Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Temptation - and Travelling Tuesday

Kate Walker talks about the fabulous Conferences that tempt her away from her desk and take her travelling all over the world.

It’s July – and that, for every romance writer and would –be romance writer in UK, USA - Australia, New Zealand, means only one thing – it’s Conference Season. All over the world in the next couple of months, romance novelists will be gathering at hotels, conference centres, a university campus, meeting up with old friends, making new ones, going to workshops, doing book signings, imbibing a little (just a little!) wine - and talking . . . . talking . . . talking . . .

No one will get much sleep. There will be too many things to do; too many people to meet, greet, hug . . .and talk to . . . I once wrote an article for the Romantic Novelists’ Association magazine on the differences between all the varied conferences and I titled it The Conference Buzz, because that’s my main, over-riding memory of all the conferences I’ve been to - the buzz of a hundred, a thousand – and in the case of RWAmerica- a couple of thousand - authors, mostly women, all talking at once. It’s an awesome sound.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend all of the ‘Big 4’ Conferences. That’s the UK’s RNA, Romance Writers of Australia, Romance Writers of New Zealand. And the biggest one of all - Romance Writers of America. And they all have their own individual approaches, their unique ‘conference personalities’ that make them so different and yet so much alike. Of course the one I know best is the ‘home-grown’ conference – the RNA’s get together.

My very first conference ever, and so my initiation into that ‘Conference Buzz’ was in 2001 at the Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Further Education. And here’s where one of the first differences makes itself clear. All the other conferences take place in big –huge - hotels and conference centres. The Romantic Novelists' Association members head for University campuses (campi?) and live like students for a weekend. It’s like going back in time. We all spend the weekend in student flats with single bedded accommodation. And as my husband always goes with me, we end up in the interesting situation of having to sleep in separate rooms and creep down the corridor in the night if we want to see each other! (The RNA Conference, incidentally is where my DH acquired the nickname the Babe Magnet, one that he’s now stuck with.)

UK university staff always seemed stunned by their experience of working with the RNA. For some reason they always expect a group of genteel, probably blue rinsed ladies who will chat decorously about love, possibly wear pink, and will require a nice cream sherry before dinner and then retire quietly to their beds. So the organisers of the conference (the wonderful Jan Jones and M&B’s Gill(Roger) Sanderson) do try to warn them that the RNA members do - er like a drink – but even so there were the notorious conferences when the bar actually ran out of wine, and the one where they tried to close the bar at 10.30! Not for nothing is the alternative name of the RNA, the Really Nice Alcoholics.

In contrast to the compact conference that is the RNA, the Romance Writers of America is huge – 2,000 delegates as opposed to perhaps 150 in the UK. The first RWA Conference I attended was in Denver and I don’t think my head ever stopped spinning from the moment I arrived to the day I left – and that wasn’t just because I was in the mile high city.

The opening event of the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing was an awe-inspiring and rather terrifying experience for someone with a near phobia about crowds – and that was when there were only 300+ authors signing. This years event will have more than 450 authors attending.

I also didn’t expect the almost non-stop demands on my time, the lunches, the dinners, the parties – even, heaven help me, the breakfast meetings. I don’t do mornings and these were an effort, specially after the ‘nights before’ that often went on into the early hours of the morning. The RITA ceremony was of near-Oscar ceremony proportions and style, the simple black evening trouser suit I’d brought was nothing compared to the elegant or elaborate evening gowns so many authors wore.

But my favourite event was always the eHarlequin pyjama/pajama party. Seeing authors, editors, managers all in their pjs or nighties is a great leveller and there is little to beat the experience of wandering through a posh hotel wearing your nightgear. I once travelled down in a lift, the 44 floors from my room to the place where the PJ party was held wearing pajamas, a tiara and a hat shaped like a bee( this was in the days when the eHarlequin Community had crowned me their ‘Queen Bee) with a very nice man who managed not to stare (too much) and politely wished me a ‘very nice evening’ as he exited - just a little fast.

The publication of the first edition of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance took me to the other side of the world in 2004 – first to New Zealand and then to Australia. New Zealand was first. The Romance Writers NZ conference is always held in the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre Auckland and it’s perhaps the second smallest after the UK. It’s certainly one of the friendliest. Starting off with the Harlequin sponsored cocktail party (the year I was there, the theme was Lady in Red), I arrived knowing no one – and ended the evening with a whole bunch of new friends including the vibrant and vivacious Barbara Clendon who runs Barbara’s Books and who knows more about romance books than I have a hope of managing. I was also able to attend the workshop by the renowned Donald Maas, agent and author of Writing The Breakout Novel.

NZ was where I met and was interviewed by Martin, the Christchurch journalist who described me as ‘having a barmaid’s bosom’ (I gave it back to the barmaid when the conference was over) and was convinced that both Anne McAllister and I were clever, manipulative women who by writing romance, were playing on the illusions and fantasies of a group of sad women in order to make a fast buck. I suspect that Martin also felt he couldn’t quite match up to the fantasy heroes romance writers create and so he must have been extra shock ed by this ‘manipulative woman’s ‘ approach to creating and talking about heroes because RWNZ 2004 was the place where the now legendary ‘Hugh in A Towel’ story started with the illustration of the ‘Alpha hero’ I had brought along – and which was borrowed by Anne McAllister and then appeared - by public demand - at every talk we gave.

H-I-A-T came with me (and Anne) to Sydney too, and to beautiful Coogee Beach where the Romance Writers of Australia Conference was held that year.

Perhaps I can best sum up the RWAus conference atmosphere by the comment of a couple of members of the hotel staff who said that they just weren’t used to having conferences where everyone seemed to be having so much fun. ‘We had a group of chemists here last week ,’ they said, ‘And they never laughed once.’

Not so the RWAus members. I remember laughing and laughing until I hurt. RWAus also had perhaps one of the most interesting range of workshops I’ve seen. Along with the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, How Not to Write a Romance (both of course starring H-I-A-T), Using a Kitchen Timer to increase productivity was there with a grim and gruesome discussion of scenes of crime and serial killers by the ‘Australian Cracker’ who profiled such criminals. There was also supposed to be a talk by a private detective but for some reason he never turned up. The hero who saved the day on that occasion was my DH, the Babe Magnet. He’d been out for a run on the beach and came back, slightly sweaty and wind-ruffled, to step into the breach and talk about his work as Writer in Residence in Prisons. The RWAus paid him in chocolate and he was perfectly happy. The workshop group seemed to enjoy it too.

But then that was what the RWAus conference was all about – relaxed, enjoyment, laughter – and a lot of fun as well as the serious craft and business related workshops. It was also the time that I actually got to touch a RITA when it was presented to the wonderful Marion Lennox for her win with Her Royal Baby. Probably the closest I'll ever get to one - but at least I can say I held it for a moment.

So that’s just a brief skip through my own conference memories. This year I’m looking forward to adding more of them. This Friday I’ll be at the RNA Conference in Chichester where I’m giving a workshop on Web Sites for Authors. And then I have a couple of weeks to turn myself around (and hopefully write a lot of my book) before I head for San Francisco and the RWA where of course I’ll be just one of those 450 authors in the ‘Readers for Life’ Literacy Autographing.

If any of you are going to be there – please come and say hello. I’d love to see you.

I just wish I could also make it to RWAus and RWNZ but time, energy – and my travel budget are exhausted . But to all my friends at the ‘downunder’ conferences – have a wonderful time – I wish I could be with you, (so does H-I-A-T) laughing, having fun – and talking . . .

RNA Conference is at Chichester University Friday 4th July - Sunday 6th July 2008

Romance Writers of America 28th Annual National Conference San Francisco, California July 30–August 2, 2008
RWNZ Conference - A Romantic Interlude is at the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre August 15-17th 2008

Australia RWA's 17th National Conference South Bank, Melbourne 22nd--24th August 2008

Kate's latest Presents title Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife is published in June. It's also the title being offered as a special 'taster' in a special promotion between Harlequin and Daily Lit a company that offers books delivered in instalments by email. And in the same month, her bestselling Alcolar Family Trilogy is being rereleased in an ebook Bundle - available from eHarlequin.com. The Alcolar Trilogy will also be released as a 3 in 1 By Request Collection from Mills & Boon - available on the web site from July 1st and in shops in August by which time her conference experiences will all be just a memory and she'll be back chained to her desk and the WIP.


  1. Kate, what a great post and boy are you well-travelled.

    I'm attending my first ever conference in San Francisco this year and I'm already bricking it, but the thought of you in your PJs and bee tiara has chilled me out considerably. I've already had several party invites so I'm sure it's going to kill me, but in a good way... Looking forward to seeing you at the literacy autographing.

  2. Hi Heidi - your first RWA can be a bit overwhelming but it's also great fun - and yes there are lots of parties.

    I hope I'll see you there - maybe even in your PJs! And to cap that travelling in the lift comment - I then went into the party and the first people I met were M&B's Editorial Director and eHarlequin's manager.

    I just smiled blithely and said 'The thing's I do for this company!'

    See you there!

  3. Ah, yes, a trip down memory lane with you and Hugh. Irresistible! Thanks for the memories, Kate. Even Martin makes me smile -- from a distance. And he did read a couple of books, which is better than some do. Looking forward to seeing you in SF!

  4. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for the memories about RWNZ's conference in 2004. That was my first ever writer's conference and what an amazing experience (despite dorky journalists with trite agendas and narrow minds)! I still have a precious memory of that conference - the book you autographed for me. You probably won't remember me but you might remember my husband? You were partnered with him (Tarzan and Jane!) for the dessert course of the awards dinner. He had no idea who you were and stunned the rest of the table by asking whether you were published, LOL. Talk about an ice-breaker! Anyway, I just dug out my copy of The Twelve-Month Mistress and chuckled over the dedication you wrote in it: "For Maree, Thank you for the loan of your husband!" Still makes me smile.

    Hugs to you and Anne, who both made my 1st ever conference so memorable.

    Maree Anderson

  5. Anne - there are some great conference memories I share with you and H-I-A-T. I'm looking forward to create some more in SF (though maybe H-I-A-T might not be there .. . Hmm - perhaps I should bring him along)

    And dear Martin ws so sure he's got us all worked out. Yes, the memory of him makes me smile too - wryly - and at the distance of time!

    See you soon!

  6. Maree - how great to see you here. I remember 'sharing' your husband when we were Tarzan and Jane together. That brings back a lovely memory of RWNZ's Conferene - and I'm glad they made you recall your first conference too. Please say Hi to Tarzan for me. (or was he Jane ;o) ?

    I hope you have a great conference this year.