Thursday 16 Feb

Writing History: How to be a Biographer

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We read biographies, but what do we really know about the biographers themselves?

It was our pleasure to welcome Lord Alan Watson and the charming Helena Kelly for an evening of enlightenment on some of our favourite (albeit wildly different!) historical figures.

In a talk replete with wonderful anecdotes on both Churchill and Austen (Jane Austen liked wine and made her sister do her chores. Churchill… well, he was just outrageous!) we heard how a previous interest in these personalities prompted our authors to pen books on them.

Both authors underlined the difficulty of finding a new angle on a famous figure, and how vital it is to persuade agents and publishers you’ve got something new to say. Both underlined the importance of working with editors, getting advice and having your facts checked. Deadlines, they agreed, were a wonderful marker for how much time to spend writing.

Curiously, neither would call themselves a ‘biographer’, which serves to show how many facets there are to writing about the past. It is literary criticism, history, politics, a matter of social context and holds some element of imagination… which just goes to show what a difficult endeavour biographical writing can be!

Learn more about our lovely speakers below. Oh and if you haven’t got their books already, get ordering!

LORD ALAN WATSON

Lord Watson has a lifelong involvement in communications.

An award-winning BBC broadcaster for over 20 years, presenting Panorama on BBC1 and The Money Programme on BBC2, he is currently the Chairman of CTN Communications. In addition, he’s is a Fellow of the Royal Television Society and a former Chairman.

He was elected as High Steward of Cambridge University for life in 2010. He is also an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, a Patron of the Churchill Archives at Churchill College.

An Author, his books include; The Germans: Who are they now?Jamestown: The Voyage of English and The Queen and the USA. His latest book is Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World.

HELENA KELLY

Helena Kelly grew up in North Kent, just down the road from where Charles Dickens used to live. Despite this, she’s always been more of a Jane Austen fan. She first read Jane’s novels in her teens and they’ve been her constant companions through a Classics degree, law school, and a doctorate in English literature.

She’s written academic articles and set Oxford University finals examinations on them and has taught courses on Austen to hundreds of people.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical is her first book and uncovers a passionate woman living in an age of revolution. Presenting a radical, spirited and politically engaged Austen, who up until now has been grossly misrepresented.

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