kate It was only a couple of weeks ago that many Americans and Canadians (and a few from further afield) were attending and reporting from the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando, Florida. However, there is another RWA out there, or down under, to be more precise. The Romance Writers of Australia just wrapped up their national conference early this week. Our much-missed former AAR-er Kate Cuthbert attended the conference and she’s visiting today to blog about it. Without further ado, here’s Kate!

This past weekend I attended the 19th Annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in beautiful Coogee Beach, just south of Sydney. Though the conference actually started on Wednesday, it was Friday night when most delegates descended on the hotel, just in time for the first ever booksigning event, coordinated by the Australian Romance Readers Association – I know the RWA in the States has a huge literary signing, but Australia has never had anything like it. It was believed there wasn’t the interest and no real way to promote it. That changed with the creation of the ARRA, who have taken it on themselves to promote and represent romance and romance readers around Australia. They ran the booksigning event that featured 45 authors and a huge number of delegates who came to see their favourite authors, and get a book signed (or ten….okay that was me. But Nalini Singh was there! I wasn’t missing my chance!)

party The signing was followed by the costume cocktail party. This year’s theme was Fantasy Island, so many took the opportunity to indulge themselves, though a couple dispensed fantasies as well (I’m thinking of a fairy delivering book contracts to all and sundry). I had my camera with me, but didn’t use it at all so these photos are courtesy of blogger Kat Mayo of Bookthingo. Here’s me, looking very pregnant (I went as the Epilogue) along with Kitty, book contract fairy, and Denise Rossetti.

annegracie Anne Gracie won the evening’s best dressed prize for her turn as Barbara Cartland. Other favourites included Marion Lennox (basking in backlist billions), Paula Roe as Darth Vadar (she was a bit short for a storm trooper), Tracey O’Hara’s Egyptian Goddess, and a number of Lara Crofts, including Erica Hayes.

Conference always starts a bit too early on Saturday morning, but the conference committee this year had organised a couple of great innovations that certainly had me dragging my butt out of bed (then again – being heavily pregnant has also cut down on my champagne consumption, so I think I had it easier than most!). These included the introduction of Power Panels – bringing together a number of influential or well-informed people on one panel to discuss a particular topic. On Saturday, it was publishers, agents, and editors from across the board (both publishing house-wise and geographically) to discuss the state of romance. General prognosis: good! – though Australian publishers are still struggling with instructing booksellers on how to sell romance (seriously? How hard can it be? According to our Aussie reps, very – there just isn’t a culture of romance novels, at least in terms of the production and selling) and therefore are more in the market for women’s fiction with strong romantic elements. One thing everyone is interested in, however, is steampunk.

Saturday also always starts with a keynote from the guest author – this year it was Vicki Lewis Thompson who claims to have a very small comfort zone, but clearly takes great delight in throwing herself out of it – there were purple canoes, towing port-a-potties, hiring agents pre-book-ideas, a love of beta heroes, and cocker spaniel references, and it was all warm and very funny. (kinda what you’d expect from the author of the Nerd series)

Just to brag for a second, Anne Gracie gave me an ARC of her upcoming The Accidental Wedding, so I stole a few moments to delve into that whenever I could. Here are some sneak previews: a noble hero who is looking for a ‘suitable’ wife, amnesia (for a little while), and a thing that goes bump in the night. Squee! I’m actually having a hard time writing this now and not pushing it aside to go read some more.

Sitting and reading is the best way to meet people – while I was on the couch in the lobby, I chatted with RWAus president Amy Andrews who has some exciting, if not yet released news about projects other than her award-winning medicals, RITA-finalist Bronwyn Parry, medical author Fiona McArthur (who very graciously loaned me an ARC of her non-romance-related book The Don’t Panic Guide to Birth), and the always lovely Anna Campbell and Christine Wells who both have new novels out (and both are wonderful!). Anna and Christine had just returned from overseas – Anna attended RomCon and the RWA, and Christine took her kids (and her husband!) to Orlando as well.

I presented a workshop on Saturday afternoon on using Web 2 and social networking for authors – how to get the most out of Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and the informal interactions with readers.

Another great idea the committee came up with this year was holding the AGM on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday – much more likely to have good attendance! Not me, though. I was having a nap in anticipation of the Awards Dinner.

The Annual Awards Dinner is where the R*BY (equivalent to the RITA) and the Emerald (equivalent to the Golden Heart), among other awards, are presented, and it’s always an amazing night. The R*BY is actually voted on by members external to the RWA – so readers, booksellers, publishers, and other interested parties. This year I shared a table with some up-and-comers, the very dry, witty Keri Arthur, and new-author-to-watch MJ Scott who was celebrating her first sale – Shadow Kin is out in June 2011. I also managed to catch up with Nalini Singh, who told me that she was looking forward to being at home and delving headfirst into the 400 pages of Hawke’s story she has sitting there. I did try, but that was all I could get out of her about it. Short of force-feeding her champagne and demanding details, which might have been frowned on, I’d run out of sneaky ways to get her to drop hints!

Blah blah – you just want the good stuff right? Well here it is: the R*BY winners for 2010 are as follows:

Short Sweet: Sharon Archer- Marriage Reunited: Baby On The Way
Short Sexy: Amy Andrews- A Doctor, A Nurse: A Christmas Baby
Long Romance: Sophia James – Mistletoe Magic
Romantic Elements: Tracey O’Hara – Night’s Cold Kiss

Tracey’s book is the first paranormal to win a R*BY in Australia – premonition of things to come? Here she is with her R*BY. tracyohara

From what I understand (pregnant and not drinking, remember?) the party at the bar was quite something – it might also explain the empty seats around the tables the next morning. Those of us who got there were treated to Nalini telling us about her journey as an author – she started in Silhouette, though most people are of course familiar with the Psy-Changeling story. That series? Has its origins in rural Japan, where Nalini was working as a teacher at the time. Power Panel #2 was held Sunday morning and featured authors who had sold to New York (in Australia, there are other markets, especially for those interested in writing categories: UK, Toronto, Australia/NZ, and, of course, New York). The panel featured Anne Gracie, Anna Campbell, Bronwyn Jamieson, Keri Arthur, Valerie Parv, Kandy Shepherd, and Nalini speaking about their experiences selling to New York, and also some tips that helped along the way. (Anna Campbell got her big idea in the bath – I imagine there are a lot of very clean wannabe-writers out there at the moment!)

Sunday is always a bit lazy, as people relax and start to wind-down from their conference experience. Writers also start to fly off from about noon, so it becomes a bit more intimate. The fundraiser this year was for Ovarian Cancer, and a silent auction and raffle gave away some awesome prizes. I ducked away for some more Anne Gracie reading before being pulled away to the bar to have a beer (okay, a gingerale) with the lady herself, as well as Annie West, Melanie Milburne, and Amy Andrews before making my own way home.

All in all, it was a fantastic conference, at a beautiful location, and my congratulations to the Committee who did such an upstanding job!

Looking forward to Melbourne next year, where we welcome Susan Wiggs and Bob Mayer!

– Kate Cuthbert

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.