Nicola here, fresh back from this year’s UK Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference. I love the RNA’s annual conference and this one, held in London, was very popular, very successful and a wonderful way of meeting new writing friends and catching up with old ones.
In conference terms the RNA Is fairly small and this year we were staying at Queen Mary University, situated in the east end of London. QMU as it is known has roots stretching back to the founding of the London Hospital Medical College in 1785. In more recent times it was merged with the university college that I attended, Westfield, and with two of the London medical schools. It is one of the top universities in the UK and was named after Queen Mary of Teck, wife of George V although some of the university buildings date from the Victorian period. This is because the site was originally called “The People’s Palace” a philanthropic centre built in 1887 to give the people of the East end of London educational, social and cultural activities. The Octagon Library (pictured below) where we had our conference Gala Dinner, was once the library of the People’s Palace.
This year there was a strong focus on marketing for writers as well as inspiring talks on aspects of the writing process. Julie Cohen, an Honorary Word Wench, gave a witty and extremely helpful talk on “The Art of the Rewrite.” I think I must be quite unusual amongst authors as I love revising a manuscript and have the impression that many of my colleague don’t. Julie’s tips, however, are sufficient to help and inspire anyone and included to write your first draft as quickly as possible, make a list of revision points and then leave the book to “brew” for a few days, or longer if you have the time. She suggests dividing revisions up into macro and micro points, the macro ones being about structure, plot, characters, pace, all the big stuff. Micro revisions include description, grammar, punctuation, spelling, repetition and the need to avoid “information dump” with your research. You can find more of Julie’s writing tips here.
Other sessions on writing craft included Emma Darwin, who talked about point of view and developing the writer’s voice, and Ruth Frances Long who gave a fascinating talk about drawing on folklore, fairy tales and the supernatural in your fiction.
Alongside writing craft there was also a lot of attention given to marketing and social media. There were plenty of talks and workshops on this subject but my favourite was by author Hazel Gaynor who was funny, engaging and thoughtful. Her take is that the point of book promotion is to “tell me that the book exists, give me a reason to care and convince me to buy it.” A tall order, then! There is an excellent report on her talk on Anita Chapman’s blog where you can also find other great writing and marketing articles.
And so back to the history… There were two other things about Queen Mary University that made it, for me, a fascinating place for a conference. The first was the graveyard. (How many times do you get to write a line like that!) In the middle of the campus is the Novo Cemetery, a link to one of the oldest immigrant communities in London. It originally opened in 1733 as a burial ground for the Sephardic Jews and their descendents who lived in the East End. The distinctive element of its design is the gravestones, which are all flat to denote the equality of all people in death, and it is a thought-provoking and haunting sight amidst the university buildings.
Another element of Queen Mary University’s setting is the Regent’s Canal which provided a lovely setting for early morning walks and a peaceful place to read or think between sessions. The canal opened in 1816 and the current lock-keeper’s cottage, dating from 1864, now forms one of the university buildings.
I’ve been a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association for over fifteen years and for me the pleasure of the annual conference lies in so many things. Writing being the solitary occupation it is, it’s always great to get together with other people who “get” it, understand the challenges and the pleasures and are so generous in sharing ideas and expertise. An interesting historical location is always a bonus too! It's all a far cry from the days when I used to struggle to show some enthusiasm at my annual university administrators' conferences. I guess I wasn't in the right job!
What would be your idea of a perfect conference? What do you particularly like about getting together with friends and colleagues? Is it the camaraderie, the shared experience, the social elements (the eating and drinking?!) or something else?