Courtney Collins and Rosemary Goring
OF late, and despite the monstrous success of writers such as Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, the historical novelist label has given some writers the heebie-jeebies.
Let's, then, simply describe Courtney Collins, whose novel, The Burial, is set in Australia's Hunter Valley at the turn of the 19th century, and Rosemary Goring, author of After Flodden, as writers concerned with the past.
Collins's is narrated by a dead baby, the daughter of Jessie Hickman, dubbed the last bushranger and by all accounts one feisty quine, a murderer and a horse stealer. In the passage Collins read, the baby had its throat slit. That made the audience perk up.
Goring, the Herald's literary editor and your reviewer's partner, read from the overture to her novel, having decided not to inflict on us its grisly end - when 10,000 Scots are slaughtered in matter of hours.
Invoking The Three Musketeers, border ballads, RLS, Thomas Hardy and The Sopranos, she talked about the disastrous battle, whose 500th anniversary falls in September, as if it happened yesterday. At one point, she said, she was tempted to alter the outcome but admitted that that might be taking artistic licence to an unacceptable level.
Having written biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Bewick, Jenny Uglow turned her attention to Sarah Losh, a little known architect from Cumbria.
Her piece de resistance is a remarkable church in the village of Wreay, near Carlisle, which Losh built after visits to Italy. She knew Wordsworth and Coleridge, and was deeply interested in improvement as understood by the Victorians.
Artemis Cooper's subject, Patrick Leigh Fermor, was the kind of chap who wins the lottery at the first attempt. Women loved him and men admired his derring-do. In Crete during the war he helped kidnap a German general. The incident was made into the movie Ill Met By Moonlight.
But it is as a writer that "Paddy" was at his most beguiling, and his two accounts of his walk from Holland to Constantinople in the 1930s are travel writing at its brightest. The long-awaited final volume, The Broken Road, appears this autumn.