Nicola here, fresh back from Paris and the amazing Festival du Roman Feminin, Festival of Women’s Fiction. The festival is an annual event for readers and authors, and when I was invited I was thrilled; the combination of books and Paris was, of course, irresistible! I’m so glad I went. It was an opportunity to meet new-to-me authors as well as old friends, and also to have time to chat properly with readers in a relaxed way (chatting in Franglais and with the help of some awesome interpreters!)
Thursday morning found me at St Pancras Station in London all ready to board the Eurostar to Paris. It was a fast, smooth and
comfortable trip, delivering me to the Gard Du Nord whilst I was still wondering at how quick and easy it all was! The taxi ride through Paris to the hotel reminded me of how mad French traffic can be but also gave the opportunity for a whistle-stop sight-seeing tour of the city from Sacré Coeur to the Louvre, with the river Seine shining in the sun. (The photo is from the same bridge of the river at night and it's from Wikipedia.)
A nice meal in a typical French corner café, a good night’s sleep in a very comfortable hotel and we were all ready for the Festival to start. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the only other reader/author events I had been to were either huge affairs like the RWA literacy signing or small talks in libraries and bookshops. This was exactly the right size to be small enough that you didn’t get lost but big enough that there was a buzz, with about 250 people in total. In terms of warmth and friendliness and vibrancy it reminded me of RNA conferences but this was a different set up as the focus was on the readers.
There was one room for registration, refreshments and an informal sit down and chat area, and then various parallel sessions going on in different seminar rooms. Some of the talks were author panels on different aspects of writing, others were a meet and greet for authors and readers, there were readings, speed dating and writing events for aspiring authors. There were lots of books on offer too!
The first session I went to, plunging straight in, was called “Romance, a genre that continues to be debated.” This was a panel of French authors and I quickly realised that my neglected language skills weren’t up to following all of the quick fire discussion but I got enough of it to realise that in France as well as the UK and US (and no doubt elsewhere) the romance genre and the way it is viewed is a hot topic!
After that there was a panel with US authors Cathy Maxwell, Grace Burrowes and Charis Michaels on research in historical novels and then it was time for my first panel about writing in different genres. I was the only English-speaking author on the panel but fortunately my translator was brilliant and the discussion was a lively one around what it was like to write in more than one genre, whether we could write more than one sort of book at once (some of us can, others can’t!) and whether an author should write what they want or what publishers say the market wants. My fellow authors were charming and multi-talented: Between us we covered historical and timeslip fiction, young and new adult, paranormal, contemporary and even children’s books!
After lunch I met up with Cathy Maxwell and HelenKay Dimon on a panel talking about the work of organisations like the RNA and the RWA, and Cathy’s rather brilliant organisation “Romance Yarn” where readers and writers meet and mingle. This session was also the perfect opportunity to ask readers what they liked about reader/author events and what they would want to see if we set a Festival up in the UK. People were very enthusiastic and had lots of great ideas.
The day finished with a very entertaining and informative discussion on the appeal of Scottish romance with the inimitable Cathy Maxwell and Anna Campbell. I discovered French author Julie Dauge, who has very kindly sent me her books to read. If there’s one way to improve my French it has to be in the company of a hot historical highlander, so all you Francophiles out there, check out Julie’s books!
The next day, after a lively dinner with authors Anna Campbell, Annie West and lovely reader Peggy (and a cocktail or two!) we staggered out to the first session of the day where Annie was talking about the appeal and challenge of putting your stories into a foreign setting. It was particularly interesting for me to hear French authors talking about the UK as a foreign setting – it’s always a salutary lesson to see your country through other people’s eyes!
My meet and greet with readers came next and I think this was probably my favourite part of the whole Festival because it was so relaxed and gave me the chance to chat properly with readers (again in my pidgin French!) The random presence of a rather moth-eaten giraffe in the room was also an added bonus! I met Elodie (pictured), Christelle and so many other lovely readers. There is something very special about seeing your book in someone’s hand and realising they’ve read and enjoyed it!
My final panel discussion was a very funny and enjoyable debate on historical romance with Anna Campbell and the other English-speaking historical authors, touching on everything from historical fashions to views on how authentic a historical romance should be to the attitudes of the time. We concluded that strong heroines were not historically inaccurate as there have been remarkable women in every era of history.
A final book signing gave authors and readers a final chance to chat with promises to keep in touch online and meet up again next year. I have to say that if I’m invited I’ll be there like a shot, and hopefully some other UK authors will come along too. It was such fun, but also a great opportunity to hear what readers want and to speak to authors from different countries and explore the similarities and differences in our books and our markets. It quite inspired me to see if we could create a similar event in London and if we do I hope our French friends will come and visit. One thing it proved beyond all question – romance is a universal language. Thank you to Agnes and to all the volunteers who organised the Festival and made it such an amazing event!
Have you been to a reader festival or would you like to go to one? What would be your favourite aspect of a reader/author event? Would you like a meet and greet, readings, panel discussions or any other events? Please give me your ideas and who knows, we might try for a UK festival again! In the meantime, merci beaucoup and au revoir, Paris! Je t'aime!