was Cathy, her mom-in-law Julianne and mom Lynn to meet me. First stop: the ladies restroom.

Jet lag didn’t seem to be a problem, and BleeBear gave his approval to our guest bedroom bed. (Yes he came with me. Ideal neck-rest cushion for long flights.) (see photo above)

Hot and humid here in North Carolina. I do miss sitting outside in fresh, cool, Devon for morning coffee, but better to enjoy indoor air conditioning rather than frizzle outside.

Wednesday, Cathy and I set off for the Historical Novel Conference in Denver, Colorado (sound of John Denver singing in my head ‘Rocky Mountain High! Colorado….!’ 

Very disappointing to discover that although Denver is the ‘Mile High City’ it is also quite a few miles from the mountains. I could just about see them. Never mind, on one of my previous US trips I took the train from Salt Lake City to Chicago – which involved going alongside the Colorado River and up through the mountains. Incidentally, we also stopped for about an hour at Denver Station.

First night, TV were announcing a tornado warning. I was interested (all good research and the hotel looked safe and solid enough). Well I guess the storm was on the other side of the hotel because beyond a few half-hearted lightning flashes and a couple of low thunder grumbles nothing much happened. (I think there was severe flooding in downtown Denver) From where I stood at the window though – Devon beats Denver as far as thunderstorms go. It didn’t even rain on our side of the building. There was a super rainbow afterwards though. Sadly not a very super photo to go with it :-)

Denver Rainbow from our hotel window

Thursday and most of Friday Cathy and I ensconced ourselves at a table in the hotel’s outdoor café, nice and cool, and we could see all new arrivals – including Geri Clouston and husband Bob of Indie B.R.A.G the main Conference sponsor, and Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage – and several other treasured Facebook friends.

Breakfast: l-r Alison, Johan, (waitress)
Anna, me, Cathy, Geri
Friday evening – the reception and buffet dinner. Probably a very little thing to most people but the delightful author and actor C.C. Humphreys (read his books, they’re good!) opened the Conference with a poem…. Which is hereWe are Historical Novelists, Fiction is our Game” 

The lovely (and somewhat handsome) C.C. Humphreys
 (now unashamedly my favourite author!) 

Saturday: in between meeting so many wonderful people (mostly Facebook friends -fabulous to now put faces to names) I was co-speaker for one of the panels  talking about the brass tacks of indie publishing with Geri Clouston, Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and Dan Willis. We had a rapt and interested audience – hope we managed to answer most questions. Our main emphasis was ‘if you are going to publish as indie/self-publish do it properly and professionally’.

Alison, Geri, Anna, Me
I made mistakes when I first went indie - Big Time mistakes, which is one of the reasons I want to help new writers who go down the indie line with 'lessons learnt' advice. It saddens me (and frustrates) that there are still those who sneer at or mock indie writers - especially those who use the derogatory "they are only indie because they can't get a traditional contract".
 For a kick-off I am what they term 'hybrid' : traditional in the US, indie in the UK. I was traditional in the UK but because of a useless agent I was dropped by Heinemann. My choice? Give up writing (not an option) or go indie. Thank goodness I DID have that choice! 

I know quite a few well-known traditional authors who are turning to indie for their mid- and back-list novels which have been dropped by their (short-sighted) mainstream publishers. And maybe one of the main reasons many of us go indie is because, yes the publishers do not want to publish our books but quality of writing has nothing to do with it... traditional publishing houses like to put their square-peg books into square-peg holes because of marketing. Many indies are cross-over subgenre - my own Sea Witch Voyages are historical fantasy/ nautical adventure.  I received rejections because the publishers said the books would be hard to market as they were not clearly one genre or another. When I took over as Managing Editor for Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews I was determined to ensure we only review the better books (sadly there are some not very good indies... but there are also more than a few not very good traditionals!) and this is one of the reasons I introduced the HNS Indie Award. As far as I am aware we are the only genre-specific group to have such an award - very few even review indies, let alone give awards. I do not want the award to be a competition, I see it is as a goal to achieve where all historical fiction authors have a chance of being longlisted/shortlisted. All a writer has to do to be considered is to write a darn good story and produce a quality novel.

Anna and me (and other authors) signing books
that's Stephanie Dray on my left

It saddened me that there were a few, shall I say, ‘unpleasant’ remarks about Indie authors at the conference. I bit my tongue and smiled sweetly. I put these remarks down to authors who feel threatened by us though! I would have liked to have turned round and said ‘look what Indie has done for the music industry. No one sneers at the many, many top groups who produce albums independently because the record companies were not broad-minded or far-sighted enough to produce material that fell outside the normal market.’ Well, the same applies to us indies.
My only caveat to all that is Indie writers MUST prove we are just as good as traditional mainstream – if not better!

Anyway, for the HNS award, congratulations to runner-up A Day of Fire by E Knight, Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Sophie Perinot, Vicky Alvear Shecter and Kate Quinn, (some of whom are mainstream authors. Does the ‘not good enough for mainstream apply here?) and our winner, unanimously agreed by our judges, Vivien Crystal and Amy Bruno – Anna Belfrage’s Revenge and Retribution  the sixth book in the ‘Graham Saga’.
Commiserations to our two other finalists Marschel Paul’s theSpirit Room  and Tristan and Iseult by J.D. Smith  Both judges said it was very hard to choose between the four books.

HNS Indie Award
Amy Bruno and Anna Belfrage
Sunday morning I had a very brief chance to chat with a few lovely people, but I had a plane to catch and the cab came early: I promise I will be emailing you all soon but
Tomorrow (Thursday) I’m off to celebrate us Brits giving the Colonies away. 4th July in Williamsburg! Looking forward to it!

See y'all next week! (Hopefully on TUESDAY!) 


  1. Wonderful post Helen- we indie people have a long way to go to acceptance but we have taken some major steps forward. There are self-published books out there that are deemed as good, if not better, than many mainstream books and contests such as the ones honored at the HNS conference proves that!

  2. thank you Geri - and thank you again for sponsoring our Award!

  3. Great column, Helen, and great to meet you at the conference. Thanks for your wise words there and your wise words in this blog post. ��

  4. A fabulous post, Wench Helen. Great that you kept us all up-to-date with your 'adventure' across the pond.

    1. stand by for tomorrow (Tuesday 7th's) entry IF I get a chance to do it!


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