Monday 18 July 2016

It's a week since I returned home after my very first Conference that was held at Lancaster University. Although I have nothing with which to compare it, the venue was excellent. My head was full to bursting with all I'd learned, the conversations with so many new people I'd met and the advice I'd been given on my manuscript .

My lovely writing friend, Sue McDonagh, was driving up on the Thursday and I shared the journey with her. Both of us were conference first timers  and it meant that neither of us arrived on our own. I needn't have worried. What struck me was how welcoming everyone was. We were directed to our en-suite rooms where we unpacked, freshened up and then made our way to the dining room and bar in Barker House Farm. It was quieter on the Thursday night and an ideal time to introduce ourselves and put faces to names of writers we'd only previously seen on social media.

After breakfast on Friday, we made our way to the George Fox building where all the sessions would be taking place. If map-reading was not a strong point, you could follow the purple arrow cards strategically placed in the grass outlining the route. I just followed whoever was in front of me! Once there, we collected our lanyards and name cards. Mine had a sparkly pink flower sticker to showing everyone it was my first conference - what a great idea! We helped fill the goody bags, over two hundred of them. It was done with military precision and we moved along the tables taking one item from each pile to fill the bags. 

Let the conference begin! From Friday lunchtime until we left on Sunday, the weekend was jam packed with activities. Here are some of my highlights:

  • Sessions where I learned a lot about the Writing Industry - 1) Building Your Writing Career. Here Alison May chaired the panel which consisted of both authors and agents.The importance of creating a platform so that your name is recognised was stressed, making sure you know who you're submitting to and to never give up. 2) Writing a Commercial Novel with Kate Bradley and Alex Brown. This was a particularly useful session where Kate talked about the retail outlets and their particular target audiences. Tastes change and so do trends. Alex looked at how her books have changed. 3) Together We Stand! This was chaired by Nicola Cornick and the panel consisted of agents, editors and authors who represented the many faces of publishing.

  • A session about Working with an Editor  - Helen Bryant of 'Cornerstones' gave a lively presentation of how to get in touch with your inner editor, how to identify plot holes and how be able to accept feedback in a positive way. You should have the confidence to question and brainstorm with your editor. Her story arc with its peaks and troughs was useful, especially one part which she calls 'the-rug-pulled-from-under-you' moment.
  • The 1-to-1 Sessions with Industry Professionals - I was very apprehensive about these, realising it was a wonderful opportunity to have your writing and synopsis scrutinised by people in the industry yet concerned about what they would say. I came away from each one very encouraged that I had a story worth telling and with some helpful guidance about where to go next. In fact, Kate Bradley of HarperCollins was so generous, spending time with me the next day, too. She suggested some changes in the structure of my dual narrative to make the links between the two stories clearer. I can't thank Kate enough. I learned so much from just talking things through with her. A big thank you to Elaine Everest for organising these. 
  • Meeting my on-line friend, Sue Cook, (Susannah Bavin) for the first time. She has been such a support to me since we 'met' whilst doing NaNoWriMo in 2014. 
  • Meeting up with other first-timers after dinner on the Friday - this was organised by Kate Thomson and she made us all feel at home.Thank you, Kate! 
  • The Gala DinnerWe all dressed up on the Saturday night and donned our heels. After a lovely meal, Eileen Ramsay, our Chairman, announced the results of the annual Elizabeth Goudge Award. The winner from twenty-three entries was Chrissie Bradshaw with her story, Such Small Moments. Before the evening came to a close, Jan Jones was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers to thank her for all the hard work in organising the conference. The sound of the cheering and applause was testament to how much we all appreciated this.
     Four of us from the Cowbridge Writing Group
Sunday morning continued with more sessions and it was soon time to head for home, this time accompanied by Vanessa and Catherine who'd come up by train. The atmosphere in the car was buzzing with stories of the weekend, who we'd seen and spoken to, which sessions we'd attended, how we were going to get back and put into practice what we'd learned and how much Prosecco had been consumed!

A big thank you to all who made RNA Conference 2016 such a huge success! Everyone was so friendly, helpful and full of fun that I can't wait to go again. Thanks, too, to John Jackson for his photos. They give a real flavour of what went on. 

Thank you for reading. What event has inspired you to revive your confidence and get back to your writing with increased enthusiasm? I'd love it if you shared it with us. :-)

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