Tuesday, 18 July 2017

RNA Conference 2017 - and how I survived the door of doom.

Why the big smile? Well, it could have been because I had just arrived at the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) Conference (at Harper Adams University in Telford) or that I'd just found out that the other writers in my university accommodation didn't drink Prosecco - only gin and tonic. You decide which.

Actually, I don't want to give you the wrong impression from this photograph. The weekend was more than just kitchen parties and bubbly. It was about attending talks and workshops to improve your writing and about meeting like-minded people. I went along with three of my writing friends, Liz Eeles, Sue Griffin and Merryn Allingham and we had a great time. Here we all are, complete with the obligatory name badges.

I could tell stories of trying to open the door to our flat by swiping the small plastic key fob against random articles instead of using the key, trying to grasp the mechanics of a second automatic door (nicknamed the door of doom) which kept shutting two of our party out into a darkened lobby and the underhand tactics we used to ensure we got a table at breakfast... but I'd better not.

Now, enough of the shenanigans and onto the serious stuff. The weekend consisted of a series of talks and workshops. Among others, there were sessions on writing dialogue, creating believable characters, using social media, timeslips and time travel, and how to not panic when you receive your novel revisions from the editor. There was even one on how to write unforgettable sex scenes (no, I didn't go to that one). 

It would take too long to list all the wonderful conference sessions so I'll just tell you about my favourite. It was a talk by Alison May and Bella Osborne called Plotter Vs Pantster and what a delightful double act they were! Strangely, I'd always considered myself to be a pantster, as my short stories have no plan, but after answering a few simple questions, I realised that, when it comes to my novel, I'm not. I came out as a rather smug 'inbetweener' veering slightly towards the plotter end of the scale. Surprised? I certainly was. Here's a picture of Alison in full flow.

I've been to an RNA conference once before (two years ago) and took advantage of the one-to-one sessions with an industry professional. This time, I attended the conference in the rather nice position of already having an agent and so was able to just relax and enjoy the talks without the worry of having to pitch anything.

The best thing for me, this year, was meeting writing friends I've made via social media in 'real life' and finding them just as lovely as I'd imagined them to be. Susanna Bavin, Kirsten Hesketh, Elaina James and Ellie Henshaw come to mind.  I also met two fellow People's Friend writers, Kate Blackadder and Ann Peck. It was so nice to be able to chat with other's who were part of the Friend family.

Speaking of which, I'm rather chuffed to have two stories in the last issue of The People's Friend. Here they are. 

Not only that, but before I went away, I received an email from a People's Friend reader who wanted to let me know how much she enjoyed my stories.. isn't that just lovely. Overall, a very good weekend.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

London... Really?

Have I ever mentioned that I am a bit of a country bumpkin? No? Well I am. If I haven't seen green fields or a cow for a while then I start to stress (actually I start to stress when I DO see a cow - but that's another story).

For the last thirty years, I've lived in a beautiful little town where I only have to walk down a road, and over a stile, to reach the river. The other direction takes me to the South Downs. Utter bliss. The only problem is... the longer I live here, the harder it becomes to spend a day in a city. A whole day without longing to be back in a place where there are no crowds, no back-to-back buses, no busy roads and no noise.

Is it because I'm getting older? Maybe.

So why, after explaining all this, was I up in London twice last week. Yes, TWICE! Well, the reason is, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and confront something you dislike in order to do something lovely. If I only stayed in my little town and never got on a plane, or a boat, or a train (don't get me started on my travel anxiety or we'll be here all day!) I'd have no new experiences and nothing to write stories about. Ultimately, I'd be missing out.

This is my daughter. You'll have met her in my previous post about Bath which you can read here. We do lovely things together and on Tuesday we did another as, for my birthday, she had paid for us to have an afternoon tea bus tour of London (yes - bus and London all in one breath but my daughter knows I love food so was unlikely to refuse her gift). She was right.

Wanting to make full use of our day, I caught the train in the morning, anticipating, as I always do, all the things that could go wrong before, during and after my journey. I can tell you, It's very tiring being me!

Happily, no disasters occurred and I arrived safely at Victoria Station to be met by my daughter. First stop was No.11 Pimlico road - a contemporary bar and restaurant - for a mezze lunch. We couldn't fault it and were only worried that we might not have room for our afternoon tea at 5pm (My agent's office is near here so I shall have to remember this lovely place for next time I'm in the area).

So far so good. Next on the agenda was the river bus to London Bridge Pier - gorgeous on a sunny day. The plan was for my daughter to give me a tour of The City of London, where she works, as I've never been to this part of the city before.

First, we bought a drink and sat on a bench in the beautiful garden in the ruins of  St Dunstan in the East. This little gem is in the heart of the city and is a must if you're in the area. The photo at the top of the blog post shows the garden through one of the empty windows (I love the contrast with the modern building in the background).

After that, we walked through the Victorian arches of Leadenhall Market to the Gherkin...

 ...and then on to the incredible Lloyds of London Building. All the electrical conduits and water pipes are on the outside, giving it the nickname 'inside out building'. It was like being on a sci-fi set. 

This building was amazing too - with all its coloured lifts on the outside. I have no idea what it is. Maybe someone could tell me.

Gone were the tourists, gone were the foreign students on their day visits. This was the habitat of the young office workers: the financiers in their slim blue suits. The advertising executives in their pencil skirts. I was the country cousin again, loving the spectacle but glad to be just a spectator.

In stark contrast to what we'd seen before, our next stop St Bartholomew the Great was a very big step back in time. Founded in 1123, it is the oldest church in London and has been used many times on TV and in films. If you look at the photo, you can see why.

It was at this point we looked at our watches and realised we were not going to have enough time to walk back along the South Bank as we'd planned. 

Instead, we hurried along the North Bank before it became obvious we'd never get back to Victoria in time to catch our afternoon tea bus. What were we to do? There was nothing for it - it would have to be the tube. The mere though sent me into a cold sweat but we had no alternative. Gritting my teeth and trying not to panic, we traveled the four stops to Victoria. Luckily, it wasn't crowded, hot or too deep underground. I survived. I can say no more.

Thankfully, we made it in time to get to Victoria Coach Station where our tea bus was waiting. We had the executive seat at the front on the top deck and the whole experience was wonderful. The tour is run by B Bakery and I have to say the food was delicious. What an experience!

Of course, if I'd stayed at home (as my country girl voice was telling me to do in the days leading up to this) I would have missed out on so much. It was a fabulous day.

So what of the second trip? Well, that was to see the spectacular 42nd Street at The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane with my mother and sister. Little did we know when we booked that it would coincide with London Pride Day... now that's another story!