It's only the second Heyer conference in Australia (that I'm aware of). I bought a ticket to the first one, but in the event, I couldn't make it. I came away from this one feeling that there ought to be more of these celebrations of Heyer all over the world.
This was different from most other conferences — reader or writer — I've attended, in that the audience — just over 200 people — had pretty much read all of Heyer's novels. It was extraordinary—and such fun!—as readers of all ages, from teens to elderly women talked enthusiastically, debating their favorite Heyer and favorite characters and quoting bits they loved. (The pic below is of the speakers and organizers. Thanks Malvina Yock for the photo.)
People had come from far and wide for this one day conference. One woman who'd flown in from another state, confessed at lunchtime that she'd been a bit nervous about coming on her own, knowing no-one, but said it was like walking into a room full of friends — everyone had Heyer in common.
Conversation starters included: Which was your first Heyer? Which is your favorite? (which in my opinion is an impossible question to answer.) Have you read her crime novels? What about . . . There were no awkward silences that day. A table of used Heyers prompted some lively reminiscing, and a discussion of the various covers.
The formal part of the day kicked off with a short speech by Jennifer Kloester, Heyer's official biographer, who showed a film of the unveiling of the Blue Plaque on Heyer's birthplace in Wimbledon (which Jennifer had originally proposed.) The WordWenches reported blue plaque day here.)
Then historical romance author Isolde Martyn gave a speech on Regency Buck: Creating a Precedent. Regency Buck was the first of Heyer's novels set in the Regency period, and is arguably the book that began the Regency genre (remembering that Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels).
After that there were five short speeches on "My favorite Heyer" — and I gave one of them. Having already claimed it was an impossible ask — choosing a favorite Heyer — I spoke about Venetia. My speech was 10 minutes, so it's too long to include here, but I smiled as I gave it, as during several of my quotations I could see lips moving in the audience in synch — they knew those quotations and were repeating them softly with me. Such a delight.
I love VENETIA (That's one of the old covers on the right. I'm not so keen on the recent ones, though I've heard they're designing new ones.) It’s a beautifully nuanced, subtle and charming romance. Venetia and Damerel make a wonderful couple. He's a cynical, embittered rake, quite happy at the start to live up to the world's worst expectations of him. She's lovely — spirited, intelligent, beautiful, kind and loving, and she sees past the facade he wears to the kind, clever, disillusioned idealist beneath. They each bring out the best in the other.
I also love the world Heyer builds in each book —not just the historical settings, which are so beautifully researched they bring to life the Regency era — at a time when there were no other Regency romances.
Her plots are brilliant — no cookie-cutter plots here. There's a reason Heyer's also popular with men — as well as a romance, she provides a ripping good yarn.
But most of all I love her humor and her characterization. She can still make me laugh, on the umpteenth rereading. Her main characters are unforgettable — each one remaining in my mind like an old friend. (That's Georgette Heyer on the left.)
And I adore Heyer’s minor characters. Each one is distinct and fully realised, however brief their appearance. And the cast of those minor characters adds so much to each book, not as a distraction, as someone said in a review I read, but adding to our knowledge and understanding of the main characters and the world they inhabit.
Those minor characters, as well as providing great comedy and different personalities for the main characters to "bounce off", also give the reader an insight into the morals, values and attitudes of the day—and how greatly they could vary. Heyer was writing for an audience that, unlike readers of today, were not saturated with Regency-era romances. The only other writer offering readers a window into that time was Jane Austen — who also had a cast of wonderful minor characters.
In preparing for the speech, I trawled the web for reviews of Venetia and was shocked by some that I felt entirely had entirely missed the point — one in particular that badly misinterpreted the subtle ironic banter between the main characters. I finished my speech thus: So the moral of this tale is, don’t rely on reviews, read the book for yourself. If you haven’t read VENETIA yet, start on it tonight, and if you have read it, isn’t it time for a reread? I’m Anne Gracie and I love Georgette Heyer.
I haven't even touched on the second half of the program, but we've run out of space. But it was a wonderful day and I'm sure many of you here would have loved it as much as I did.
Now over to you. Are you a Heyer fan? A Heyer virgin? Would you attend a Georgette Heyer conference if you could?