The RWAustralia Conference

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. SliverOfBridge

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!

SnailsThen 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. Me&Alison

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.

IMG_9524In 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?

22 thoughts on “The RWAustralia Conference”

  1. I do like shell fish but I’m not sure about trying snails!!
    Love the head dress Anne 🙂 Had seen it in your newsletter. I can imagine a gathering of authors together would be fantastic! I’ve been reading since I could first string words together to make a sentence. I always wanted to be a writer but I think I’m just meant to be a reader and reviewer. Hopefully my daughter will be because she’s been writing bits and pieces for years. Sh recently got a degree in Performing Arts and is starting a Masters program next month.
    Lovely post!

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  2. What a wonderful blog, Anne! I’ve been fortunate to attend two RWAustralia conferences (and many thanks to you for expediting those!) And they are indeed wonderful. All romance writers are members of the same tribe, and they’re always fun to hang out with. The costume reception to open the conference is inspired, though I admit to not especially love costuming myself up, but I do love admiring the people who really get into it.
    LOVED your picture and video showing Ozzies celebrating the Matildas!

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  3. It all sounds wonderful, Anne, and I wish I could have joined you! I love going to conferences and I absolutely adore dressing up, so yes, I’d definitely be happy to do that. As for speakers, I’d really like to hear one from you or attend one of your workshops.

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  4. PS. I have tried snails and they were OK but the sauce was a bit too garlicky for me. Maybe if they’d been cooked a different way?

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  5. I have never attended one of these conferences, but I feel like I’ve been to one now, since you took us with you. I would probably dress up since I like costume parties, but I’ll “pass” on the snails. As for speakers, I don’t know. I’d be thrilled just meeting any of you.

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  6. Teresa, never say never — lots of writers took up writing later in life. They just never had time before. I think it’s great that young people now are encouraged to consider writing as a career choice — in my day it was always “Get a secure job first, then indulge your little hobby.” Fab that your daughter is doing so well.
    Glad you enjoyed the post — thanks.

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  7. Thanks, Mary Jo — I have a photo here of you wearing a gorgeous headdress and veil that I might have forced you into for one of our cocktail parties. And in my old computer there is a photo somewhere of you, me and Pat wearing hats with feather boas wound around them at an RT event..
    And the Matildas’ win was fabulous. I loved how the whole country got behind them, even (and especially) those who’d dismissed womens’ sport as boring and second class in skill and excitement. Some of the big male football events due to be played that evening even delayed their start and showed the Matilda’s game on their big screen — it was SUCH a tense ending and so exciting. I think it’s done a huge amount for womens’ sport here.

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  8. Christina — it would be great to have you come to one of our conferences. One day . . .
    And maybe we could do a workshop of panel together. That would be fun.
    I’ve done a one day workshop with Mary Jo, a panel with 4 or 5 wenches (I’ve forgotten exactly how many of us there were), a panel with Pat and Mary Jo, and possibly several other things. I’ve forgotten.
    But these days I’m most likely to be running workshops on-line.

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  9. Thanks, Mary — I had to stop writing, there was so much more to tell, but I didn’t want to bore you all. The conferences are great fun, but also stimulating in a writing and business sense. Things are changing so fast in publishing these days, it’s hard to keep up, so attending the conferences is a professional necessity, I think.

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  10. Anne, what a great event that seems for both writers and readers; thanks for sharing it with us.
    I will pass on the herbed snails, but how interesting that the restaurant served only one snail themed dish. I could imagine a fun dessert featuring hollow chocolate snails filled with an orange or raspberry mousse. Those snails I would happily sample!

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  11. RWA does put on a great conference, doesn’t it, Anne? And this year’s was very enjoyable. Both for content, meeting up with writer friends and newbies, the socialising at the cocktail party. The Gala Dinner is a favourite for me. I love the tradition of acknowledging writers who published, submitted, won comps, etc. Thank you for starting it. And thank you for the lovely writeup about my speech re RWA’s start. So happy to have been a part of that.

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  12. I thank you for the lovely post. I liked the pictures too.
    I do not believe any more that you would have written would have been boring.
    It is apparent you had a wonderful time. That is most important.
    I generally get rid of snails in order to keep them from eating my flowers. So, eating them would not be something I would enjoy.
    Thanks for the post and the pictures and allowing us to share your enjoyment.

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  13. Glad you enjoyed it, Kareni. As for the chocolate snaisl that would have been a fun dessert, I agree. But I suspect the restaurant didn’t want to get the reputation of being all about snails — all the other offerings were more “normal” — and going by what my friend and I had, were delicious.

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  14. Thanks so much, Enisa — and thanks again for that speech you gave at the conference. It was an eye-opener for so many in the audience. It seemed to me that this year there were more newbies than ever.
    As for “The Standups” as they’ve become known as, I love doing it.

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  15. Thanks, Annette. I too work to keep snails from my garden. Many years ago, I used to collect them in transparent take-away food containers and take them to work (a high school) to give to a friend who kept ducks, and would feed the snails to the ducks. One morning as I was about to enter that staff room, a nosy student said, “Ohh Miss, what’s that? Is it your lunch?” And I said, yes. And when she looked closer she said, “Oooh yuck, it’s snails. You’re not going to EAT them, are you, Miss?” And of course, I said something like, “Why not? They’re a delicacy, didn’t you know?” The expression on her face was . . . hilarious. LOL.
    And now I have eaten them — though not from my garden.
    But the other day, I picked up a large slug, and I did actually wonder why we eat snails and not slugs. Perhaps some people do. I don’t know. But they seem very similar to me, and slugs wouldn’t need to be wrestled from their shells. Oh well, one of the many mysteries of life I’ll probably never know about.

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  16. I seem to recall those old photos of several Wenches in boas! I have not attended any romance conferences, only a big book signing event.
    And I have eaten and enjoyed snails many years ago, when I was in France. No ick factor for me, because I eat other types of creatures in shells, like conch, mussels, clams, and oysters.

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  17. Yes, Karin — Mary Jo, Pat and I all donned boas for a wenchly panel we did at RT one year.
    I first ate snails many years ago when a friend and I, after years of beings students, were finally earning money, so every payday we’d eat out at some lovely restaurant, and one of them was known for snails. But that time, though his snails came in the shell, mine came in small creamy cheesy pots. But you’re right about eating other creatures in shells — and it was exactly that thought this time that made me decide to try them again. And with that in mind, there was no squick factor for me.

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  18. My husband was once sorting donations after a food drive, Anne, when he came across a can of Cajun slugs. So, yes, some people do eat slugs (and others donate them!)

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  19. So enjoy that about which you write and I have always liked snails but this reminded me I have not had them in a long time. pat wood

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