Changing career to follow one’s calling is the stuff of dreams. It’s unfortunate that for many, the dream never becomes reality, but Manda Scott is one of those talented individuals for whom it did come true. More than a decade ago, she abandoned the world of veterinary medicine to become an author – and not just any author. Accomplished at writing both crime and historical fiction, she has seen her wonderful novels nominated for awards and translated into dozens of languages. Thousands of readers worldwide devour her books, and clamour for more. Her most recent work, Into the Fire, a Joan of Arc thriller set in France of the twenty-first and fifteenth centuries, is a mesmerising tour de force.
Most people would be content with such impressive achievements. Not so Manda. With a powerful, forward-thinking vision of an organisation for historical writers akin to the Crime Writers’ Association, she gathered together like-minded colleagues in late 2010 and founded the Historical Writers’ Association, or HWA. (It’s important to note here that writers are rather tricky creatures to round up. Solitary by nature, prone to long periods of self-inflicted isolation, and often technologically challenged, they can test the ability of the finest ‘cat herder’.) Manda’s initial recruitment drive, which yielded more than fifty authors, was therefore all the more remarkable.
Things didn’t end there. A veritable whirlwind of energy, Manda was responsible for appointing the HWA committee, laying out the association’s aims, organising a website and winning early press coverage. An original committee member, and the first treasurer, I have witnessed at first hand the incredible amounts of work that Manda has put in since those early days, all without being paid a penny. To say that mountains have been shifted for the association is an understatement of the first degree.
Membership of the HWA soon exceeded one hundred. Michael Morpurgo agreed to become its honorary patron. In summer 2011, the organisation worked with English Heritage, providing speakers at the prestigious Kelmarsh Hall re-enactment weekend. Sadly, the event was rained off in 2012, but by the following year, Manda had formed a partnership with Harrogate Festivals. The first History Festival took place in Harrogate in October 2013. More than a dozen HWA authors appeared, and tickets sales exceeded those of the much larger Crime Festival’s third year. The 2014 festival was bigger and better, with almost thirty HWA authors speaking.
During 2014, the association became incorporated and a collaboration with national libraries took place, putting on author events throughout the UK. It also saw the second presentation of the association’s annual award, the HWA Debut Crown, a £2,000 prize for the year’s best historical fiction first novel. In 2015, membership exceeded two hundred, and it continues to grow. The third yearly festival takes place in October 2015. A popular dinner is held twice yearly in London; regional members also organise social meetings. To have come so far in just under five years is laudable. That it has all happened thanks to the vision and Trojan efforts of one person is, in a word, astonishing. I think I can speak on behalf of every member in offering Manda huge thanks and gratitude for all that she has done. When she steps down as HWA Chair in October, she will be sorely missed.
Imogen Robertson will be the new Chair. She says…
‘It’s a great honour to be taking over as chair of the HWA from Manda at the end of October. I’m delighted that she’s agreed to stay on the committee, so we won’t lose her inspiration or her cat herding skills just yet.
We’ve already got some exciting new plans to build the HWA and make it an ever stronger force for promoting, supporting and connecting historical writers. We would like to have input from all our members, so please keep in touch. Manda will be a very tough act to follow, but with the support of our great committee, and guided by her example, I’m hopeful we will continue to grow both in our numbers and in our ambitions.’
Ben Kane is a bestselling author and long-serving HWA Committee member. His latest book, Eagles at War, is out now.