The Romance Writers of Australia conference has been and gone, but memories remain. PHS Editor, Kali Anthony gives us a wrap of the main themes and an inside report of all the fun!
The Romance Writers of Australia conference is over for another year. This August it was held in the beautiful harbour-side city of Sydney, though I didn't get outside the hotel to take much advantage. There was too much going on inside!
Whilst there was the usual fun and frivolity which happens when you get together with a bunch of writerly peeps who usually only chat on social media, this year took on a serious bent.
Kate Cuthbert, managing editor of Escape Publishing, gave the opening keynote address on Consenting Adults, looking at the effect of the #metoo movement on romance writing.
She said romance exists in the margins of the literary world, but is a vibrant, thriving community which harnesses hope. The kernel of motivation in every story is the subversive belief that women's lives can be better.
Kate asked the question, "What does romance look like in 2018?" She said it tells stories of women who win and emerge triumphant, but that we need to recognise its toxic underpinnings. We are conditioned to respond to coercion by not being able to respond to our desires.
Kate said there was no shame in the books we wrote before we knew better. It's a privilege to write for women, but also an obligation. We should encourage sex positivity, particularly active and informed consent, recognising a heroine's bodily autonomy. The heroine should engage only in safe sex, and heroes should deliver it without being asked.
She was concerned that the romance genre has entered into an era of hyper-masculinity, where the word "edgy" is code for a type of hyper-masculine toxicity. Whilst there is room for every kind of hero, she exhorted writers to craft a hero who meets his full potential. Don't normalise coercion and disrespect. The heroine can want to be wanted. She can want to be pursued. But she cannot be prey.
Kate ended by saying she hoped we all understood the power in our hands, and that it was the ultimate power to build better lives for our heroines.
As I said before, it wasn't all seriousness. The chandelier-ed halls of the Sofitel Wentworth were a perfect foil for the cocktail party theme of, Tiaras and Tuxedos. Hence the change in profile pic—I'll never pass up a chance to frock up and wear a tiara!
The costumes this year were outstanding as always! There was a Mad Hatter and a few Queen of Hearts. Tiaras glittered all over the room and the winners of the evening were the Zombie Brides. Trying to chat to them with their creepy contacts was a real challenge, but they were sensational! The Conference Awards Dinner and Escape after-party is always a highlight. It's wonderful to celebrate the achievements of fellow writers and authors, with the hope that one day it might be you standing up
You'll see a few faces you know in the photographs: Maisey Yates, Jackie Ashenden, Amy Andrews, Clare Connelly, Rachel Bailey, and Michelle Douglas, amongst others. As ever, the established authors exhibited their usual generosity with the "newbies", giving craft advice and providing encouragement. It never ceases to amaze me how genuinely kind most people are. Maisey and Jackie gave a fabulous presentation on the use of tension to keep readers hooked, and Kelly Hunter talked about crafting compelling characters.
On the final day we had a panel presentation from RWAus legends, Valerie Parv, Melanie Milburne, Kaz Delaney and Alison Stuart, who provided their insights and life lessons. Things such as, "Never, ever compare yourself to others" and, "Fear of the blank screen never goes away, so don't expect it to. Write in spite of it," from Valerie Parv or, "This is a profession, not a hobby, so be professional," from Melanie Milburne.
The final keynote speech was by Kathryn Fox about her writing journey and what she learned along the way. She said your characters need to transform into who they are meant to be. Giving up on them is not an option, and happy endings have to be earned. She said it was vital to stay true to yourself and the core of your story. As for your writing career, it was important to aim high but to set realistic goals so you don't self-sabotage. Only worry about what you can control.
As a writer, you need to keep re-inventing yourself, so if opportunities come your way, take them. However, it's important to remember to not take rejection personally. In the end Kathryn summed up by saying that in a reactionary world, we need stories more than ever.
As usual, the end of conference leaves me feeling a bit flat. Friendships revert to online chats with the hope of all seeing each other in twelve months, but the motivation remains long after the bags are unpacked and the tiara is put away for another day.
Kali Anthony is an aspiring writer and editor for The Pink Heart Society. Follow Kali on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Did you go to RWAus? Have any stories to tell? Tell us here or on social media using the hashtag #conferencewrap. We'd love to hear from you!