by Mary Jo
I love writers' conferences, and I've been to my share of them. The sight of so many introverts blossoming into temporary extroversion is delightful. Creativity and connections and chocolate are all much in evidence.
I've met many of my best writer friends (and most of the Wenches) at writers' conferences. Which is why when Wench Nicola, currently president of the British professional romance writers' group, Romantic Novelists' Association, invited all interested Word Wenches to come to this year's annual RNA conference in Leeds, I jumped on it. (No, of course this had nothing to do with the chance to take a deductible trip to the UK! Why would you even think that? <G>)
Needless to say, all eight Wenches wanted to be there but for practical reasons, only three of us, all Americans, joined Nicola in Leeds for the conference: Pat Rice, Andrea Penrose, and me. But 50% isn't bad! (The picture below is of the four of us at the gala dinner along with the winner of the Twitter story competition, to whom we gave a bottle of prosecco in honor of Jo Beverley.)
Leeds is one of Britain's great industrial cities. Pat wrote a blog about the city's history before the conference. I spent two days before the conference in the city center and found modern Leeds to be dynamic, diverse, and delightful. But that's a story for another day since it was onward to the conference.
Most writers' conferences take place at hotels, but RNA gatherings are held at universities and attendees stay in dormitories because these are more affordable than hotels. I didn't know what to expect: the University of Leeds is large, with about 33,000 students. It was founded in the 19th century and is known for engineering and technical programs. I expected something gloomy and Gothic and maybe Harry Potterish. (This picture of the University Great Hall is by Betty Longbottom.)
But it turns out that RNA was meeting in Leeds Trinity, a much newer suburban section of the university which started as a Catholic teaching college in the '60s. It was later incorporated into the University of Leeds and it's a bright and pleasant campus that makes an excellent conference center. Lots of windows and comfortable courtyards to hang out in for the inevitable writerly chats. At around 250 attendees, the conference was a very good size, not overwhelming as the much larger American RWA can be
We had neat little individual rooms with our own bathrooms–this is way better than what I had in college! Clusters of half a dozen rooms share a private corridor that has a common kitchen and sitting area that includes tables, chairs, and a couple of comfy sofas. RNA kitchen parties are famous for gathering and sharing prosecco in the evening hours. (Prosecco is something of a theme here. <G>)
The dinner was impressive. The staff did a fine job with the food, the service, and the ambiance: the presentation of the starter was like a first class restaurant.
But the heart of a conference is the people and the sessions, and RNA was great! I've attended romance conferences around the world, literally: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and now the UK. All conferences have their individual flavor, but they also have a much in common because most romance writers are terrific people: smart, funny, supportive, and generous.
The RNA members were all of that, plus I got a chance to do fan-girl squeeing to some of my favorite authors: Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde, and Sophie Page, author of one of my all time favorite romances, To Marry a Prince. (She usually writes under the name Sophie Weston.) Alas, no Trisha Ashley–my guess is that she was home frantically trying to finish another Christmas novel.
There were lots of intriguing sessions, though it was impossible to go to them all. Nicola and Andrea did a presentation on adding mystery to history, which both of them excel at. Psychologist Andrew Cornick presented an outstanding session on emotional resilience for writers which showed patterns of negative thought, and how to break free of those patterns.
But the fun part for us Wenches was our panel: Two nations, One Language of Romance? Nicola moderated, with questions like the differences in the American and British romance markets, what's hot and what's not, and how e-publishing has changed the business by creating many specialty niches.
Jo Beverley was an RNA member when she lived in England, and Nicola quoted her as saying that in a British romantic novel, "First you have to get rid of the ex." Which really intrigued me. I hadn't thought about that, but in many British novels there is an ex husband or lover who has to be dealt with to clear the way for the heroine to move forward in her life.
Of course the questions led us all over the place and much fun was had by all. I don't know that there were any conclusions, but the journey matters more than the destination–and I'd love to take a journey with RNA again in the future! This image of the glassware on a table after the gala dinner illustrates what a fine time was had by all. <G>
Many, many groups hold conferences where like minded people can gather and have a great time socializing and sharing knowledge. Do you have a specialty tribe you like to gather with? If so, tell us about it!