Almost two weeks ago, I flew from Bologna to Manchester and caught the train to Leeds for my first Romantic Novelists’ Association annual Conference.
I didn’t know what to expect and I was apprehensive. Would all the authors be like Barbara Cartland, wearing fussy pink dresses, writing fluffy pink love stories? Would I fit in? Why on earth was I going?
Anxiety was dispelled as soon as I walked through the main doors of Leeds Trinity University and was met by ordinary smiley people and a bag full of goodies: books, chocolates, bookmarks and biscuits.
Can you spot the bestselling author I selfied (managing to block myself out)? Answers in comments…
A huge variety of sessions had been arranged, ranging from conversations with well-known authors, such as Sue Moorcroft and the hilarious Milly Johnson; sessions with the editor of Mslexia, Debbie Taylor, about how to write a synopsis and pitch your novel; an amusing insight into what the editor Maggie Swinburne needs for her My Weekly pocket novels. It was an entertainment in itself listening to her descriptions of characters stranded on Greek islands, Cinderella murder stories, stories set between the wars, with carnage softened by romance and comeuppance for the baddies. She is looking for emotional rollercoasters that move the reader all the time and needs to be over-excited by the stories she receives. It was a joy to listen to her and she’s certainly tempted me to write an escapist 50,000 novella. We all need a hefty dose of romance in our lives after all.
The talk I enjoyed most was given by two very different historical romance authors: Carol McGrath, whose stories are set in the Middle Ages and Charlotte Betts, an award-winning author of several Regency classics. As I’ve written historical fiction myself, I found their advice fascinating. We were advised that the story is paramount and not to deliver a history lesson in our writing, to never forget the story is an entertainment. The balance between truth and fiction is the secret and how to animate our characters, to make them resonate with the modern reader whilst remaining true to their era. Research should bring texture to our writing to enhance known facts and should always be buried deep within the narrative. I treasured their advice and wrote notes to help me in the future.
A highlight of Conference (apart from new friendships and a delicious gala dinner on Saturday night, when authors scrubbed up and looked glam), was the precious opportunity to have ten-minute slots with publishers, agents or editors. My first was with Emily Yau of Quercus and I had two more with commissioning editors of Bookouture and Harper Collins. This was such a valuable experience, not least because I had to submit a cover letter, synopsis and my first chapter in advance. There is nothing to concentrate the author’s mind better than writing a synopsis. In fact, I learned from the Mslexia editor’s session that many authors use the synopsis as a kind of compass, to keep on piste as they work on their manuscripts.
So, I came away enthused and ready to roll. The process has stalled for a while because I am staying with my very pregnant daughter, who is almost ready to pop, and looking after two adorable but lively grandsons. As soon as they have gone to bed, I flop and claim fatigue. I can’t write when I’m exhausted, my brain tells me.
However this morning I read author Louise Jensen’s latest blog and felt the teeniest bit ashamed of myself. Despite suffering from chronic pain and disabled by clinical depression, she has written four novels recently and decided to turn to full-time writing. She wrote her first… “on the sofa, at the dining table, in the bedroom, at my son’s desk in his room. Anywhere I could carve out space in our busy house.” Click for details about Louise Jensen’s debut novel
She has just gone over the 1,000,000 English language sales mark and was obviously born to write.
I met another young author at conference who has young children and she writes every morning from 4.30 a.m. until the household stirs. What dedication…
I might attempt a few lines this evening when the children are in bed.
Are you an author? What is your writing routine?
p.s. You can tell I’m tired – I can’t work out how to make my font uniform on this borrowed pc.