RNA Conference: Canals and Costumes

Francesca and Elaine have a look at two aspects of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s recent conference that sparked their imaginations.

View from Queen Mary's

View from Queen Mary’s

Francesca: I know many of the RNA conference attendees will be writing about the occasion (brilliant as always), so I thought I’d cover something related but a little different, namely our location. Location, or setting, is, of course, very important to writers. The conference this year was held at the Queen Mary campus of the University of London in Mile End. Unlike some of the other locations for the conference, this is smack bang in the middle of a busy and built up area. However, running alongside it is the picturesque Regent’s Canal.

Ain't Miss Behavin'! Karen Aldous and Wendy Clarke

Ain’t Miss Behavin’! Karen Aldous and Wendy Clarke

On the second evening I took a walk along the canal with writers Karen Aldous and Wendy Clarke. Gone was the noise of the surrounding streets, evident even from our bedrooms, to be replaced by the tranquil sound of lapping water.



A little further along we had a surprise, as the barges came to life and revealed what amounted to a village strung along the water’s edge. Many of the owners were sitting on their crafts, enjoying the evening, watching the world go by, eating, drinking, and in one case, strumming a guitar. In the centre of this was a barge set up as a mini pub, with its punters sitting on the grassed area next to the path, enjoying a glass of something. I guess this was the equivalent of a village pub. Several of the residents wished us, ‘Good evening,’ as we sauntered past (and it had been such a warm, busy day we were definitely reduced to sauntering!).

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Old and new: Canary Wharf in the background

It isn’t surprising that we found it an inspiring setting. Many books have included barges or houseboats: Elizabeth Goudge’s The Herb of Grace and Elizabeth Haynes’s Revenge of the Tide are two that come immediately to mind. It will be interesting to see if this setting ever makes it into one of our novels. 

Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.


Francesca’s biography on The Write Place



The Boned Corset Completed the Underwear

Elaine: Writers set the stage, time period, season and setting with clothing and accessories. As many of you know, my current work in progress is a Victorian saga. I’m sure you can imagine my delight when the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) Conference paperwork came through and Mireille Weller was holding a workshop on how to dress a Victorian woman. It was at 3:15pm on Sunday, when most of the delegates were travelling home. There were less than a dozen of us watching Mireille layer herself in clothing.


The First of Three Petticoats

She started with her under garments and small ankle boots, because the boned corset wouldn’t have allowed her to reach her feet. The corset had taken an impressive inch and a half off her waist before she added three petticoats, one with wired hoops and bustle, with layers of frills to give it bounce. Then the overskirt was added, followed by a decorative apron that sat over it to give more decoration. There was a jacket for daywear and if the lady of the house intended going out in the evening, only the top would be changed to make it look more formal.

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The Hairpiece Added The Curls

Mireille explained that the gentleman had to hold the back of the chair while the lady lowered herself down onto it, otherwise she couldn’t sit.

Ladies also had to lift their skirts and shuffle over the toilet to go, so in modern terms they would be facing the cistern.


The Fan Completed The Look

It was a wonderful way to spend an hour and I haven’t touched on how the poor sold their hair for money and the rich wore it as hairpieces. The whole thing was fascinating and not only gave a real insight into how the Victorians dressed, but also how they lived.

I would like to thank Mireille for allowing us to take photographs while giving us an informative and enjoyable time.


Elaine’s biography on The Write Place



Preparation for Information and Inspiration

Francesca considers the preparation needed to get the best out of writing events.

PaperworkJuly is fast approaching, a time for me that is busy with writing related trips away. Both the big ones in my writing year happen in July. I wish they were a bit more spread out, but there it is.

The two events – the Romantic Novelists Association weekend conference and the Fishguard (formerly Caerleon) Writers’ Holiday, are quite different, but I prepare for both in order to get the maximum out of them.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

The RNA conference, only two weeks away now (where has the year gone?), is very valuable in that it provides industry one-to-ones with publishers, agents and independent editors. When the conference pack hits the mat in May I quickly email over the appointments I’d like before they’re snapped up. But before I do that, I find out which publishers/agents would be best for my book so do a little research. There’s no point in sticking a pin in and hoping I get lucky.

Having sent off the required synopses and first chapters to the organiser to be passed on, I then need to prepare any questions I’d like to ask, or think of answers to questions I might be asked, and write them down. I will not remember them at the best of times, let alone under stress.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

The RNA Conference offers many brilliant talks; often there are three going on at the same time. I plough through the programme and subject matter, often looking up the people speaking so that I can pick talks that are going to enhance my writing knowledge.

With the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday it’s a lot simpler, with two courses to pick from around eight (though it’s still hard to choose!). I’m a little more relaxed with the ‘after tea’ sessions and often don’t pick which one to attend until the day. There’s only one evening talk so I don’t have to think about that at all.

But what to pack? On the computer I keep a list of items necessary for these occasions so that every year I don’t have to make them up from scratch again.

Notebooks Caerleon RNANumber one item, of course, is the notebook. Like many writers I know, I do love a beautiful cover. What’s more important is that it’s dedicated to that particular course or conference. Afterwards it gets labelled with the event and year before it’s put on my shelf. I learnt the hard way how difficult it is to find the useful info you learnt or the ideas/inspiration you had when you use the same notebook for lots of different things. Some people I know favour using a laptop or net book, which I guess helps to keep the information organised. However, some events dissuade their use because of the noise of the keys.

Though they’re often provided, I always take several folders to put the handouts in. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a scramble of notes and having to spend ages sorting through them. Paperclips are also useful for the same reason. And I wouldn’t go anywhere without my pencil case: different coloured pens can be very handy when taking notes.


Ah yes, there was one more necessity I forgot to mention…

I always take a laptop or net book to Fishguard. Since I’m away the best part of a week, it’s useful for keeping in touch on social media. There’s also time to do writing in the generous lunch and coffee breaks between courses and talks. Last year I was busy finishing off my RNA New Writers’ Scheme entry so it was necessary. I wouldn’t dream of taking my net book to the RNA Conference though – much too hectic!

And I wouldn’t go to either event without my camera. Apart from storing memories, it’s jolly useful for taking photos to fill blog space!

What do you do to prepare for writing events?


See what I’m up to as a ‘reluctant grandmother’ on Nonna Blog


Fishguard Writers’ Holiday (they also do a weekend in February)

Romantic Novelists’ Association conference (non members welcome)

Other writers’ events I’ve heard good things about:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

Arvon courses (run year round)

It’s been quite a voyage

Natalie Kleinman talks about her journey to publication and her aims for the future.

It’s hard to define a typical week at the moment, not that I think any week is ‘typical’. With the recent e-publication of my first book, Voyage of Desire (Safkhet Publishing), and the circus that went with it, hectic but nice, plus the publication on 17th July of People’s Friend Pocket Novel, Secret Love, (DC Thomson), normal is a forgotten concept. VoD CoverHowever, backtracking to the beginning of the year – nearly six months already! – my aim was to see the launch of the first and the completion of the second. My output of short stories has been reduced but I’m happy to say I have still sold a few this year. Writing short stories has always been a pleasurable chore, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron. It’s a completely different application from novel writing and I am one of those lucky people who can jump to one if the other is holding me up. It happens! My third book, Heaven on Earth is at present a work in progress. While Twitter is not my favourite medium, I spend a considerable amount of time on Facebook – guilty as charged. Aside from being a means of promoting myself and my books I have made many friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in real life at various events. I am writing this piece before the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference weekend early in July but if last year is anything to go by I will renew friendships and make new ones. It’s a great opportunity for networking as well as a huge pleasure. A week later I’ll be off Fishguard for the annual Writers’ Holiday, holiday being a misnomer if ever I heard one. My previous experiences at the Caerleon campus have prompted me to go the extra mile(s) to participate again. My first year there involved a steep learning curve together with the confirmation that writers are a lovely and generous group of people. The curve continues, though less steeply I hope. As well as being a contributor to this blog, I have, since January, co-produced the twice weekly RNA blog in conjunction with Elaine Everest. While the job of sourcing the ‘guests’ and material falls to Elaine, the editing is a shared load and a lovely way of following other writers’ experiences.

I’ve left the worst almost till last. Administration is anathema to me and though common sense tells me it would be easier to do it as I go along I can’t actually bring myself to do so. That said, I am meticulous about keeping spreadsheets of my submissions, my successes and indeed my failures. I have no set plan for dividing my time. I spend most of every day sitting at my laptop but the tasks seem to present themselves in their own order. I’ve had an amazing five months so far this year and I look to the next with the determination to continue to apply myself. You only get out what you put in!

Link to my book: Voyage of Desire