Friday, July 17, 2015

Still Fabulous at Fifty Five!

All roads led to Queen Mary University, Mile End Road, in the East End of London, as romantic novelists in all shapes and sizes arrived for their annual conference. Even industrial action by tube and some mainline rail workers could not keep us away.
As usual all delegates received a goody bag brimming with books, sweets, chocolates and an RNA mug – perfect gifts for RNA members. One very special gift was a copy of ‘Fabulous at Fifty’ the book published five years ago to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the RNA. If you have not read
this book please take time to dip in and find out about our amazing association. How was the New Writers’ Scheme developed? What about our awards? Read about the people who started the RNA as well as the famous people that we still talk about. Did you know that the person who organised our first conference eighteen years ago was still working hard behind the scenes last weekend? We’ll leave you to read who it is.
This year we asked visitors to the conference to write a short piece on their experience. We were not disappointed. Thank you one and all!

Journey to the 2015 RNA Conference
Jayne Hall (Morton Gray)
Alison Maynard, Janice Preston, Lynn Forth and I arranged to get on the same train at different stops heading for Birmingham. Laughter started with many witty comments from Lynn, later called ‘Lynn-isms’. One of the most memorable concerned her two fans! We were in awe of Alison’s tiny case. I wanted empty space for extra books, of course. At Moor Street, we admired Alison’s attempt at selling her book in the lift. The London train was quiet, apart from our table! Lynn produced snacks,
wine glasses and serviettes. Jan poured wine. The journey to Marylebone passed in an instant.
Travelling during the tube strike, we’d booked a taxi to Mile End, but grid-locked traffic stopped it reaching us. Thankfully, the weather was sunny. When we got a taxi, forty minutes later, the driver couldn't promise an arrival time or price. Traffic was nose-to-tail, with police at bus stops to stop fighting. We could probably have walked faster at times, but it was a long way.
We all started to get weary in the hot taxi. Lynn still managed some witty repartee about buttocks, but I think we were grateful to arrive at the university an hour and a half later.

The Spectacular Setting of our RNA 2015 Conference
Karen Aldous
Canal side
What a delight to discover so many fascinating features at the Queen Mary University of London, the conference venue just off the main Mile End Road in East London. Not only is it situated on a now stunning stretch of the Regent’s Canal with a community of moored house boats and a bustling canal path giving access to local parks, but in the centre of the campus is the site of a grade II listed, Jewish cemetery, the second-oldest surviving in England.
As well as a modern student village, the site houses the original ‘People’s Palace’, the Queens Building, built in the mid-Victorian period with the education of local people in mind. And, it really can only be described as a classically-built Victorian palace and, within it, was the beautiful Octagon Library where busts of famous poets and writers such as Byron, Wordsworth and Samuel Johnson watched over us while we wined and dined at our Gala Dinner.
I was truly amazed to discover all this along with another interesting snippet. In the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Pathology Museum here, the skeleton of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick is housed. I can’t wait to explore this place some more.
Queen Mary College – then and now
Helena Fairfax
Tube closures, terrorist attacks and traffic jams – and I don’t mean last weekend. This was the London of the 1980s, when my husband – then boyfriend – was a student at QMC. I remember once arriving at King’s Cross to find the whole tube network closed down because of an IRA threat. And the station itself – my God! What an intimidating and run down place it was. The old cafĂ© served weak tea and limp ham sandwiches, and all the knives were plastic to stop people stabbing each other. And who could believe nowadays that people smoked underground, on wooden escalators?

 The station was a disaster waiting to happen, and tragically, in 1987, fire engulfed it. The modern concourse bears no relation to the grim place I knew.
As for Mile End, it’s still as congested, but they’re building cycle paths and the canal is a lot cleaner than it used to be. And the lecture rooms! Hazel Gaynor’s fabulous Powerpoint presentation shows just how far we’ve come since the days when white boards and marker pens were the height of progress.
Roll on the next thirty years!
(Image: Frisking my boyfriend outside Kings Cross!)

The Conference Opens
John Jackson

Jan Jones & Eileen Ramsay
Before this weekend’s Conference started I asked Eileen Ramsay, our Chair, if she would give me a copy of her opening speech, as I was going to write it up for the RNA blog.
“Oh, you won’t need that, it’s going to be very short!” she replied.
And so it proved to be.
Eileen welcomed us all with great warmth in a crowded Milner Lecture Theatre. While her opening speech may have had all the advantages of brevity, it was certainly no less warm and, as a newcomer at his first conference, I can only emphasise its warmth and welcome. Many thanks for that.

John Jackson
After Eileen had finished, she handed matters over to Jan Jones who gave us a summary of immediately important information, and we cracked on with an excellent series of talks, lectures and workshops. Jan proved herself a fountain of knowledge for all sorts of queries, especially on Friday as people came in to register and attend their first sessions – not to mention a full programme of meeting old friends.

My first Conference
Heidi Swain
2015 is turning out to be a year of firsts for me – first book deal, first cover reveal, first publication day and now I can add first RNA conference to the list! Initially disappointed to only be able to attend on Saturday I’m now rather relieved. Romance authors party hard I’ve discovered and I’m not sure I could have coped with the pace first time around.
On arrival I was escorted to register by Eileen Ramsay herself and after picking up my loaded goody bag and name tag I set about making a note of where the talks and workshops I had signed up for, were happening.
I don’t need to tell you how amazing the organisation of the conference is and how invaluable the advice and expertise on offer. What I would like to say however is thank you. Thank you to everyone for making me feel so welcome and relaxed and hello to the dozens of authors I was finally able to meet in real life. It never ceases to amaze me that we can recognise one another from a tiny thumbnail image!
I simply can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Ten Minutes to Make an Impression!
Natalie Kleinman
The annual RNA Conference offers a wealth of opportunities to its members. Just one of these is the chance to have a ten minute interview, known as a one2one, with an agent, editor or publisher, sometimes all three. Prior to the weekend, delegates are invited to submit a synopsis and first chapter in anticipation of receiving what might prove to be invaluable feedback on their work.
I asked Elaine Roberts, veteran of three conferences, what had been her experience this time. “Firstly, for me, attending the annual RNA Conference is the “don’t miss” event of the year and thanks to everyone involved for making it possible. The one2ones each year give me confidence to continue writing. Spending ten minutes with an Agent/Publisher/Editor is priceless. My feedback this year is no different. My manuscript was well received and now, for the first time, I’m daring to hope I will actually graduate the New Writers Scheme.”
Such a choice!
For Sarah Stephenson is was her first visit to a conference. She had this to say.
As a first-timer to the RNA conference, I had no idea what to expect. There were excellent one2ones with agents and publishers. I sat in the corridor, biting my nails; a small child waiting to see the headmistress. What wasted anxiety. The response was extremely positive. I was encouraged to continue writing and get the book finished as soon as possible. I left the conference exhausted but very buoyed up.”
Both writers told me that whatever the outcome of their interviews they valued both the opportunity and experience and had taken on board a huge amount from the feedback they had received.

Speed Dating for Writers!
Lisa Eveleigh
I’ve heard one-to-ones referred to as ‘speed-dating for writers’ which would be terrifying if either party was really going into a session blind…
Fortunately the RNA members I had appointments with last weekend were all impressively well prepared and had clearly looked at my website beforehand , so I didn’t have to waste any of those precious ten minutes in describing my agency and tastes in fiction.
It helped that most writers I saw are members of the New Writing Scheme and accustomed to editorial feedback. I think it’s essential to give truly constructive criticism and I always read the chapters I’m sent as close to Conference as possible, so that the work is fresh in my mind. But I’m acutely aware that these sessions are short and rather than undertaking a forensic analysis of every word, I try to leave at least three or four minutes for the author to tell me about their hopes and aims, and any previous publishing history. 
Apart from a bizarre - yet enchanting moment - when I poked my head out of the door of my seminar room looking for my next delegate, to be immediately offered a glass of Prosecco by The Romaniacs, busily  filming outside, these sessions were serious.  (And for the record, I said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and gratefully accepted some of their fizzy water instead; it was HOT last weekend!) 
Finally, it’s important to remember that agents enjoy meeting writers – you could be our next bestselling client! -  SO, if you’re thinking of making an appointment next year, leave your nerves at home; we don’t bite!    
*Lisa also found time to be part of our Agent Panel on Industry Day. From left to right in above image: Caroline Sheldon, Hannah Ferguson, Carole Blake, Tim Bates and Lisa Eveleigh.

Building Character Workshop
Sally Quilford
It’s always exciting, and a little bit nerve racking, to be asked to speak at the RNA conference. And having to wait till Sunday morning definitely ups the ante. I was even more nervous on account of following the incredibly erudite (and totally lovely and down to earth) Emma Darwin, and in the same room! I sat enthralled through Emma’s excellent talk on Writer’s Voices, and wondered ‘How am I going to follow that?’
But I think it’s important – and I’m sure Emma will agree – that the RNA conference covers a wide range of topics and for all skill levels. My talk on character building might not have been as cerebral, but I think my audience enjoyed it, especially when I used pictures of handsome men to illustrate my points on appearance (any excuse really…). Everyone in my workshop was very attentive, and said all the right things afterwards. I was able to enjoy the rest of the day safe in the knowledge that I had not let the organisers down.
I also think what both Emma’s and my talk proved was that even those of us giving the talks at the conference can learn something from each other. Her talk had taught me so much, and there were established authors in my talk who I hope also went away with new ideas.
That’s the great thing about the RNA. No one thinks they’re above learning something new and it’s this enthusiasm for knowledge on the part of the attendees that makes every workshop so special.

121s – The Aftermath!
Elaine Everest     
For me the experience of conference 121s started way back on the 28th May when I received the message from Jan Jones to ‘brace, brace, brace’ as the conference packs were in the post.
Taking part on the Reviewer Panel
Early next morning my email box began to fill with requests for appointments and it didn’t stop until days before the conference. Did I write much during June? No! Was I busy? Yes! Did I enjoy it? Yes, Yes, Yes! The most enjoyable part of allocating over two hundred appointments is to be able to get to know new members, say hi to members I’ve met before and to also be able to chat to industry professionals who have given up their valuable time to encourage and advise our members. I was able to calm the nervous - point out I’d been a bag of nerves myself not so long ago and also to advise anyone who wasn’t sure about their submission. The saddest part of the job was when I had to say I’d run out of appointments. I could have filled many two times over.
The joy came later when I bumped into many delegates who had news to share. Who doesn’t like good news and there was plenty of it. Authors being taken on by agents, book commissions, helpful hints and advice, the good news kept on coming. In fact one week on I’m still receiving emails full of good news. Please keep it coming.
As conferences go this one will be hard to follow but I’m sure we will give it a good try!
Let’s Learn!
Alison May

This is the second time that I’ve run a workshop at the RNA Conference. This year’s topic was Developing Back Burner Projects, which I’d subtitled ‘Writing the Book You’ve Always Wanted to Write’ and actually running the session was one of my favourite bits of the whole weekend. The impression at writing conferences is often that the people sitting in the room are learning and the

person at the front is working and teaching. Let me tell you a secret – 99% of the time the person at the front is learning just as much. Good workshops depend on the input from the attendees, and, in my experience, there’s always at least one question that pushes the session into territory you’d never expected and could never have planned for. For me that’s a large part of the fun; being in a group of fabulous creative people who are ready to learn and develop and ask questions is incredibly inspiring.
The main message of the session was this: if there’s something you’ve always wanted to write, get on and write it. That’s it in a nutshell. The real thing was essentially that but longer, with a bit about badgers fighting robots and some pictures of ironing.
Weaving the Tapestry of Time!
Charlotte Betts
I’m no longer a RNA conference virgin but this was the first time I was invited to take a workshop. Immensely flattered and not a little apprehensive, I agreed immediately. Deep in the throes of finishing my fifth novel, I didn’t have much time to think about the subject. Playing safe, I chose to talk, rather than write, about ‘what I know.’ Readers tell me that what they like best about my novels are the historical details and I decided to focus on writing about settings that transport you to another time and creating believable characters true to their era.

I’d imagined there might be 20 delegates but when I heard over 50 were expected I was amazed. I’d intended to provide six page hand-outs but realised that this would be an awful lot of printing! Undaunted, I set about learning to use Powerpoint.  Amazingly, the presentation and workshop went smoothly and it gave me a buzz to discuss my favourite subject with others and to learn from them, too. I also learned not to be so ambitious another time and stick to only one subject as an hour passes very quickly.

However many books you’ve had published, there is always something new to learn from other writers and I’m a great believer in sharing that knowledge.

Kitchen Capers!
Elaine Roberts
I have been attending the RNA Conference for three years and the after Gala Dinner kitchen parties are legendary. You’ll be pleased to know this year was no different, although I believe more were held outside in the cool night air and I don’t recall hearing that anybody ended up in the canal.
The laughter carried across the Mile End campus as friends met up. Many seeking out friends they made on social media. However, trying to find someone was like looking for a needle in a haystack, especially as some only had an avatar picture to go by.
Gala Dinner courtesy of Karen Aldous
Everyone in my block arrived armed with wine, wine and more wine, which we started on Thursday evening. Of course, where there’s wine there’s also snacks.
Traditionally, the kitchen parties are usually after the Gala Dinner but we started on the wine before the glitzy occasion. Consequently, we were definitely flagging by eleven thirty and some were clearly suffering on Sunday morning. However, we made it for breakfast and our first talk at nine. When we left at five, we were definitely flagging!
It needs to be said, I still haven’t got over the fabulous RNA Conference weekend. Can I have a nap now?

Does my Waist Look Big in This?
Elaine Everest

Mireille Weller gave a fascinating talk on how to dress as a Victorian woman, including: the layers of underwear; the realities of wearing a corset; going from daywear to eveningwear in five minutes; and why you need a man to help you sit down.

Those taking part all agreed  it was not the weather for a corset and so many layers of clothing.
We marvelled at the many petticoats and the beautiful gowns all hand made by Mireille and held our breath as she tightened her corset. Elizabeth Hawksley was invited to measure  Mireille's waist to show how many inches were lost once corseted.
We all felt as though we knew a little more about our Victorian characters at the end of this talk.

Did you blog about your experiences at conference? Why not post a link in the comments section below and share your story with our members?

The RNA Blog is brought to you by,

 Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on


Wendy's Writing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Day said...

Just blogged about the first talk I went to at the RNA conference last weekend. By Jim Azevedo of Smashwords. Read all about Preorders and Assetless Preorders at

Natalie Kleinman said...

What an amazing weekend it was and thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog. It will be lovely to look back and see just a few of the things we got up to. So many people worked so hard. So many people played hard. I guess that just about sums up the RNA

anne stenhouse said...

What a joyful round-up. I used to come and go from King's Cross in the 70s Helena when I worked for the Scottish Office. It was dark and cavernous and a bit like sliding into something from Dr Who when one arrived on the sleeper.
I've also written a blog post about conference and it's on Novels Now, here: Anne Stenhouse

Cat Camacho said...

Saw Mireille Weller's dress and realised I was at a Victorian Ball with her a few weeks ago. Small world!

John Jackson said...

That's a lovely summing up of a great weekend.

Julie Cohen kept telling us that Repetition is Death, otherwise we would all still be thanking the team who put in on - ALL of them!

I've updated the blog, and the last half is more about the social side of the Weekend.


Viv said...

What a fantastic overview, covering just about everything! Certainly makes me keen to get involved next year.

Jane Lovering said...

Another fabulous conference has gone by...and now we all eagerly look forward to next year's! Conferences are always one of the best bits of writing; meeting friends old and new, eating too much and staying up far too late - like a bunch of teenagers whose parents have gone away for the weekend.
I did a bit of a blog, with a few pictures, about my experience at RNAConf15 - now with added ghost-fridge...

Wendy's Writing said...

What a great round-up of events and what a great conference! Glad to have been part of Elaine's 'kitchen capers'. You can find my post on the ten (rather silly) things I have learnt from my first RNA conference at the link below.

Clare Chase said...

Thanks so much to everyone involved for this fantastic round up. I finally made it along to the conference for the first time this year, but only for the Saturday, so it’s great to find out more about the elements I missed. I had a wonderful time and I’m really grateful to all those who organised the event.

Anita Chapman said...

What a fantastic, detailed round up of a fabulous weekend-can't believe it's a week ago already. Have just about recovered from the late nights and excessive Prosecco consumption. I've blogged about the talks by Julie Cohen, Emma Darwin, and Charlotte Betts here:; and about the talks by Hazel Gaynor, Alison Baverstock and Kate Harrison here on my neetsmarketing blog: Look forward to the next RNA event!

Elaine Everest said...

Thank you all for the links to your blogs. We would have loved to have covered every talk and workshop but time would not allow - plus those reading would have had RSI from scrolling down the page. Please keep sharing your blogs so we create a complete picture of #RNAConf15

Francesca Capaldi said...

Great write up everyone. It's good to hear so many different aspects. Elaine Roberts and I have blogged about just two of the many things that inspired us: Canals and Costumes

Catherine Miller said...

Great blog about the whole event. The Romaniacs have put together a video giving an overview of conference as well as the Sparkle Spotlights that start next week:

Christina Hollis said...

Thanks to everyone involved in creating this wonderful conference The great pieces on here really capture the mood. Can't wait for Lancaster 2016!

Janet MacLeod Trotter said...

Great first conference! Thanks to all who organised it and put in hours of hard work. Just done a blog post of my impressions