Columnist Annie West reports on a weekend of pure indulgence, exciting opportunities and invaluable insights - the Romance Writers of Australia 20th Anniversary Conference "From Here to Eternity", held in Melbourne last month.
The word "indulgence" probably gives the wrong impression. It makes it sound as if we writers banded together to party! Well, yes, there was definitely a party atmosphere and I've purposefully put one of those celebration photos first, but the weekend was brilliant, not just for the camaraderie and celebrations, but for all the other reasons writers find it useful to crawl out of their cubby holes and blink at the daylight. To talk with writers as well as editors, publishers and other professionals, to improve their understanding of their industry, to network, to improve skills, to rejuvenate and find new approaches that will help them when they return to their desks and try to block out all else but the story in their head and the words on the page. So here are some attendees hard at work (L to r) Alison Roberts, Lucy Gilmore (editor), Fiona Macarthur and Anne Gracie.
Perhaps it's time to mention that the conference cocktail party had a roaring twenties theme which was an enormous hit. Just in case you were wondering if Aussie writers usually wear boas when they get together. To keep in the spirit of things here are Michelle Douglas and Marion Lennox, dressed to wow. Sadly I only saw two people dance the Charleston that night but on the upside a very sweet Charlie Chaplin did get down on one knee to propose to me, silently of course! I have to say the staff from the Harlequin Sydney office made the most wonderful flappers too. Very impressive.
The conference had already started for me the day before with a wonderful day especially for published authors. There were plenary sessions with Stephanie Laurens, Marion Lennox, Kelley Armstrong, Susan Wiggs and Bob Mayer. There was advice from a lawyer specialising in copyright law (fascinating!). There were sessions on creativity, marketing, media training and discussions with agents/editors. Part of the excitement was the opportunity to meet up with friends and meet other writers. I think the smiles say it all in this picture - here are (L to R) Melanie Milburne, Caitlin Crews, Lucy Gilmore, Jane Porter, Trish Morey, Annie West, Anne Oliver, Tina Duncan and Michelle Conder.
Friday was a full day workshop by Bob Mayer on 'The Warrior Writer', dealing with a range of topics all focused towards enabling writers to make the career they want from their writing. I found it an enormous treat to allow myself a whole day to focus on the issues he raised and think about how they applied to me. So often as writers we tend to focus on the next story, the next deadline or blog or reader letter instead of sitting back to think more broadly about our writing.
Then the conference proper took off. One of the first events was the awarding of first sale ribbons to authors who'd sold their first book since the last conference. As outgoing Published Author Liaison I had a marvellous time calling out the names and giving hugs to so many authors. I'm sure we had a record number. We had an inspiring keynote address by Susan Wiggs, too many workshops and plenaries to mention (though I can't resist saying the fight scene workshop was truly an eye opener). We had fire fighters in attendance for several hours as part of a joint fundraising drive between our two organisations. In case you missed that let me just repeat - we had fire fighters there - brave men all of them, outnumbered by so many enthusiastic women! And the funds raised were terrific.
There were pitches to agents and editors, wonderful panel discussions and a fantastic awards dinner. Here are Anna Sugden, Terri Garey and Anna Campbell enjoying a chat between courses. Congratulations to the many, many people whose achievements were acknowledged that night, from established authors to aspiring ones placed in competitions for the first time and to RWAus volunteers.
I'm not sure what my favourite part of the conference was. Sitting around an empty pizza box very late one night with writer friends, discussing writing and the meaning of life was a high point. Lightbulb moments regarding writing and career building were terrific. Catching up on news and especially with so many wonderful people was marvellous. I truly think this 20th anniversary conference tops all the others I've been to. Which of course means I can't wait for the Gold Coast conference in 2012.
Are you a conference goer? Do you enjoy getting together with people who share the same interest as you? Or are you happier watching from afar?
Annie is pleased to announce that this month is the UK release of GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT. She's in love with the cover and is thrilled at the fact she'll actually be in the UK this month - where she hopes to see her book on sale. If you see a woman in a bookshop grinning broadly at a camera while waving a paperback in each hand - that will be her. If you want to read about the story behind the cover you'll find details and an excerpt to whet your appetite on Annie's website: http://www.annie-west.com/