Coffee, Chaired Debates and Cumberland Sausages
I should digress for a moment as Sue took part in something I didn’t have to attend: a meeting with a bona fide Mills & Boon editor! Yep, Sue signed up for the chance to attend a ten-minute session with a flesh-and-blood honcho from M&B’s HQ, and she’d sent in the first chapter of her Romance, Learning to Trust Again, and a synopsis to boot. No doubt Sue would have been chewing her fingernails by the time the appointment arrived, but as she’d had them manicured the prior afternoon she couldn’t. So she chewed my ear instead.
I acted as Sue’s escort, leading her to the scaffold. I mean the stairs. At the top, we found that Sue had a few minutes to spare, and somewhat bizarrely we ended up having a small debate about the merits of good grammar with Sophie Weston and Joanna Maitland, two renowned and highly experienced M&B authors. Sophie also goes under the name of Jenny Haddon, and her excellent guide to the subject, Getting the Point, was the topic under discussion.
Now it was time for the hearing. I mean the editor meeting. Sue disappeared and I was left wandering round a buzzing seminar room, where copious amounts of afternoon tea were just being poured. In actual fact, coffee was the beverage of choice at this conference, and I suspect it helped sustain energy levels during the 48-hour event.
At this point, I started to meet people. Now, Sue and I met a lot of fellow authors over the course of the weekend, many published, and a lot hoping to be published like ourselves. I have a notoriously bad memory – that’s what started me writing things down in the first place – and unfortunately I’ve already forgotten many of the names of the people we spoke to, although I understand this sort of thing gets easier as time goes on. One of the first to greet me was Melanie Hilton, who gently prodded me as a reminder that our New Writers’ Scheme manuscripts are due in at the end of next month. Gulp! Is that really only six weeks away?!
At this point I realised that I was lugging around two mobile phones that I didn’t need to have on me (okay, so it’s not as easy when you’re a guy without a handbag) Umm, Gray, I think you mean you normally pile everything into my handbag and you were missing me? I decided to pop these back to our accommodation block, and I was just returning when I heard Sue’s laughter bubbling from an upstairs window. Did this mean the editor meeting was going – GASP! – well? It turns out that it was. (I confess it took me a few days to realise this!) Sue sat down with Meg Lewis, who told her where she was going wrong and invited her to send in a revised manuscript. So, that’s our next job – ironing out the problems and giving the hero and heroine more internal conflict and debate, rather than relying on external forces too much. That, and the age-old problem of not having the characters on the page together enough. Sue concluded the discussion by asking Meg if her voice was suitable for the Romance line, and the answer was a resounding yes. Yippee! :-D
With the appointment over, we started to enjoy ourselves. The conference opened with a welcome by grand lady Katie Fforde, who later made a point of introducing herself to us in the wine-drenched heaven that was the ‘Gin Case’ bar’s courtyard. But more on that later. For now, we sat back while Jan Jones went through the list of celebrations, paying special mentions to those RNA members who’ve had their first novel published over the course of the year. There’s something about the celebration of shared success that’s completely inspiring, so I really enjoyed this part.
We then progressed to a lively question and answer session, involving no less than five (five!) well established authors from a variety of genres, who answered questions in turn with a general theme of ‘How much ... is too much?’ The first question was ‘how much sex is too much?’ which I guess is inevitable considering the type of writing we all do! (Aww, Gray I'm loving that you're really getting what it's all about!)
The talky stuff over for the day, we headed en mass for the ‘Gin Case’ bar, located just a short way away on campus. I’ve discovered that listening is actually incredibly thirsty work so I was more than eager to grab a pint, although I fear I was the only one there drinking a “man’s” drink, which again is inevitable given the company. The poor staff behind the bar of the ‘Gin Case’ had no idea what hit them, but I’d like to commend them all for being particularly pleasant and friendly during our stay.
The sun had made a rare appearance so a number of us moved to the courtyard area outside, and the conversation increased from a bubbling undercurrent to crowd-sized proportions. There was a lot of greeting, a lot of catching up and a lot of shared interest to attend to. I ended up chatting to a fascinating lady who told me all about her book set in South America during the reign of Elizabeth I. It’s this kind of thing that RNA conferences are all about as it really can only happen face-to-face.
At half past seven we all moved across to the restaurant to enjoy the first of the self-service meals. Unfortunately, one of the very few problems with the conference was the queuing. A lot of us had to wait in a long line for a very long time to wait to get served, which wasn’t ideal for Sue, who gets a bit wobbly after having to stand up for a while (that's putting it mildly, very kind of you, Gray, thanks!) . When we got inside, we found that the first choice had run out, so a couple of dozen of us were left with the choice of Cumberland sausage, Cumberland sausage or Cumberland sausage.
Now, I’m a man to speak my mind, and I don’t mind admitting that the humble Cumberland sausage isn’t the most appetising-looking of delicacies. Looped into a snail-shell-like shape and of a greyish colour and rubbery texture, it doesn’t scream ‘eat me!’ like some foodstuffs I could mention. Nevertheless, a Cumberland sausage was duly plonked onto each of our plates, and we found somewhere to eat them. As luck would have it, we were joined by the friendly Helen Scott-Taylor and her enthusiastic husband. Helen told us all about paranormal romance as well as her debut novel, The Magic Knot, and I have to admit that I’m hooked. There’s another book on the ‘to buy’ list (ooh, and one more book purchase I don't have to hide?!).
Speaking of books...the freebies we were given at this conference were fantastic! Each of us came away with bulging carrier bags packed to the brim with all kinds of reading material, conference notes, advertising, chocolate and even a fiery-hot gobstopper that burnt the roof of my mouth!
Following this we had a school dinner-style coconut slice in custard, which was A-okay, and the glass of complimentary wine they’d served had suddenly run dry. There was only one thing for it: back to the bar!
To be continued...