Monday, July 14, 2008

RNA conference notes--part one: Friday & Saturday morning

I figured it was about time I posted something useful and constructive about the RNA conference, seeing as how I’ve been back a whole week now. I didn’t take my camera, so I’ve borrowed some pictures from other people who did.

Friday afternoon started with the author panel. I’ve already wibbled on about it; the other authors present did a much better job than me!

Picture borrowed from Liz Fenwick, who has loads of great snaps. L-R: me, Nicola Cornick, Kate Harrison (standing; just finished The Secret Shopper's Revenge and loved it!), Anne Ashurst (just visible), Kate Hardy, Anna Jacobs.

Same line-up; this time it's Nicola Cornick speaking.

After a slightly late, boozy Friday night, it was time to get down to the business of learning more about this ridiculous business of writing and publishing. Here are the first couple of talks I went to.

Saturday morning

jay Dixon: Shakespeare on Love

jay gave an informative talk on the influences of Shakespeare on romantic novelists from Georgette Heyer through to the present. Knowledge of Shakespeare has often been used to demonstrate compatibility between characters, and used as a shorthand to add intelligence, without stretching the reader’s knowledge too far. Shakespeare is known all over the world in many different languages (I once saw a production of King Lear at the Barbican that had an all-English cast, including the late Nigel Hawthorne, but an all-Japanese crew, including the director, Yukio Ninegawa).

Shakespeare has given us many common words, such as abstemious, critical, frugal, and zany—and several that haven’t caught on so well, such as insultment (I love this!), bepray, and undeaf.

He borrowed plots and subplots in a way that would have us crying piracy today—but in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was entirely acceptable. What Shakespeare gave us was a fresh way of writing. He could portray a character through speech—changing patterns of speech for older or younger characters, nobles or commoners (Julie Cohen also touched on this in her Sunday talk). His work was rich with metaphors and new ideas ‘bursting from their shells’ (that comes from a quote, but I only mate a very quick note so I can’t remember who!).

Romeo and Juliet gives us the framework for the romantic novel, beginning with disharmony and moving towards harmony. The stages can be described as:

Love at first sight





Of course in R&J the reconciliation isn’t between the lovers, but their families.

Shakespeare didn’t add on subplots for the hell of it: in R&J the Prince appears at three pivotal points and what he says and does affects the main plot. In Much Ado About Nothing, the wordy, funny, highly charge affair of Beatrice and Benedick is in total contrast to the romantic, tragic affair of Hero and Claudio.

Shakespeare had romantic plots of themes in a lot of plays that weren’t necessarily about romance: for instance Lady Macbeth’s love for her husband is the driving force behind her actions. The jealousy of Othello is a theme that’s been used again and again in romantic novels (although not usually with such tragic consequences).

And finally cross-dressing, so beloved of Shakespeare plots, is still an enduring device in romantic novels, although usually historicals, since today women in effect cross-dress on a daily basis!

Liz Bailey & Eileen Ramsey: Networking

Liz and Eileen gave a hugely enjoyable workshop on the right and wrong ways to network with publishers and agents. Using the biannual RNA parties as their example, and with Pia Fenton and Henriette Gyland as volunteers, they demonstrated the wrong ways to approach editors and agents at such events.
Picture borrowed from Kate Hardy, who also has a comprehensive write-up of the conference)

Things to avoid include: butting in on conversations; taking too long; being rude; approaching someone who doesn’t represent what you write; gushing over the other books they’ve edited; lacking a clear, concise ‘pitch’ to describe your book; don’t expect them to take your details/contact you; badgering famous authors for an introduction (but if they offer you one then take it!).

Things to remember: Be professional; be polite; know what your book is about (sounds obvious, but see below re: being unable to describe my own damn books); have paper/pen ready to take their details; if they’re there at such an event, then they’re willing to talk to you.

Then they had us role-play (haven’t done this since school) as pitchers/pitchees. I cheated, and played the pitchee.

The thing that always stumps me is trying to describe my books. All right; so I can explain the Sophie books without rambling on too long: a ditzy blonde gets recruited as a spy is probably all you need to know. And erotic paranormal romance doesn’t require much further explanation. But the book I’m currently shopping with agents (with very little success; possibly this is why) has no easy description.

I sat next to Imogen Howson for this talk, and while she described her book to me (A romantic ghost story with a shocking twist) perfectly, my description of the Untied Kingdom went something like, “Well, it’s set in a parallel world, and there’s this endless war, because basically we—er, that is Britain, England—are a sort of third world country, and there’s this girl who falls through a whole in the world from our world, and she’s fished out of the river by an army major, and he thinks she’s mad, or maybe a spy, and…”

You see the problem. So during and after the talk, I jotted down ideas for a more concise pitch. The trick to this, as I realised when I was writing the book, is to figure out whose story it is (I kept trying to write it as Eve’s story, but it’s really all about Harker). Here’s what I came up with:

Major Harker is fighting an endless war in a third world country that’s falling apart. It’s called England.

Whaddya think?


  1. Now that's a good pitch!

  2. Ditto what Jan said.

    Great reports - thanks :-)

  3. Monica Fairview9:08 am

    Brill report on the Networking session. You summarized it beautifully.


    Regards Sheila Riley

  5. Yup, that's a killer pitch. It gives you that little thrill of shock right at the end, which is the best hook ever. :-)

    Good though that 'romantic ghost story' pitch is, though, I can't take credit. I know someone said it in that workshop, but it wasn't me! Shame, really...

  6. Eep, sorry Immi! I know I wrote it down because it was good...and I remember yours being good...see, I'm a terrible note-taker!

    Thanks guys on the compliments. It's taken me six months to come up with a pitch for this book!

  7. Great pitch! I'm still honing the skill of condensing my novels into 50 words or less. Or even 500 words or less.

  8. Wonderful log line, K8, and many thanks for the reports. I know it takes time to do, but its much appreciated by those of us who could not attend.