Fantasy is my first and truest love, but romance is a close second (a shocker, I know, if you’ve read my books 😉). So it was with great excitement that I headed off to Christchurch last weekend for my first-ever Romance Writers of New Zealand (RWNZ) conference.
Years ago, when I was a university student, I spent a lot of time in Christchurch Airport, waiting for connecting flights as part of my journey home. I’m not sure this really counts as having visited the city. I can’t say I’ve now remedied this, since I spent last weekend largely within the four walls of the conference hotel.
However, I can say that the few bits of Christchurch I did see were both lovely and curiously English in aesthetic (and, coming from hilly Wellington, disconcertingly flat). The hotel abutted the large and picturesque Hagley Park, where the first signs of spring were juuust beginning, cherry blossoms and daffodils and a hint of warmth.
“The trees are coming into leaf. Like something almost being said—Philip Larkin
(I thought of this quote a lot during spring when I was overseas in Oxford, and Hagley Park had that same quality to it).
On Friday morning, I turned up to the registration desk and received my name badge and conference pack. A heart sticker adorned my badge, marking me as a first-time attendee.
The name badges were an absolute godsend. Some people say they remember faces but not names; I frequently remember neither. If only name badges were fashionable in more situations!
I was quite nervous that first morning, as the only person I knew wasn’t turning up until the Saturday. However, my nerves were completely unwarranted; everyone was extremely friendly (thanks to the aforementioned heart-sticker), and luckily we all had one ginormous thing in common that made it easy to start conversations!
“So, what do you write?” was the #1 conversation opener, for the very first time in my life.
I refined my answer to this over time and eventually settled on: “Think fantasy Downton Abbey.”
(I feel I must make an admission here; I’ve never actually watched Downton Abbey, but it’s a comparison that multiple reviewers have used and it’s a more comprehensible shorthand than “Er…secondary world early twentieth centuryish inspired fantasy-of-manners with fae and romance?”. Hopefully, when I do get around to watching it, I won’t discover that I’ve been merrily giving everyone an entirely false idea of what to expect!)
Onto the workshops!
There aren’t a lot of local professional development opportunities for genre writers in New Zealand. I’d heard through the grapevine that RWNZ conferences offer fantastic craft workshops that would be of benefit to any writer, not only those writing pure romance.
Well, I’m here to tell you that the grapevine was absolutely right.
Over the three days, I made fifty pages of notes. FIFTY. Beginnings, tension, characterisation through narration, and conflict were just some of the topics covered. I think I’ll write up a few of the sessions that particularly resonated with me in separate blog posts, but needless to say that by the end of the weekend, my brain was stuffed full of information and ideas.
Let no one tell you that writing romance is easy. These guys take their craft seriously. The whole conference was infused with a determination to learn, share ideas, and ultimately bring readers joy. But more than that, everyone there practically glowed with the love of writing. The enthusiasm was infectious and left me buzzing with renewed motivation to finish my work in progress.
Plus, as it turns out, romance authors and editors have great senses of humour.
If every duke featured in a regency romance actually existed, they’d outnumber the sheep in New Zealand*” —May Chen, Avon editor.
*Current NZ sheep numbers = 27.3 million, which by my calculation means every New Zealander gets ~5.6 dukes of their very own!
Definitely planning to attend next year.