It takes surprisingly long to travel from Malmö to Leeds. As the crow flies, it’s not that far from Sweden to England – well, not in this day of airplanes – but when you combine planes with trains things tend to take time. Still, the travelling time was well worth it in this case. Why? Because I was off to attend the Romantic Novelist Association’s annual conference. (#RNAConf18 for short…)
Leeds is NOT the most romantic of locations. Not a problem when close to 300 novelists who live and breathe love descend on a venue. Suddenly, love is all around, as one says. And it’s not only thematically in what we write, it’s in how we interact with each other. One could think bundling so many authors into one place would result in cut-throat competitiveness, sly bragging about successes, snide comments about the same. Nope. Does not happen. The ladies (and few gents) who descended on Leeds Trinity University are for the most part warm and generous people, happy to include the newbies in their conversations, just as happy to applaud the successes of others.
So what do so many novelists do over a weekend? Well, we talk. A lot. We hug and chatter and do all that social networking which is so important for a group of people who, mostly, work alone. For three days we’re part of a collective before scurrying back to our own little writing dens, there to begin working on our next masterpiece. For three days, we realise our concerns, our challenges, are not ours alone: we share them with hundreds of others. It helps, somehow.
And then, of course, we have fun. I must say the RNA collective is VERY good at having fun. Clearly, romance writers have a leading edge on other writers’ groups in this area. I suspect it’s because the atmosphere is so relaxed and welcoming. It is therefore easy to let down your hair (figuratively speaking. I’ve always wanted to have hair that I’d sort of shake loose to fall in waves down my back, but I’ve never achieved it. Right: neither here nor there). Also, all those lovely ladies make an effort and dress up for dinner. Okay, okay, we’re not talking ballgowns—which brings me to yet another fantasy of mine where I am wearing a full-length gown with just the right amount of cleavage and bare shoulders to match all that long hair I don’t have. My mother would have applauded my bare shoulders. It was one of the things she always complimented me about. “You have such lovely shoulders,” she’d say, which was nice but in the overall order of things not that much of a big thing as one rarely goes about showing off one’s shoulders, right? Now, had I been a regency belle…okay, okay, I’m digressing again. Blame it on the aftermath of the “romance intoxication” I experienced over the weekend.
However, the conference is not only about socialising—no matter how much fun that is. Many of the sessions are intended to help us improve our craft—a never-ending process for most of us. Did I take away some valuable pointers? Yes – but it is my experience the lessons learned take some time to sink in. I do, however, feel I’ve been given a tagline for those of us who write romance: It is all about emotion. Not exactly news, I know, but something I’ll be keeping very much in mind going forward. My favourite session was called “Putting mystery into the history” and featured two excellent writers of historicals who enjoy adding a twist or two. Problem with favourite sessions is that they result in more books on my TBR…
There are those that are dismissive of romance as a genre.
“Huh!” they snort, “just a load of sickeningly sweet stuff about love.” The emphasis on the last word is derogatory, as if love is irrelevant in this world of ours. First of all, romance is rarely ”just about love”. Most writers of romance weave their boy-meet-girl (or boy-meet-boy or girl-meet-girl) story into some sort of context. Very often, the issues touched upon span the whole width of the human experience, including such harrowing experiences as adultery, death, abandonment. A good romance resonates with the reader because it somehow mirrors emotions the reader can recognise themselves in. Very few of us walk about in a constant pink love-fuelled haze, and a good romance writer will therefore balance that “sickeningly sweet stuff” with the darker aspects of the emotional spectrum. What romance writers do deliver is hope: we do like our Happily Ever After – or at least to leave the door open to such an ending. In this world of ours I think we all need a dose of hope, of love—no matter what the high-brow (mostly male) literati may think about romance.
After the recent weekend, hundreds of romance writers have returned to their day-to-day reenergised and determined to continue writing about love. Like an army of Don Quijotes, we mount our bony Rocinantes and spur them towards the patronising denigrators of our genre. We do so knowing that romance is one of the best-selling genres, thereby proving that readers also believe in love—or want to believe in it.
No matter how inspired and reenergised I’ve returned from Leeds, for me the conference is very much about friends. People I interact with daily via social media are suddenly standing before me in the flesh, and it is so lovely to see them, hug them, hear them speak. Plus, as always, I came away with NEW friends – or at least potential friends.
Since some days I am back in Sweden. The bright pink lanyard with the RNA logo hangs above my desk. Every time I see it, I smile. Thank you to the wonderful peeps of the Romantic Novelist Association for organising this three-day submersion in the heady world of romance. I’ll be back next year for my annual fix.