Why historical fiction is in the middle of a golden age

Historical fiction is hot

Historical fiction is hot - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Historical fiction has shaken off its anorak, says Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals

So you thought it was all over? Sure, our headline summer extravaganza may now be a fond memory, but there’s no doubt it’s a festival that will go down as one to remember in our 50 year history.

History is something of a theme for us right now as we not only plan for our 50th anniversary celebrations but usher in our second Harrogate History Festival from October 23rd to 26th at the Old Swan Hotel. It’s an incredible line up including Sandi Toksvig, Bernard Cornwell, and Peter Snow.

From the TV delights of Downton Abbey to the literary heights of Hilary Mantel, we are in a golden age of historical fiction. It’s shaken off its anorak. History is hot. And it looks like a literary festival that will stand the test of time.

The summer festival however will linger, not just because of JK Rowling’s appearance, but also our incredible Artist in Residence, the pianist James Rhodes. One of the things James said during his time at Harrogate has stayed with me. He was talking about the extraordinary difficult lives the great composers lived – poverty, illness, grief. That they died young. ‘But they’re still alive,’ he said, ‘as their music is played all over the world. That’s an incredible story that legacy; they went through hell but were raised to the top. The music is just absolutely extraordinary and there’s a reason we’re still playing and listening to it 200 or 300 years later.’

The arts endure. And if music is the food of love, it’s our duty to play on! Which is why like a dog isn’t just for Christmas, Harrogate International Festivals is about year-round events, for life. Besides, there’s too much wonder and joy to cram into one month. We’re busy planning the next Sunday Series for January, a blissful series featuring the finest international acts on the classical music scene. Classical music is passionate, reflective, dramatic, tempestuous. We turn to music when words don’t always do, at times of heartbreak and euphoria.

Planning events and evaluating festivals can be something of a challenge of classical proportions, and it certainly comes with its own heartbreak and euphoria in the form of the challenge of fundraising and creating a return on investment for both our many supporters and funders. But it’s a necessary challenge to measure the financial and PR impact of our unique festival and events for our sponsors, and to help secure future funding.

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Great music may endure through history, but it’s our duty to ensure there’s always a platform for it in Harrogate. Of course evaluating the impact on our hearts and minds can never be measured.

BBC’s Alan Yentob spent years investigating the amazing power music has on our brains – he underwent brain scans and found his grey matter turned blue, indicating deep emotion, when listening to Strauss. Science has proven music can transport you to the unknown.

That’s part of the magic of our festivals – all that planning and organisation to bring you transcendental moments that create enduring memories that we hope become part of your own personal history. We’re passionate that there are many more memories to come.