Jenny - We had a number of brainstorming meetings where we looked back at what we had spoken about for the last couple of years and then forward at the submissions we’d like to receive and how we see the publishing world changing.
We nailed down the concept when we thought about it from the audience’s POV. If I was an aspiring author what would I like to know? Then it seemed obvious, we felt that we could give an insider’s view on what we were seeing in terms of submissions, the trade, digital, genre patterns and in contrast we could try and dispel some myths about editors and the submission process!
Julie - This was one of those times when the workshop topic actually arose from my everyday life, so I had a lot of the tools to give the workshop already in my head when I pitched it.
First off, I watched lots and lots of Pixar films, with a notebook and a stopwatch. This was hugely enjoyable, as you can imagine. I had a very fun evening drawing a three-act story structure diagram and putting the story of CARS on it. And I also had fun selecting film clips to show: I wanted them to be short, yet pack a big emotional punch.
The day before my talk, in the kitchen in our accommodation in Penrith, I showed my film clips to the other writers who were staying in my block. When they cried, I knew I'd made the right choice.
Maggie - What excitement being invited to give a talk – then total panic while I thought about what I would say. My main aim was to not have an Eric Morecambe moment (All the right words, but not necessarily in the right order).
I debated about whether to enact my favourite scene - FYI, it was in a novel by Sally Quilford, where, after discovering that her deceased aunt had been in a relationship That Dare Not Speak Its Name, and our feisty heroine had inherited her Wild West ranch, she was saved from the baddies by our half-Indian hero, (swoon)…
So, back on track, I decided to keep it simple, focus on the benefits to my audience of a clear message, that I am really keen and enthusiastic about reading their work. I was also grateful to organiser Tom for his advice, when I did a quick run-through beforehand, of not crossing my legs when I talked, as it made me look like I had an urgent appointment in the ladies.
Jenny - All of it is enjoyable – meeting new authors and authors meeting us – putting faces to names, sharing information that may help to further someone’s career, when you see a particular point sparking someone’s imagination, and the laughter (at the bits that were meant to be funny)!
Julie - I was a teacher for ten years, and I gave it up to be a full-time writer. I really miss teaching, though, and I get my teaching 'fix' through giving workshops to writers. As an analytical person, I love breaking down topics and figuring out the best way to present them. And to be honest, I'm a bit of a diva and I really like having the attention of everyone in the room.
Maggie - I loved the opportunity to meet writers, and to answer their questions. I was going to say the most enjoyable part of a delivery is when it is all over, and you can lie back and receive gifts of flowers and baby-grows, but at least at the RNA you don’t get your stitches done. There is also more audience participation, whereas delivering a baby is very much a one-woman show.
Kate - My talk at Penrith was almost the last thing on the timetable, at 3pm on the Sunday afternoon in the extra part of the conference, so I was lucky to have a good attendance and to have people there who were keen and interested. By that stage of the weekend - and after the Gala Dinner the night before, people can sometimes be wilting and tired and finding it hard to
concentrate. So it's always good to look out into the audience and see people obviously listening, perhaps nodding agreement, or smiling at the jokes or making comments as above- and then when I gave them a brief writing exercise to do to 'dig deep' into the emotions we were looking at and they ways they could be shown, everyone was scribbling away frantically,
obviously seeing what I was trying to get across and finding ways to express it in words - which is what we were all there for, to write. One of the best things about an audience like that is that the writing prompts I give sparks off their imaginations and creativity so that they write almost without thinking and not worrying about getting it 'right'.
Jenny - I once had a lecturer who said that the best audiences were the ones who showed their feelings and their interest as he spoke – that he wasn’t just talking to a sea of blank faces. I felt really guilty because I tended to just sit and listen and write notes without really looking up at him or nodding at the bits that I found useful. Ever since then I’ve nodded away as an audience member and as a speaker I now know exactly how he felt. It’s so important to feel that your audience is engaging with you, and it’s our job to make the talk as unique and compelling as possible and when you see that connection on the faces of people in the audience it’s brilliant.
Julie - They should be interested in the topic, willing to engage and to learn, and they should laugh at my jokes. In this case, the Pixar clips had nearly everyone in the room in tears. Now that's a good audience.
Maggie -The interest, friendliness and enthusiasm of an RNA audience was wonderful, I was really pleased the members were so keen and had so many questions. We had fun.