Last weekend was special in two ways:
1. It was my first weekend away from the Spudling since he was born 9.5 months ago
2. It was the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) convention in Penrith, Cumbria
I went to my first ever RNA conference last year and had an amazing time which was made even more special when I won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy for best novel opening. This year it was my job to hand over the cup to the new winner at the Gala Dinner and there was no way I was going to miss out on doing something as special as that. I was nervous though, about going to the conference. I've only ever been apart from the Spudling for 5 hours and that was a few months ago when his Daddy drove him to Birmingham to meet his Great-Nan and Granddad (and I cried then!) and I was worried about being so far away if he needed me. I needn't have worried though and huge thanks to all the ladies who told me to stop worrying and enjoy my very rare taste of freedom! (you know who you are).
Last year I shared a flat with only two other people and, as I was pregnant, I didn't join in the drinking/late night talking festivities. This year couldn't have been more different! We had the best kitchen (I know everyone says that) and that was down to Mills & Boon authors extraordinaire - India Grey, Scarlet Wilson, Natalie Rivers and Fiona Harper - and my flatmates, and good friends, Rowan Coleman and Tamsyn Murray. Special mention should also go to Gillian Green (editor at Ebury Press) who joined us around the kitchen table for wine after the gala dinner on Saturday and...er...enlightened.... us about certain erotica practices (the erotic imprint Black Lace is back, she wasn't talking from personal experience!). I think we may even have scared the lovely Liz Fenwick (who very kindly supplied the photos in this post) off when she popped in for an impromptu hello!
The talks this year were every bit as entertaining and informative as they were last year. I particularly enjoyed Talli Roland's on online marketing, Kate Harrison on the research she's carried out amongst readers, writers and industry professionals about the future of women's fiction, Tamsyn Murray about sex in Young Adult literature and Julie Cohen on what the Pixar films can teach us about structuring story. Here's a quick round up from what I can remember...
Talli's talk - online marketing for writers
Talli talked about blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon author pages and how we should manage them in order to promote ourselves as a 'brand'. She said that we, as the author, are the brand rather than our books and we should create a tag line (mine might be 'writes sparkling romantic comedies that make you laugh and cry') and reinforce it with our online activity. Talli stressed that we should ensure we fill out our Amazon author pages on .co.uk, .com, .de and wherever else we have a book presence.
She also mentioned that you should separate your Facebook personal page from your Facebook author page (your 'like' page) by adding something like 'Author' or 'Novelist' to your URL (something I've actually done! Mine's www.twitter.com/CallyTaylorAuthor) or else you'll end up with two Facebook URLs that feature your name and readers won't know which is which.
Regarding blogging she stressed the importance of replying to all blog comments (something I'm guilty of not doing) and of following all your followers back (again *cough* I've not been the best at that but, since returning from the RNA conference, I followed over 100 of my followers and am planning on adding the other 163 over the next few days!).
One final point about blogging - make sure you're consistent. Once a day, once a week, once a month, it doesn't matter how often you blog as long as your followers know when they can expect to hear from you. Talli's enthusiasm for her subject was so infectious she's inspired me to follow her advice and I'm going to try and blog more frequently from now on - at least once a week. Feel free to kick me up the bum and tell Talli on me if I don't! ;)
She also said to keep blog posts short - oops!
If you're interested in online marketing do friend Talli on Facebook and 'like' her author page. She regularly guest posts on a variety of subjects to do with online marketing and today she's linked to a blog post she's written about Facebook marketing. As well as being a fabulous novelist she really is the guru on all things to do with ebooks and online marketing.
Kate Harrison - the future of women's fiction
I won't blog too much about Kate's talk as she'll be publishing the results of her research on her blog/website very soon but, basically, she carried out online research to find out why, if we believe reports in the press, the sale of women's fiction are in decline. She gathered data from over 300 readers, 50 authors and dozens of industry professionals and presented us with the results - which were very interesting.
As well as dividing the readers into 3 separate groups with different reading tastes and patterns, Kate was able to establish what it is that the majority of readers want from women's fiction. Off the top of my head I think the top four qualities were funny, moving, thought-provoking and thrilling.
Kate didn't say as much but the fact that many of the readers also wanted to 'learn something' from their books also suggests that we might be moving slightly away from purely entertaining 'fun' chicklit and more towards women's fiction with deeper themes that's thought-provoking (but the sample size, at 300 readers, was relatively small so don't quote me on that!).
Anyway, do follow Kate's blog if you'd like to read the survey results in full when she publishes them online.
The only downside to going to Kate's talk was that it clashed with Nell Dixon's talk on editing (something I'm creeping ever nearer to as novel 3 has just hit 72,000 words). Fortunately I ran into Nell on Sunday and she very kindly gave me a copy of her print out. What a star!
Tamsyn's talk - sex in Young Adult books
Tamsyn's talk was a lot of fun. She discussed the history of sex in young adult literature (anyone remember 'Forever' by Judy Blume? Yes, I thought so... ;)) and gave us a variety of examples of sex in YA books these days - from masturbation and sex in Keris Stainton's 'Della Says OMG' to the rather more chaste 'they spent the night in each other's arms' in her own 'My So Called Afterlife' series to the really quite explicit no holds barred intercourse in 'Adorkable' by Sarra Manning.
After the talk everyone joined in the discussion which ranged from YA authors being banned from school talks because their books contained sexual references, to Irish librarians sticking red dots on racy books, to 'Banned Book' week in America.
Find out more about Tamsyn and her books here.
Julie's talk - what Pixar films can teach us about story structure
Julie's talk was all kinds of fun! Not only is she one of the most enthusiastic, energetic and fun workshop presenters I've ever had the honour of watching but she's also hugely knowledgeable about the craft of writing.
Julie talked us through a number of subjects including the 3 Act Structure (her handout on how 'Cars' follows the 3 Act Structure was so good it's going up on my study wall!), beginnings, plots and subplots and climax and illustrated each one by talking about various Pixar films, showing clips and explaining how and why Pixar are so good at what they do.
And then, just when we thought her talk couldn't get any more enthralling she showed us a clip from 'Up' and made the entire room cry!
Julie Cohen is currently planning a series of workshops on writing for next year. I cannot recommend her highly enough so if you live in the Reading area or are prepared to travel to see someone who's energetic, fun and really knows her stuff then please get yourself over to her website and sign up for her newsletter.
The gala dinner on Saturday was wonderful. Jan Jones decorated the tables beautifully, the food was delicious and my table - Kate Harrison, Tamsyn Murray, Rowan Coleman and Miranda Dickinson - was an absolute scream. It's not often I turn down apple pie but when Jan came to get me to present the Elizabeth Goudge trophy to the new winner I was out of my chair without so much as a 'does it come with custard?'. I had no idea who'd won it - I hadn't even read any of the entries but I stood by Annie Ashurst, RNA Chair, as she read out the titles of the 3 shortlisted entries and gazed around at the rapt faces.
As she opened the envelopes, revealing the names of the third place and second place writers I noticed a squealing woman on a table to my left with her hands pressed over her mouth and a look of delight on her face - it was Alison Maynard, this years winner! I loved how excited she was - it reminded me of my own reaction last year.
Sunday came by all too quickly and I was gutted when 1.45pm rolled around and it was time to say my goodbyes - not least because it meant I had to miss Miranda Dickinson's talk on her rollercoaster experience as a bestselling author (although, lovely lady that she is, she gave me some of her exclusive 'Wordy' stickers and postcards before I left. She's going to put some on sale on her website very soon so make sure you sign up to her newsletter to find out when that is).
But say goodbye I did and before I knew it I was on the train back to Bristol, sat next to Tamsyn, earphones plugged in as I tapped away on my netbook (anti-social I know but I had to do some work on novel 3 while I was away, and Tam was working too!).
And as for the Spudling? He was crying when I came in (he doesn't like getting out of the bath) and he continued to cry when I popped into the bathroom to say hello but one big cuddle and a rendition of 'Wheels on the Bus' and he was all smiles. And so was I.
So cheers RNA - not just for an amazing conference but for making a rare weekend to myself so very, very wonderful.