Anne here, and last week I went to the first in-person conference I’ve been to since Covid hit in 2020 — the Romance Writers of Australia conference, which this year was held in Sydney. I even had a sliver of a view of the Sydney Harbour bridge from my hotel room.
It felt quite odd, meeting and mingling with so many people after such a long time in relative isolation, but it was also very stimulating. I caught up with so many friends I hadn’t seen in several years, and met some new ones, which was lovely.
I arrived in Sydney a few days before the conference opened, and over dinner, caught up with a writing friend on the first night. She wasn’t going to the conference — she was jetting off to New Zealand the next day so I felt very lucky to catch up with her.
On the Thursday evening I attended the Harlequin cocktail party, which was packed. When I first started going to these events there were perhaps twenty Harlequin authors. Not any more. It was a bit too packed for me, and the venue played music, which meant we were all shouting at each other trying to hear. Honestly, when a bunch of romance writers get together there is quite enough noise without putting music on!
Then on Friday, my friend, historical author Isolde Martyn took me to lunch at The Little Snail, where I had a delicious 3 course lunch. We had the choice of five entrées, eight mains and four desserts. (Here an entrée is the starter course. I was quite confused when I first ate out in the USA and found that entrée was what people called the main course.)
So given the name of the place, and the fact that there was only one snail dish on the menu, I decided to be brave — I eat all kinds of shellfish, after all, so why not snails? — and ordered snails for my entrée. They came in the shell, had been simmered in bouillion and were served in a delicious herby, buttery garlicky sauce. I have to say, they were tender and delicious and, having got over the squick factor, I would happily order them again.
The RWAust conference always kicks off with a costume cocktail party on the Friday, and it’s always good fun. When I first joined RWAust it was a quieter, more formal event and was billed as “Meet the Authors.” The authors, of which there were generally only a handful — self-publishing wasn’t a thing back then — all dressed up and looked very glam and, being from all parts of Australia, were all glad to catch up with each other for their annual catch-up. The non authors milled around generally being shy and not meeting the authors, but meeting other people.
Then one year the conference was being held in a lovely old historic hotel in Melbourne, and we decided to make the cocktail party a costume event, with “Retro” being the theme. There were a few wails from people saying they didn’t like costume, but I convinced a pile of them to buy feather boas — which they did. And quite a few people dressed up in retro outfits, quite a few in fabulous 1920’s outfits, some in elegant Regency and Victorian-era dresses, and some in brilliant 1950’s ones. And what a change that made to the atmosphere.
The various costumes made for a great ice-breaker — people were exclaiming over them and happily talking to complete strangers, and after that, we never looked back. And these days with so much succesful self-publishing by so many people, the number of published authors in the organization has exploded. Each year there's a theme, and this year the theme was "Glitter." Here I am with my friend author Alison Reynolds, who ran a workshop on Writing Epistolary Novels. I'm the one in the headdress.
I always dress up silly. In my teaching days I used to run the drama cupboard with another teacher and lost my self-consciousness about being in costume and, having pushed people into buying feather boas, I now wear a boa in some fashion most years — generally winding it around my head, or onto a hat. This year so many people wore glittery outfits it was dazzling. (You can see some past costumes on my own blog here and I'll put more costume photos on that blog in a few days.)
The conference proper was quite stimulating, with several excellent keynote speeches, then breakout workshops for the rest of the day — these are the real meat in the conference, with workshops about craft-of-writing, business, e-publishing, and more.
On Saturday evening we have our annual awards dinner, a glittering affair, where first the unpublished award winners and place-getters were announced and celebrated, and later the awards for published authors.
In the middle of the dinner, there was a delay, as the organizers realized that most of the audience had their mobiles and ipads out, watching the end of the FIFA World Women’s Soccer quarter final, in which the Australian Matildas were competing.
In the weeks and days leading up to the finals the Matildas had caught the imagination of Australia — men, women, people who loved soccer and those who knew nothing about it — and across the country everyone was watching the end of the quarter final with bated breath. (Here’s a video showing a plane full of people all watching it.) And what a tense ending it was, with a seemingly endless “sudden death” penalty shootout that went on for what felt like ages. They won, beating France 7-6, and the room erupted. This was my table — not a great photo but you get the idea.
The following day we were back to inspiring keynote speeches and workshops. I ran one called “Surprise and Delight your Readers” and attended several others. The conference ended with a speech by Enisa Hasic, one of the original founders of RWAustralia, and she told us how it came to be. There were a lot of newbies at the conference, so it was all news to them, how decades ago, a small group of women interested in writing romance decided to form an organization. Harlequin came to the party, not just arranging for some of the top Australian Harlequin authors to attend, but arranging to bring Nora Roberts out from the USA to speak at the conference. And so RWAust was launched with a bang — and has never looked back!
That wasn’t quite the end of the conference , of course — Sunday night is traditionally the time when authors gather in various bedrooms, piled onto beds and sitting on the floor, and drink wine and talk and talk and talk. Those gatherings for me, are the golden times when the "real" info is passed around. But what’s said in the room, stays in the room. 😉 So all in all, I had a lovely time at the conference, learned some things and caught up with friends old and new. And I'm looking forward to next year's conference, which will be in beautiful Adelaide.
So, what about you? Have you been to a romance writers conference? Who would you like to hear speak? And would you wear a costume, or not? And what about eating snails — yes or no?