Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Day With the Brit Romance Writers

I was already booked up for two weeks in England this July when Janet Mullany mentioned she was going at the same time and planned to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association (Brit version of the RWA) conference. It happened to work with my other commitments so I signed up for the first day of the conference, which took place in Greenwich, on the outskirts of London.

I know people are excited about Disney World but when it comes to locating a conference, the RNA knows how to pick’em. The Royal Naval College is a huge seventeenth century spread built by Sir Christopher Wren in a stunning location on the River Thames. I traveled to Greenwich the traditional way – by boat from Westminster Pier.

It was a gorgeous sunny morning and the river was pristine. Too pristine. Since the last time I took this journey by boat, probably twenty years ago, a lot had changed. New buildings crowded every inch of the water front on both sides. And the river was empty. The port of London no longer operates in the old center and the docks, so rich in history, have been developed into blocks of flats and offices for financial service companies. Yes it used to be dirty and smelly and noisy but now it’s so quiet. There’s nothing going on at all on that beautiful expanse of water. I find myself nostalgic for the days when the London docks were the hub of a bustling commercial empire. I would have liked to see it when it looked like the 1806 Rhinebeck Panorama at the end of this post, rather than this, as it appeared last week.

The approach to Greenwich never disappoints. I disembarked, walked along the river front and into the central courtyard flanked by the wings of the Naval College and leading up to the Queen’s House, built for James I’s wife Anne. The conference took place in the left hand wing, now part of the University of Greenwich campus. For the buffet lunch we were able to take our plates out and sit in the sun in the Wren courtyard. I shared the experience with Mills & Boon luminaries Louise Allen, Joanne Maitland, and Sophie Weston.

The conference was much smaller and more intimate than the RWA – only 200 or so attendees as compared to the 2000 who will be at the US bash in Florida later this month. But like romance writers everywhere, everyone was friendly. I enjoyed putting faces to a few familiar names: Lynne Connolly (familiar from a number of loops and blogs), Nicola Cornick, and Anna Sugden (one of the dear Romance Banditas).

Because I was only attending one day out of the three, I missed most of the workshops, including a speech by the venerable Joanna Trollope and a presentation by Lucy Inglis, whose Georgian London blog I adore.

For me, the stand out workshop was a presentation on the state of UK publishing by David Shelley of Little, Brown. Some of his concerns are the same as those of US publishers – the decline of indie book stores, the significance of the growing electronic market, the power of Amazon and Apple – and some a little different, such as the role of the big supermarket chains in the book business. Shelley says romantic fiction is booming, citing Nicholas Sparks (!), Stephanie Meyer, J.R. Ward, Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Tess Gerritsen, and Erica Spindler as top names. He did mention that UK readers prefer their romance to be packaged as something else. Books about “aspirational lifestyles” are particularly popular. (I interpreted this as aspiring to be, say, a successful businesswoman rather than a vampire).

Literary agent Erin Niumata and writers Janet Mullany, Nicola Cornick and Rosemary Laurey gave a panel to the Brits about writing for the US market.

After tea (of course) a panel celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the RNA with some excellent reminiscences. I was most impressed that Sophia Weston had been taken to a champagne lunch at the Ritz by the original Mr. Boon of Mills & Boon. Sadly, such occasions are not offered to writers nearly as often as one would wish.

When everyone retired to their rooms to tart up for the gala dinner, I left for the Underground to return to a family party in central London. Being an old church fan, I popped inside St. Alfege, Greenwich (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of my favorite architects). A wind and piano quintet was rehearsing Mozart for a concert. I sat and listened for fifteen minutes, a lovely ending to the day.


  1. Coming to this post late, Miranda, but have to say thanks. I wanted to go to this conference, but in the end I was unable to travel. You've painted a gorgeous word picture and I'm sitting here, long after the conference ended, drooling slightly.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Anne. Wish you had been there - it was a lovely day.