This year, I decided to attend the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) annual conference held in Brisbane. This year’s theme was ‘Love Gone Wild’. The core conference was two days of workshops, networking opportunities and parties. There was also an additional full day workshop on the Friday before the conference started. For my first time I attended all three days of the conference.
The venue was the Pullman King George, right in the heart of Brisbane’s CBD. With over 450 delegates, it needed to be spacious but versatile. The workshops on Friday were Anne Gracie’s Boot Camp and Kate Forsyth’s Masterclass.
I attended the Boot Camp, which was pitched to Aspiring Authors, that is those who have not yet published a full length book. I’ve done workshops with Anne before and she is always engaging and knowledgeable. Her background as a teacher makes her easy to listen to (although not everyone who was a teacher can teach). She covered a range of story-telling aspects; from emotional-punch and empathy for character to dialogue and setting to the elusive initial hook. Her notes were thorough and her passion for writing was clear.
Following the one-day seminars was the cocktail party. Delegates were encouraged to dress to bring out the animal in them. As it was my first time I chose to avoid dressing up, but I did wear my leopard print leggings to get in the spirit. The cocktail party was sponsored by Harlequin Books. There was a glorious array of costumes; the winner of the costume prize came as a butterfly in her garden complete with an elaborate and intricate headpiece that she’d made herself. Representatives from the sponsor were out in force to network with the writers, and I had a fabulously awkward conversation with one of the few male attendees, who looked like he was on his own, only to find out he worked for Harlequin! Perhaps it was the snake-eye contact lenses that made it awkward and not my approach.
The core conference started bright and early on Saturday morning with an opening from RWA President Claire Boston. Following this was a keynote speech by Marion Lennox. Marion was later inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame for her work in the industry. With 110 romance novels she certainly deserves it!
The rest of Saturday and Sunday was taken up by smaller sessions. A total of thirty-three different sessions were offered, four at a time, so it was impossible to attend them all. The stand-out for me was Edit Like a Rockstar: Perfect Pacing by Lauren Clarke. She took us through some tricks to speed up to engage a reader, or slow down to allow a recovery. I wanted to buy her book ‘The Novel Handbook’ but she sold out almost immediately. It doesn’t go on sale officially until September so I’ll have to wait for it.
My other stand-out session was on Sunday afternoon, as the fatigue from taking in so much information was getting too much. I pushed through and joined a round-table discussion with Lisa Ireland, an author of rural romance and women’s fiction. Her insights into her process and her struggles were excellent. It was good to know that everything I struggle with as an aspiring author she struggles with as a full-time writer. She was generous enough to bring along a copy of her book ‘The Shape of Us’ for everyone at the table. It’s going to the top of my (growing) to-read pile I promise!
On Saturday night was the Gala Dinner and Awards Night, the Butterfly Ball, and the after party, sponsored by Escape Publishing. The dinner was an opportunity for the RWA to recognise writers. There were several competition winners announced at the dinner, including the Valerie Parv Award, and the RUBY (Romantic Book of the Year). We were all barracking for members (and alumni and friends) of the MRWG. Congratulations go to our own Miranda Morgan and Janis Linford, and everyone else who entered or placed in the competitions.
I came home with an enormous pile of books, both freebies and raffle prizes, but the most exciting (and terrifying) thing I came home with were two requests! We were given the opportunity to pitch our books to some of the publishers. Two of the three I spoke to wanted to see me work. I’m so stoked, but of course it means there’s a long slog ahead before I’m willing to let my baby go out into the world.
By Monday night I was exhausted, exhilarated, inspired and anxious. It’s a potent combination that I hope will motivate me to greatness in the next year.
Next year’s conference will be held in Sydney. A big thanks goes to the volunteers of the RWA for all their work in making the conference happen: Claire Boston, Kendall Talbot, Tania Joyce, Tina Clark, Bronwyn Stuart, and all of the rest! Without you these conferences wouldn’t happen. I can’t wait to go back!
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