Gala Evening – Lady Antonia Fraser in conversation with John Miller

Report by Lisa Nightingale.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society and friends celebrated summer with strawberries, a Book Fair and conversation with Lady Antonia Fraser.

With VIP guests such as versatile and respected author, John Miller; scriptwriter for TV, film, theatre and children’s drama, Robin Mukherjee and the evening was opened by Joy Carter, Patron of the Society.

The foyer of the Stripe Lecture Theatre at the University of Winchester where the society meets each month, thronged with writers: published and aspiring.

Displaying their books at the Book Fair, were published members, including Claire Fuller, who has been shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot prize and bestselling author, Cathy Woodman. They were accompanied by Celia Leofsy, Richard V Frankland, Sharon Garrett and Dai Henley. Two poets, Sue Spiers and Di Castle joined them along with e-book writers, Damon L Wakes and Natasha Orme.

Lady Antonia Fraser in conversation with John Miller

Lady Antonia Fraser considers herself to have had only two privileges in her life:

  1. Parents who loved each other for life
  2. A mother who was adamant that girls should be educated

Lady Antonia FraserNeither of these privileges are material. ‘People go on too much about class.’ She says and she points out, she had to earn a crust. She worked hard at her job in publishing, but when you are in the midst of your desired surrounding, hard work is not difficult. Her main memory? Publishers are not scary at all, they are just human.

As a child in a house of Classical and political books, she drew on her surroundings, imagining herself to be Queen Matilda, escaping from Oxford Castle across the ice. And in the stubborn way of a child, she decided that writing and history was what she was going to do.

Her first foray into historical novel writing came when she unwittingly volunteered to re-write the classical story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table for Marks & Spencer’s range of children’s books.

Four children later, Lady Antonia Fraser believes that ‘Writers’ block is a luxury for those who have time.’ Her writing day consisted of just three hours a day, her early books were up to five years in the making. She is a meticulous planner, pays attention to detail and has notebooks, index card boxes and green files full of research.

Jun 15 GALA_0061 (2)Coining the phrase – ‘Optical Research’, she explains that the writer’s job is to make it ‘real’ for the reader. By actually visiting the site of her story, e.g. a priest’s hidey hole, she gains a wealth realism. She uncovers little tit-bits guaranteed to invoke the reader’s sense of belonging in her novel’s setting and a relation to its characters.

Identification with her protagonist is key. She needs to feel a sympathy for them. Her memoir states, ‘a writer is like a barrister’. Writers make the case for their characters, much like a barrister does for their client. Research is seen as preparation for this case.

She did give us an exclusive – her next book will explore the emancipation of Catholicism in 19th century Britain.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society Anthology Winner entries from competitions 2011-2014 is now available to purchase for £7.95. Please  contact:  Celia Livesey by email competitions.hws (AT)

Gala Evening Photo Gallery HWS Members’ Book Fair

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