Friday, July 18, 2014

Vignettes Post RNA Conference

As far as romantic writers were concerned the weekend of 11th July meant that all roads led to Telford, Shropshire for the 2014 Romantic Novelists Associations' Conference. A good time was guaranteed for all. Below are memories from those who took part. Speakers, organisers, first timers, old timers and the wonderful authors who represented the RNA at the Blist's Hill Victorian Town, Ironbride Gorge Museum.
Five ladies shared a taxi from Stafford Station to the Harper Adams campus last Friday afternoon in weather much improved from that which they’d left behind in the capital. Lovely to be in the country surrounded by so much green and, with the wind blowing in the right direction, you would never have known you were in close proximity to cows and pigs.
It’s a lovely campus, modern and peaceful – except for the happy chatter in the early hours from a number of kitchen parties, a recognised activity for any RNA overnight event – and in its own way that was peaceful too. A confirmation that all was well in the world of the romantic novelist.
Although delegates had to negotiate three separate venues - accommodation, dining room and lecture halls - the distance between them wasn’t so great as to lower the spirits. Oh, and the chairs were comfortable. Worth a mention, you ask? If you have, as I am sure you have, sat in on talks where you were so busy shifting from one cheek to the other that it was difficult to concentrate on what the speaker was saying…yes, definitely worth a mention.
For me the hub of the whole venue was the Weston Building where Jan and Roger could be found much of the time reassuring and directing, particular at first before I’d had time to acclimatise and take stock of my surrounding. That’s not the kind of stock they had on campus, though I understand there were piglets and I might have been tempted to take one of them.
Come the evening of the Gala Dinner I even managed, to walk from my room to the dining room in High Heels. Okay, this may not seem such a great feat for some of you but for me high-heeled shoes are something I wear only for decoration. They are certainly not meant for walking in!
There was little time to spare in a very packed few days but we did manage a few minutes here and there sitting in the sunshine in between events. A far cry from our usual environment and, in spite of all the activity, an air of peace.
Natalie Kleinman

'Drinks Party sponsored by Independent Publishing at Amazon' and Darren Hardy is the UK Manager for Kindle Direct Publishing

Darren Hardy (UK Manager for Kindle Direct Publishing) and guests

Room with a view
Four of us travelled to Telford together and after an eventful journey, which included us having to change trains because a bird had flown into ours and broken the windscreen. We picked up our keys from the Aspire Building and, being travel weary, we didn’t listen to the directions we were given, so out came the maps. Being highly intelligent people, we then got very confused over the room numbers on the brown envelopes we were given. Our flat keys were inside and the room numbers began with SC. However, the wall plaques inside the buildings began with RC, luckily someone, another kind writer, came to our aid.

We soon settled into our apartments, which were compact but complete with wardrobes and desks. The en suite bathroom had a shower and I certainly became a contortionist to keep the taps on, to fill the sink while brushing my hair.

The kitchen, that serviced eight flats, had an endless supply of tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as natural teas. It was a lovely size with two large fridges, ours soon filled up with wine for our after dinner drinks.
As we made our way back to our rooms, from the gala dinner, it was clear that nearly every block we passed were having at least one kitchen party, the laughter and cheers ringing in the darkness of the night. A good time was clearly had by all.
Elaine Roberts

Industry appointments
I’m in awe of Jan Jones! However did she managed to coordinate the industry appointments as well as organise such fabulous conferences for so many years?

When Jenny Barden called on RNA committee members to help out this year I tentatively raised my hand. What could I do? Perhaps she required someone to wash up or finish up the dregs of wine after Gala night? I could be a food taster – any excuse to stop the diet for a week or so! I looked at the suggested list and ticked the box for industry appointment coordinator. Hey, I’d attended conferences in the past and knew it wouldn’t take much to send a quick email to a delegate and tell them the time of their appointment – I was wrong.

When the information pack arrived from Jan my tummy did a flip. This looked pretty serious to me. So many appointments and look at the list of illustrious industry people who had offered their time. Me? I had to liaise with all sides and actually speak to these important people – well, email, but it’s the same as I’d still have to keep an eye on what I said and not make silly jokes, or call them by the wrong name.

On the morning the conference packs hit hundreds of doormats my email inbox exploded with incoming messages. I needed a system. I put on my office manager head – it had lived under a dust cover for the past seventeen years whilst I pretended to be a writer (someone is sure to catch me out one day) and devised a fool proof system.

I was already having nightmares about irate authors and being drummed out of the RNA for letting them down. Thankfully it never happened. What did happen was that I spent just over a month chatting to lovely people and advising some on the right interview to attend and what to submit. I had chats with new writers who experienced meltdowns over their work and wished to cancel. I can do meltdowns with ease so was extremely sympathetic. On the other hand I can also nag so talked others into seeing it through. There was only one instance of a missing email but checking my clever system I knew that the naughty little mail had never hit earth and is still out there somewhere in cyber space.

Am I glad I took on this job? You bet! In fact I’ve already signed up with Jan to do it next year. I’ve made so many friends and actually met them, rather than just chatting on Facebook or sharing tweets. With luck I will make even more friends next year.
Elaine Everest

The panel that considered the Future for Romantic Fiction were (left to right): Katie Fforde (President, RNA), Pia Fenton (Chair, RNA), Jenny Barden (Facilitator for the panel), Richard Lee (Chair, Historical Novel Society), Nikki Logan (President, Romance Writers of Australia)

A worthwhile opportunity
Having not let anyone read much of my work; the idea of sending in a chapter to be looked over by an editor was overwhelming. To say that I was nervous and scared was an understatement.
However, the process of applying for these appointments was made incredibly easy and straightforward. Also, throughout the course of the weekend, any mention of my one2ones to any other RNA member was met with encouragement and support.
When it came to the editors, the ladies I met were incredibly friendly, helpful and offered sound, constructive comments when it came to my writing – comments which will be extremely useful to me moving forward.
If you are thinking of attending a future RNA conference, these one2one’s are an amazing chance to meet with publishers and editors. It’s a unique and very worthwhile opportunity.
Laura Parish

Like a virgin: 
At the RNA Conference for the very first time
Question:  What is the difference between a night seeing the Chippendales and a weekend at the RNA Conference in Telford?  The answer is at the end of this blog post, so keep your eyes peeled.
Amanda Ward
 enjoying her first Conference 
It’s a rare occurrence in the past twenty-four years that a chance to be virginal at something crops up.  So naturally I grab at it with both hands. As a first time member and attendee of the conference I was apprehensive and extremely nervous. As it turned out I had no need to be. I was greeted warmly by Kate Jackson, Roger Sanderson (fan moment there) and Jan Jones and after settling in to the cleanest and most comfortable room, I and my mother in law headed off towards the Weston Building.
When asked how I found the conference I immediately said “different” because there in Telford it is a completely different world from the manic life at home. Full of interesting individuals who had a great deal of knowledge to impart, many gushy fan moments meeting and shaking hands with authors I had read over and over again.  I came home buzzing, knackered and with lessons learnt.  To be myself, treat writing as a ‘job’ - and above all WRITE!
As for the answer to the above question.  It’s simple.  After a weekend with this amazingly friendly group of authors, everyone is guaranteed a happy ending!
 Amanda Ward.

Gala evening
Oh what a night!
The gala evening lived up to its usual glam and glitz, the elegantly decorated room graced by equally elegant ladies. There was the smattering of gorgeous high heels (including a particularly wonderful bejewelled, scarlet pair), but it seemed many went for flatter, though still pretty, sandals this year. Not that we had to move far – apart from to the bar – as we were served at the table. This was very welcome after a tiring, if inspiring, day of talks and one-to-ones.

During the meal, the winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Prize was announced. Janice Preston looked thrilled to be the winner of this prestigious award. Also announced was this year’s recipient of the Katie Fforde bursary, Janie Wilson.
My group of revellers was among the last to leave. We wandered back to our flat to continue the party and it was evident that others had done the same. As we passed kitchens, one above the other, they were lively with chatter and laughter. I’m reliably informed by a friend who couldn’t sleep, that some of them went on into the wee small hours!
Francesca Burgess

The winner was...
I had a total of 37 entries for the Elizabeth Goudge competition, all intriguing and so many with excellent ideas on how to transform old fairy tales into something new.  It was very hard to choose!  All entries were based on all the more usual stories except for one which was a new take on HC Anderson's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep".  This theme obviously fired everyone's imagination which was great!
Winner - Janice Preston with "Rip Tide" (modern take on The Little Mermaid)
Runner-up - Vanessa Savage with "Hush" (modern take on Sleeping Beauty)
Runner-up - Caroline Johnson with "Ash Grey" (modern take on Cinderella)
RNA Chair, Pia Fenton

Sue Moorcroft taking a well deserved break
What a weekend!
I’m still excited about what I learnt during the amazing sessions. I loved every minute of drama, laughs, and friendship. I’m also still recovering from too much wine and not enough sleep. The food was excellent, all home grown and well worth putting up with the overbearing smell from the cattle sheds that occasionally drifted through the venue.
Whilst at the conference, I found myself very lucky to have managed to take part in not one, but three different ‘one on one’ ten minute discussions with Editors.
Each and every one of the editors were lovely, they’d all obviously taken the time to read and digest my opening chapters, along with my synopsis. The feedback that I received was not only invaluable, but crucial to the continuation of my career as an author.
Out of the three editors that I saw, two have requested a full manuscript. As you can imagine, I’m absolutely delighted.  Especially as one of these publishers would be my dream choice. I love everything about them, their attitude, ethics, business sense and most of all their beautiful covers. So, fingers crossed..!
Lynda Stacey
A big smile from Pamela Hartshorne after her talk
Walking towards the first talk I’ve ever given at an RNA conference
As I walked towards the room where I was to give the first talk I’ve ever given at an RNA conference – yes, panic! -  I felt exactly as I’d done when, as a teacher, I was about to give a whole school assembly. It wasn’t the teenagers who’d fill the hall who were a fearful thought: it was my peers - the teachers who lined the walls
Giving a talk to a room full of writers is giving a talk to your peers, and that’s scary!

PS.  I couldn’t have found myself in front of a nicer group of peers.

Liz Harris

Harlequin singles

Write from both your head and your heart. That was the message from Victoria Ounjian and Lucy Glimour, editors for Harlequin singles. In a lively session, I discovered that while Victoria and Lucy might be Margot Fonteyn and James Bond in a parallel universe, they haven’t lost their passion for publishing in this one.
After a quick run round the Harlequin imprints - Mills and Boon, Mira, Carina and Carina Ink (Y.A.) we were assured that they were looking to nurture authors who would appreciate a publishers’ expertise and wanted a global career. Copies of Not Quite Perfect by Annie Lyons lay on the front table, evidence that e-books can go to print.
Victoria and Lucy like fresh voices, great hooks and lots of P.Q.T. Do you know the acronym? I didn’t. It’s for that elusive but vital ingredient: page-turning-quality.
No books by number please, or the re-telling of current trends. Individuality matters, even niche, as long as it might be competitive in the market and has mass appeal.

Finally, Victoria and Lucy left us all with this compelling thought: If a reader has five pounds a week to spend on a book, why should it be yours?

Cathie Hartigan

 'Tea and Tales of Yesterday and Today' part of the RNA author showcase at Wellington Library, Telford

From 1940s to 2014
A time travelling author!
There were two things that tested me this year as I prepared for the RNA’s annual conference.  The first was making a 1940s district nurse’s uniform for the historical authors’ event at Blist's Hill Victorian Village in the Iron Bridge Museum and the second was putting together a talk about plotting and story structure for the conference’s main programme.

After the initial problems of finding a dress pattern of the right design, the uniform and apron took only a day for me to make. The hat was more difficult but thankfully I spotted my daughter’s old St John’s Ambulance hat so pinched that. With my old prefect badge as substitute nursing association insignia and my bag of pre-war nursing equipment and text books I was set for the day. Although I wouldn’t recommend wearing 1940s underwear including stocking, suspenders and full under slip in 23c the event was brilliant fun and attracted a great number of visitors. My second task wasn’t so straightforward.
Despite the fact that teaching is my day-job, preparing to talk about an aspect of writing to group of authors was quite another matter. Firstly, because I had the overwhelming feeling of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs and secondly because the divide between a published and yet-to-be-published author is paper thin. Who was I to teach others how to construct a page-turning story when I’m still learning myself?
However, not one to balk at a challenge and using the plot of Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the points I set about putting the 20 slide PowerPoint presentation together.

I was uncharacteristically nervous as Sunday morning ticked by but once everyone laughed at the first joke I got into my stride. At the end of the talk I received overwhelmingly positive responses from many of the 80 plus people who attended my Keep Control of Your Story.  Would I do it again? You bet ya! But I might consider more user-friendly undergarments the next time around. 
Jean Fullerton
Two dozen went to Blist's Hill
The RNA conference isn't just about seminars in lecture halls.  On Friday morning, while volunteers were making up goody bags up at Harper Adams University, two dozen historical authors went to Blist's Hill Victorian town.  In the glamorous setting of the Goods Shed, we held a "meet the author" event.  To showcase our work we brought not only our books, but also artefacts we've collected, or made, to do with our era.   There was everything from a cardboard Coliseum to printed versions of an alternate history of the United Kingdom.  The display of Georgian prints and antique fans drew a lot of interest from the public, as did the tombola with instant prizes of books, stationery and sweets.


Many of us dressed in costume appropriate to the era we write about and we took the opportunity to have a look about the town, too, which was manned by volunteers in period dress.

At lunch time, I wandered past the pub, where the policeman, who'd parked his bicycle outside, was belting out music hall tunes on the piano and spotted a sign hanging in the draper's window that reminded me of my place.  (It reads: Cast off clothing - the lower classes may call after 5 o'clock.)

Christine Burrows
(Writing as Annie Burrows)

Christine with Juliet Greenwood

Kate Johnson and Liesel Schwarz

Lizzie Lane

Annie Burrows and Freda Lightfoot

Jenny Barden

My First RNA Conference Talk
 It was a sweltering hot day when I did my talk on Love and Death in Romantic Intrigue.
Actually, the almost tropical weather turned out to be fitting for describing the main plot details of Romancing the Stone, though I wish I had glowed like Kathleen Turner, rather than just having a bright red face. As I said to the attendees, I had hoped to be more sparkling and less wilting.

I was very lucky with my audience, who were very receptive to everything I had to say, and took part with great gusto, despite the heat.  Even the more experienced writers were very receptive, and it made me realise that no matter how long we’ve been doing this, we can all learn something from other writers.
It was a really good weekend, and the icing on the cake was when I was sitting in the foyer and overheard someone behind me talking about my workshop. It was clear they had really engaged with it, so that made my weekend.
Sally Quilford

I came. I saw. I conferenced.
Hazel Gaynor
The Girl Who Came to Conference
Was I nervous? A little. Should I have been? Not at all!
As a first-timer, what did I learn from RNA 2014?
1)      Always help the person sitting beside you on the train with their luggage. It might turn out that they are going to the same conference as you and you might not realise this until you both get off the train and miss the next connection.
2)      You will meet people who are trying to get published, people who are recently published and people who have published 60 novels. There is something to learn from everyone (and Mary Nichols is an inspiration!)
3)      People are incredibly generous when it comes to giving lifts. You will never be left stranded in the middle of Shropshire.
4)      Everyone is very friendly and particularly forthcoming with wine.
5)      Even when your supply of books doesn’t arrive from your publisher, there is much fun to be had in dressing in Edwardian clothing and pottering around a Victorian town.
6)      You can find out an awful lot about someone over a pint of cider in a student union bar

7)      People WILL come along to your talk at 9am on Saturday morning. And they will be lovely and have great questions.

8)      Speaking in front of a fairly full lecture theatre is absolutely fine when you have such a wonderful co-host as Alison Baverstock.

9)      When you see people starting to make their way to dinner, go with them. There will most definitely not be any panna cotta left if you dawdle.

10)  A lecture-theatre full of (mostly) women can move very quickly when the fiction buyer for WH Smith Travel offers to give out his business card. Has anyone seen Matt Bates since?!

11)  What Janet Gover cannot do with audio visual equipment simply isn’t worth knowing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole conference – both as a speaker and as an audience-member. I met lots of writers who I’ve only known on Twitter and I met lots of lovely people who I will definitely be tweeting with in future.
Thank you RNA!
Hazel  Gaynor


What an amazing event the #RNACONF2014 has been. We'd like to thank all of you who took the time to share your experiences with us - there are far too many to name.
There were people who gave, people who shared, a meeting of old friends, a reassurance for newcomers who might have been feeling a little overawed - I'm sure that disappeared pretty quickly. As always, something for everyone. Roll on London 2015. See you there!
Elaine and Natalie


Unknown said...

I had such a great time, even if I did feel overwhelmed. Thank you all for making me and my MIL feel so welcome. Roll on next year! Manda x

Laura E. James said...

What a fantastic post. Thank you to everyone involved in organising, taking part and blogging about the conference. It's Friday now, five days on, and I'm still in recovery mode ... :-)

Tabitha Shay said...

Looks like you had a great time and it looks like it was a very well organized conference...and a fun one....You won't feel so overwhelmed next time now that you know what to expect....

Anne L Harvey said...

Fantastic posts, all of them. It was like reliving the Conference all over again. Hard to think that this time last week I was there. And, Liz Harris and Jean Fullerton, whose workshops I attended, I would never have believed that it was your first time. Brilliant workshops, both of them. Thanks.

Sandra Nachlinger said...

Sounds like a wonderful, worthwhile conference. Love the photos!

Unknown said...

It was lovely reading through all the different observations/recollections of the conference, Elaine. They took me back to what was one of the best conferences I've ever been to, if not the best.

Roll on #RNAConf15!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Fantastic overviews, everyone - it was a great conference!

Viv said...

Lovely to hear so many different accounts from so many different angles. I am so sorry I wasn't there, but am looking forward to being part of the action next year!