On Tuesday evening I went along to Hammersmith and the Blue Anchor, a pub overlooking the River Thames. I was there for this month’s meeting of History by the River, an event run by the Historical Writers Association and its online magazine Historia. These sociable soirees bring together writers of history and historical fiction for discussion and booze. What’s not to like, as they say.
Last week the writers on the panel were Claire Mulley, whose latest book is The Women Who Flew for Hitler ( 2017), Toby Clements, author of the Kingmaker series, set during the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth Buchan, whose The New Mrs Clifton readers will know about already. The discussion was chaired by William Ryan, author of the Captain Korolev novels, whose latest work is The Constant Soldier.
The Blue Anchor is a wonderful setting, its walls hung with boating tackle and memorabilia – the Auriol Kensington Rowing Club is just next door. The dark wood floors and panelled walls of the upstairs room are reached via a twisting stairway and the view over the river is spectacular. The beer, if not cheap ( this is London ) is good and there’s food downstairs for those who want it. There were probably thirty to forty people gathered to hear the discussion, some of them regular attendees ( these events happen every month ). All shared a love of history and historical literature.
William Ryan kicked off the event, introducing each of the authors and giving a thumbnail portrait of them and their work. The substantive discussion began with noted biographer Claire Mulley talking about The Women.., its subjects being two remarkable women WWII pilots, Hannah Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg. Both won the Iron Cross, both surmounted prejudice and both loved flying, but their allegiances were to different kinds of Germany. Reitsch was a thorough Nazi, while von Stauffenberg covertly supported one of the most widely known attempts to assassinate Hitler.
Women in war-time and immediately post WWII was a theme which carried over to Elizabeth Buchan and The New Mrs Clifton. This finely nuanced study of the impact of war on those who participate in it and, perhaps even more, upon those who stay at home, is structured as a mystery, that of a skeleton being discovered in a modern-day Clapham garden. It is set in post-war Clapham a period of pinched austerity, shortages and cold comfort at winning which is beautifully realised. It is the telling detail, the regular visits for tea of the ruin recorder ( tea being in short supply ), the impossibility of repairing or decorating one’s home because there is no paint, nor any building materials, which bring the period to life.
Something with which Toby Clements agreed. His latest, Kingdom Come, fourth and final book in the Kingmaker series, again follows the fortunes of Thomas and Katherine, the escapees from a priory who find themselves caught up in the War of the Roses. How to open a medieval window – do the shutters open outwards or inwards? How is linen made in medieval times and what does a piece of it feel like next to the skin? He, like Buchan and Mulley, had tracked down weapons of their period, in his case a sword.
There were questions from the floor and interesting discussion. Books were purchased and signed and people chatted before heading out into the night, happy. The next meeting of History on the River will take place on 17th October starting at 7.30 at The Blue Anchor, Hammersmith.