Better late than never – RNA Conference 2010 post

Better late than never in so many ways. First of all it has taken me all week to get around to posting this. Secondly WHY have I not been going to this coference for years???

I am, as with most writers, not the most extroverted of individuals. Never really had been, although I can do a good impression when I need to. I was determined to make it to my first RNA conference this year and I am so glad that I did. Had a bit of a stressy trip out to the airport between a late bus and heavy traffic, and a bit of a stressy time at the drop-off-your-bags points when I found a large group of Japanese tourists had arrived just before me and proceeded to re-pack their luggage in the queue! But Air France/City Jet were wonderful and the flight itself was a dream. When the air hostess asked if I wanted a drink I had a budget airline flashback and just asked for water, only to realise too late they were giving out wine as well. And sandwiches. And boiled sweets for take off (a trip back to childhood). And chocolates just before landing.

I should warn you, food will probably be a theme of this post.

The DLR was also wonderful and in no time at all I arrived at our accomodation in Greenwich. Yes, it was like being a student again. There was a party going on as I arrived and my lovely flatmates were drinking wine out of plastic cups. That didn’t stop the hugs and warm greetings.

Another theme of this post will be the friendliness and fun-filled nature of everyone I met at the conference. I couldn’t have asked for a better gang to hang around with than the ladies of flat 20, but everywhere we went people chatted, exchanged ideas, joked and generally had a wonderful time.

There was so much to explore in the area and I took full advantage of the little free time I’d made for myself on Friday and Sunday to visit the National Maritime Museum, The Painted Hall, the Chapel and The Royal Observatory. Tons of pics there. (links to them are below)

But the highlight of the trip had to be the conference itself. So here goes… (I won’t be able to cover everything, so this is a round up of some of the talks I attended)


Tom Holland spoke about the role of The Society of Authors and the revolutions in publishing going on at the moment. Very interesting and infromative. He’s an entertaining speaker and the main message seemed to be that upheavals offer opportunities and staying informed, being aware of the pitfalls and keeping an eye on what’s going on will help us exploit those opportunities to our advantage. How exciting to be living in a time of change.

50 years of the RNA was a gorgeous panel, featuring members who had joined in each decade. It gave us the fabulous quote (I’m not sure who from, maybe someone can tell me) when the room started giggling at a comment “That’s the problem about talking to romance writers. You’re talking to a roomfull of specially trained dirty minds.”

Kate Johnson, Jane Lovering, Immi Howson,Sarah Callejo, Karen Critchley, RF Long, Stephanie Cage

That night we dolled ourselves up and headed for the Trafalgar Tavern for the most wonderful Gala dinner. Yes, it was hot. Very VERY hot. But there was champagne and laughter and impromtue fans made from Talli Roland‘s cards. Then we meandered back along the side of the river to flat 20, where there was more wine, and gin, and an “oh-my-GOD, it’s 2am and the first session is at 9!” moment.

We never made that 9am session.


Kate Walker spoke on conflict, creating it, using it and making it work for you novel. It starts with the characters, with their goal, motivation and conflict. There are two sides, external (situational) and internal (the character’s own problems). And of course that reminder that readers have to CARE about the characters. What does the character want and what is stopping them from getting it? Without conflict, as Kate rightly said, you have no story. Keep it simple, dig deep into the emotions and focus on core conflicts.  She suggested writing a synopsis based on conflict alone and concentrate on how the hero and heroine work out the emotional conflict between them.

This triggered so many lightbulb moments for me that I must have been dazzling by the time I left the room!  And I know I wasn’t the only one frantically scribbling down notes about my WIP.

Janet Gover‘s talk on research – How to write what you don’t know – was another that expertly combined information and entertainment. We now know far more about rodeo-clowns that I would ever have guessed I would, and have a new found respect for anyone mad and brave enough to do that. There’s a romantic hero in there for some contemporary writer to tackle, no doubt about that. The one quote I will take away from this and etch into my computer somewhere “If the devil is in the details, so are the angels”.

Liz Fenwick and Kate Johnson gave a great talk on Social Networks. Imogen Howson‘s talk on Samhain Publishing generated lots of interest (and hopefully lots of subs) and I was asked many questions about writing for them afterwards. (Super way to meet people). Of course the other Irish writers came and found me too (*waves*).

Saturday night was barbeque night in the courtyard of the Royal Naval College. Music from a lovely trio of musicians from the college of music. (Everyday, as we passed the college the most beautiful music would drift out into the sundrenched street below. It was like stepping into heaven for a moment.) The food… ah, the food… Where was I? Oh yes.


Sarah Duncan gave a fantastic talk on how to lift your manuscript from good to great, entitled Mind the Gap. So many nuggets of wonderful information that I’m not sure I can possibly do it justice here but I will be attempting to use every single one of them from here on in. Her blog is a must read for writers of all genres.

The other talk which really resonated with me was Adele Geras‘ on Young Love and YA fiction.  Her comments on the age of the readership, the idea that teens read for information as much as entertainment, and the focus on the emotions of young love fired off a dozen or more ideas. And of course, that love can cause people to behave so badly which is an attraction for both reader and writer. I was also pleased to hear her tell writers not to restrict ideas or vocabulary, to allow readers the benefit of learning should they chose to go and look things up. In an adult world seemingly obsessed with dumbing-down, this gave me such a thrill.

This theme continued into Joanna Trollope‘s address at the end of the conference. It was a challenging, informative and exciting speech. Romance isn’t just about the mushy stuff, or the pink and sparkly cartoon covers. It’s roots lie in adventure and exploration, in the romances of the middle ages and the hero tales of the Romans before that. She challenged us as writers to stretch beyond the narrow confines of the current genre definition and write books that would challenge our readers in return. It was rather like a rallying cry, and one I rather liked hearing.

Full Photo album on facebook

RNA blog report (with lots of lovely pictures)

Liz Fenwick’s superb round up

10 thoughts on “Better late than never – RNA Conference 2010 post

  1. I missed that wandering back via the river thing on the Friday night and did a scary on my lonesome totter in heels past the utterly deserted Queen Anne building and through the guarded gates at the other end. Luckily I was a wee bit drunk, so not as worried as I might have been sober!

    It was a great conference and a fabulous weekend. Met so many people – incl. yourself – that I now have to play catch-up, befriending everyone on Fb and Twitter and adding blogs to my blogroll.

    Oh, and trying to do my revisions. I almost forgot I was a writer then, and not a professional blogger!!

    Jane x

  2. What a lovely blog post, Ruth. You’ve really captured the essence of the conference and in particular, the cameraderie of Flat 20! We must ask to be put together again!

  3. Oh, the memories! There was quite a lot of tottering, as I recall – the abiding memory of RNA Conferences seem to be tottering and eating.

    It was great to meet you and I look forward to next year’s riotous behaviour!

  4. oh, it sounds amazing. What a beautiful spot for a conference.

    and omg! How adorable are you in that photo?!

    I’m glad you had such a great time. And glad you’re back, too.

  5. Tottering. Yes, tottering is a very good word for it Jane and Jane! 🙂

    It was such an amaznig location and while I could have done with a little less heat and a little less 4am noise from outside, it didn’t really diminish anything.

    Ayla, you must come next year. It will be so close to you!

    *waves again to all the flat 20 girls & new friends!*

  6. Great post, thanks.

    I could only make the Gala dinner on the Friday and the conference on the Saturday, but had such fun and, as usual, learned so much.

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