Aint Love Grand
I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Adelaide, South Australia (my home town) over the weekend. While I only attended on Saturday and Sunday, the conference officially opened on Friday with a full day workshop for authors presented by screenwriter Michael Hauge.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of RWAus – a group which was begun by author Lynne Wilding after she experienced the pre-internet tyranny of distance which made being an Australian romance author so difficult in the early days. From an original core group of eight, the organisation now has over 1000 members.
This year, apart from celebrating their 25th anniversary, the conference also ran an academic track, where papers from romance academics were presented. As I am not an author, I admit it was the academic conference which mainly interested me (even though I’m not an academic either – I’ve been in so many conversations with women who are that at least a little of their smarts has transferred to me by osmosis I’m sure). Many of the panels and workshops in the core conference were about writing craft and publishing, including such things as shaping a story, relationships with editors and the path to publishing. Because I was there to cover the conference for Dear Author however, I did dip into panels from both the core and academic conference streams. And, while I was there, I also caught up with blogger friends and authors I’m friendly with on social media. I may even have made a new friend or two among the attendees.
I found the conference to be well organised and professionally run. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and from what I heard from writer delegates, new/emerging/unpublished authors derived a lot from the various panels. There was perhaps less on the itinerary for established authors but as I am not any kind of author I’m not qualified to say more. No doubt feedback from the delegates will inform next year’s convention which will be held in Brisbane and has the theme Love Gone Wild.
As is so often the case in this kind of conference, the panels I most wanted to see clashed with each other so I had to make some hard choices. In the end, I decided to attend Personality Goes a Long Way: Is your Bad Boy a Psychopath or a Dude with ‘tude? presented by husband and wife team Dr. John Barletta and Sandra Antonelli (author and PhD – or should that be the other way around??). There has been a lot of discussion in romancelandia about exactly where the line is between alpha and alpha-hole (for some readers there is no practical difference of course) and I was hoping for a lively debate on this topic. The presentation was, however, more of primer into personality theory and how that may inform an author in character development. Interesting in and of itself of course, but much more directed to the writers in the audience. That is not a criticism; after all it was a writer’s conference I was attending. There was, however, a lively debate about Scarlett O’Hara and whether she was a misunderstood woman or a narcissistic and selfish schemer (I’m in the latter camp) – even though Gone With the Wind is not, of course, a romance, it having no HEA (*coughSoThereSandra!cough*).
Concurrently in the academic panel, were Cliteracy: Women and Sexual Pleasure in the Romance Novel presented by Dr. Catherine Roach from the University of Alabama, Love and Listening: The Erotics of Talk in the Popular Romance Novel presented by Dr. Jodi McAlister from the University of Tasmania and The Genre World of Romance in the Twenty-First Century presented by Dr. Lisa Fletcher, also from the University of Tasmania.
Dr. Roach’s paper was no doubt drawn from her book Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture, a book which has been widely discussed all over my social media feed and elsewhere.
I’m desperate to get hold of Dr. McAlister’s (or, as I like to call her – because I can – Dr. Jodes‘) paper, which isn’t about dirty talk (unlike my first thought which only goes to show that I am not an academic) but is about the intimacy of listening in the (m/f) romance novel and the impact the heroine being listened to by the hero has on the trajectory of the HEA. I saw tweets about the panel and I know there was an interesting theory which included Outlander in there and I’m curious to understand it better.
Dr. Fletcher’s paper was about the research project she is working on in combination with other Australian academics, tracking Australian popular fiction in the 21st Century. It’s a study over a period of (currently) three years which will track production, economics and culture of Australian genre fiction and which will use ten books each from romance, crime and fantasy as case studies. For those who are further interested in the project, this Book Thingo podcast where host Kat Mayo interviews Dr. Fletcher is a good place to gain further insight.
In the afternoon, I attended the academic conference and heard papers from Dr. Amy Matthews from Flinders University in Adelaide about feminism and romance, the representation of single mothers in US contemporary romance from author Michelle Douglas from the University of Newcastle and the representation of older women in romance from Sandra Antonelli (aka Dr. Sandra Barletta). Dr. Matthews recognised that it is the voracious nature of the romance reader which drives her to ebooks (instant gratification!) and not so much perhaps, reader shame and this resonated with me. I was interested in Michelle Douglas’ critique of some of the books she chose as case studies where the heroine is a single mother. Her research found no universal answer but generally, single mothers seemed to be better treated in romance than in the real world, where they are often stereotyped, stigmatised, denigrated and demonised. Sandra Antonelli’s paper discussed ageism and how it is largely overlooked when we talk about diversity in romance. (As a woman in this demographic I must say, I’m more interested than ever in reading older protagonists and, in fact, they don’t actually seem all that “old” to me anymore, because I don’t feel old.) I have to agree with Sandra that older women are an untapped market – as she said, women over 40 are the fastest growing demographic and they are Cashed. Up. (Sandra puts her money where her mouth is; her own novels feature the older protagonists she longed to see but couldn’t find.) Authors such as Kristen Ashley are finding there is great success to be had with older protagonists in self publishing but when will traditional publishing catch up?
Speaking of publishing – I also attended a plenary session on the state of publishing in Australia. Self publishing figures were unfortunately not included in the presentation (I understand this is at least partly due to the difficulty in actually obtaining such numbers) but it seems that the Australian book market is healthy, experiencing a 4% increase on last year for a total economy of $980M of which 10% is romance. We also have a healthy independent bookseller market, with indies being responsible for about 30% of all book sales here.
I also attended the gala dinner for the presentation of the RuBY awards. (RuBY is the affectionate acronym for Romantic Book of the Year.) These are reader-judged awards for books published by Australian or New Zealand authors. This year’s winners were:
RuBY Novella: Kelly Hunter for What a Bachelor Needs
RuBY Short Sweet: Joan Kilby for The Secret Son (retitled as The Montana Son)
RuBY Short Sexy: Rosie Miles for Never Surrender
RuBY Romantic Elements: Rachael Johns for The Patterson Girls
RuBY Long romance: Michelle Somers for Lethal in Love
Additionally, Aussie romance blogger and commentator, Danielle Binks won the RoMA award for romance media coverage. In fact, she won it twice! – tying with herself for her twp articles It Takes a Village to Write a Romance: the Surprising Rise of Collaborative Fiction and By Any Other Name: The Secret Lives of Romance Authors. She only got one award though (sadness!). I’m proud to say Danielle is a friend of mine so I was especially pleased. Plus, now I can say I have a number of award-winning friends, which can only be a good thing right?
Details of other awards handed out on the night, as well as a full list of the finalists can be found here.
On Sunday I attended other panels in the academic stream about how Jane Austen’s “courtship” novels aren’t really about courtship at all (presented by Dr. Gillian Dooley – who is also looking for papers for the Immortal Austen conference next year – find out more here) and I also got some insight into how to recognise a good editor and when to submit a manuscript to a publisher and when wait – even as a non-author it was fascinating.
Perhaps my favourite quote of the conference came from Kate Cuthbert, managing editor of Escape Publishing, who said
“Get someone else to read your book first. Not your husband unless he’s particularly not invested in your happiness”.
Fiona McIntosh delivered the penultimate plenary address (before the conference was closed by RWAus president Leisl Leighton with a vibrant cabaret number!), exhorting new authors to write to a word count, be disciplined in the pursuit of a career, not be afraid to admit you’re in it for the money as well as the love of it and always, always take underwear with you when you travel (really, this cannot be stressed enough).
There’s a lot more than I have covered here of course, but I hope the above gives Dear Author readers a taste of what Aint Love Grand was all about, at least from a reader’s perspective.
Thank you the Romance Writers of Australia for inviting me to the convention and making me feel so welcome.