Thursday, July 08, 2010

Thursday Talktime - The RNA Conference

It's conference season and this week Kate Walker will be heading for London where she'll be taking part in a very special Romantic Novelists' Association Conference and celebrating the RNA's Golden Anniversary.

As you read this, I’ll probably be on a train heading for London and the Greenwich, for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference which is being held in the Old Royal Naval College there this weekend. This will be my tenth conference and before these there were the one day events the RNA used to have before the weekend-long conferences were set up. I went to two of those – one in the glorious setting of Castle Howard, and the other in the typically Jane Austen site of Bath.

This year’s conference is going to be very special, because 2010 is the year when the RNA marks its ‘golden year’ – the 50th anniversary of the date it was formed. And the Conference is going to be part of those golden celebrations.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association was set up in 1960 by a roll call of notables in women’s commercial fiction: Denise Robins and Barbara Cartland, first President and Vice President respectively; Elizabeth Goudge; Netta Muskett who wrote such scandalously sexy books that librarians hid them; Catherine Cookson, then chiefly known for the Mary Anne books; a very young Rosamunde Pilcher.

The RNA was formed to promote romantic fiction and to encourage good writing In her inaugural address, Miss Robins said that although romantic novels, according to the libraries, gave the most pleasure to the most people, the writers almost had to apologise for what they did. This had to stop.

In those days, lady novelists took taxis and dined in Dior. Robins (black velvet and chinchilla, dramatic contemporary stories) and Cartland (sequins and white fox, strong on virginity) dominated the UK market. The RNA Awards Dinner was black tie and glittering frocks. Guests were addressed by HE Bates and Ian Fleming. The RNA now represents more than 700 writers, agents, editors and other publishing professionals.

I sometimes wonder what those Grand Dames of the romantic fiction world would think of the casually dressed, relaxed but bustling crowds of members who now attend the conferences, dashing from workshop to workshop, discussing writing, books and gossiping over coffee, tea and – later in the day, a glass or two of wine. The RNA's Conference is a lot smaller, less imposing and rather more laid-back than the American RWA National which will take place later in the month and personally I prefer it that way. It's easier to get to everything, to meet up with the people I want to see, and to make friends with the conference 'virgins' - the new members who have never been to a conference before.

There will be plenty of authors there. The RNA Chair this year is bestseller Katie Fforde who gave what I think was one of her very first talks at that event in Bath. Other members include Joanna Trollope, Penny Jordan, Elizabeth Buchan, Nicola Cornick, Katie Flynn, Elizabeth Chadwick, Maureen Lee, Carole Matthews, Adele Parks, and many more. At the conference there will be talks by Kate Harrison, Julie Cohen, Susanna Kearsley, Judy Astley, Joanna Trollope. . . . Harlequin Mills & Boon will be represented by many several editors and writers like the two Kates (Hardy and Walker) will be running workshops too.

The highlight of the conference will be the special Gala Dinner on the Friday night when the 50th anniversary celebrations will continue. This follows on from the glittering Awards Lunch in where the Romantic Novel of The Year Award was presented to Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon with the Love Story of the Year going Animal Instincts by Nell Dixon (Little Black Dress).

To mark this anniversary, the RNA has also published a very special golden book which, in many ways, shows why we read and write romantic fiction. Loves Me, Loves Me Not is an anthology of short stories highlighting the talent of members, young and old, published and unpublished. The book was edited by Chair Katie Fforde and Sue Moorcroft.

Talking of the unpublished members, the RNA is unique among professional writing organisations in its encouragement of aspiring writers. Each year, the New Writers’ Scheme gives aspiring writers a chance for a personal evaluation of their work by an experienced author or editor in that particular sub-genre. I wish I’d known about this scheme when I first started out on my writing career. It has helped many achieve publication and its popularity is evident in the way that this scheme, which has only 250 places available, is almost always totally filled within a month from its opening date of 1st January each year.

I’ve been a member of the RNA for about 17 years now, and I wouldn’t miss the Conference if I can help it. Even when I’m not giving any talk, I’d miss the companionship, the chatter, the laughter, and the relaxation of being amongst friends and like minds. People who understand what the writing world is all about, whether they’ve been part of it for years or are new to everything and aspiring to become a part of it as they work through their very first book.

This weekend, I’m looking forward to being with old friends and making new ones. If you’re going to be in Greenwich then please come up and say hello – specially if you’re going to be at my workshop on Saturday. I know that by the time I travel back home on Monday, I’ll have almost no voice left from all the talking, and my mind will be buzzing from all I’ve learned or been inspired by in the workshops I’m attending. I will have had very little sleep, because it’s much more important to catch up with friends and get to know new writers – some of the very best conversations go on late into the night in the kitchens of the university accommodation where we stay. I always come back re-energised, recharged and raring to get back to work on whatever book I’m writing.

So maybe I’ll see you there? If not , I’m sure there will be lots of blog posts about the event all over the internet and on the RNA’s official web site where you can also learn much more about this great organisation.

And Happy Golden Birthday to the RNA - 50 years young. Here’s to the next half a century!

Kate Walker's current release for Mills & Boon Modern Romance is a little bit unusual. The Good Greek Wife? is part of a four book mini-series that retells classic Greek myths updating and 'modernising' them into a romance form. The mini-series is labelled The Greek Tycoons - Legends are Made of Men like These! The Good Greek Wife? is a retelling of the story of Odysseus and is in the shops now.

The Good Greek Wife? will not be published in The Greek Tycoons collection in Presents Extra until October but Kate's last Presents title The Konstantos Marriage Demand, with another sexy Greek hero is still available .

You can read how Kate approached this challenge of writing The Good Greek Wife? on her web site . And you'll find all her most up to date news on her blog.


  1. Ahhhh, wish I was going. Ah well, I'm going to the RWAus Conference as well as the RWNZ one so guess I can't complain. Too much. ;-)

  2. It's a long way to come, Jackie. Though I have been to RWAus and RWNZ - and loved both of them. I wish I could be there with you too. Have a wonderful time


  3. Can't wait to come and say hello! See you tomorrow, Susan

  4. Looking forward to meeting you in person Susan. Yes, do make sure you say Hello.

    See you tomorrow


  5. Can't wait to see you again Nell - it's been too long. And I need to congratulate you in person

    See you there

    Safe journey to everyone travelling to Greenwich


  6. Looking forward to seeing you there - and if everyone wants to know what the conference was like, do come back on Tuesday, because I will be talking about it here... with pics!