A couple of weeks ago I attended the Romance Writers of Australian annual conference in Sydney. It was a terrific conference, but I'm only going to talk about one aspect of it — the Friday night cocktail party that kicks off the conference.
When I first joined RWAust, more than twelve years ago, the cocktail party was billed as "Meet the Authors" — very appropriate, since Harlequin Sydney sponsored the event. They were quiet, decorous — and dare I say it?— slightly dull affairs. Everyone would dress elegantly, and the published authors, who pretty much all knew each other, would gather in small clumps and chat, while unpublished or new people gathered in their small clumps and chatted. You had to be pretty brave to walk up to an author and talk to them — in fact you had to be pretty brave to walk up to any group of strangers and talk to them. A lot of people simply didn't attend.
A few years later the conference was in Melbourne (my home town) and in an old historic hotel. Some bright spark got the idea to make the cocktail party a "retro" dress up affair and people were encouraged to dress up. I remember encouraging people to get into the spirit of it, even if they only wore a feather boa — and a few people did. There's a story about that on my website, here, if you're interested.
That year less than 10 % of people dressed in a retro style — we had a few 1920's flappers and a sprinkling from other eras, but quite a few people wore a boa, at least, and it was fun. The costumes proved to be an icebreaker.
Fast forward ten years and these days the cocktail party is a highlight of the conference, and 90% of people dress in costume — many going to enormous trouble to make their own costumes. The costumes serve as a brilliant icebreaker, and anyone talks to anyone. There's something about wearing a costume that releases inhibitions in many people, and the costumes are a talking point.
Each year the theme is different — this year the theme was "Fantasy Island" and people came as all kinds of fantasies. Formerly quite shy people can become quite bold in costume, and nobody feels too shy to talk to a Famous Author who looks like this — this is multi award-winning Marion Lennox, usually one of the most elegant women in a room. Hers was an island fantasy — basking in her backlist billions.
Here's a trio who will be forever known as the Harlequin Harlots.
Presents author Trish Morey, (mother of four) wore a sign, "Virgin on the Ridiculous"
Paranormal author Keri Arthur looked gorgeous as a dark angel, with lovely wings. She's pictured here with Kat from Book Thingo who kindly sent me some of these photos.
I came as Dame Barbara Cartland, complete with stuffed pekingese dogs (one was also attached to my shoe.) I've never been so pink in my life!
And here, after the event, is a peke that's no longer strapped to a shoe, but sitting in it. As my friend, Jenny, said, she looks more like a canine version of Miss Piggy than a peke. LOL