This year, for the very first time I joined the Romantic Novelists Association, a splendid and supportive organisation which champions British romance writers.
I have to confess, I’m not really the sort of person who joins ‘clubs’ and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect or how I would fit in. I went to a couple of the London chapter meetings and enjoyed the workshops, booked myself a place at the annual conference in Lancaster and couldn’t resist attending the High Tea organised by the Chelmsford Chapter because- well- I love anything which involves both tea and cake.
The High Tea was held in Colchester, and an ancient city with narrow roads, a confusing one-way system and a shortage of carparks. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have, at best, a lousy sense of direction. By the time I had navigated the Saturday afternoon traffic, located a car park and then used Google maps invaluable talking directions on my iPhone to help me walk to the venue, I was late. Fifteen minutes late to be precise, which meant I was sat at the end of a very long table with the other latecomers, opposite a man.
I say this not because I am afraid of men or that I find it difficult to converse with them, but the sight of a man shocked me. You see, the RNA is mostly an association made up of women. Mostly women read and write romance, so a male member (pun intended) is a rare beast at one of their socials. And I was sharing a two-person cake stand with the only one.
Rather awkwardly, as Brits tend to do, we engaged in polite conversation over our sandwiches and scones. He introduced himself as Liam Livings, told me he wrote witty gay romances and, as I am sure he will not mind me saying, was as camp as Christmas. He wanted the chocolate brownie, something I silently seethed at as I said "go ahead" with my ingrained British manners, and neither of us touched the last of the three mini-cakes placed on our two person stand because neither one of us wanted to look greedy.
The conversation became less awkward and we had a laugh. Liam, it turned out, was an introverted extrovert, just like me. (In case you have no idea what that means, we are outwardly loud and inwardly worry a great deal about what others think about us). It was all very pleasant and we air-kissed goodbye. At the RNA Summer Party a few weeks later we said hello, how are you and barely nothing else and I have to confess I completely forgot all about him.
But it is funny how things turn out. I was dreading the Lancaster Conference, partly because of the whole introverted extrovert thing and largely because I would be stuck, in the middle of nowhere for a whole weekend with the assorted members of the Romantic Novelists Association without a ready means of escape. I needn’t have worried. I had the best time and made some fabulous friends in the process. Jenni Keer, Suzanne Hull, Lara Temple, Clare Marchant, Sophie Hodges, Jenni Fletcher, Lucy Kelly… we drank wine, gossiped, laughed. A lot.
But I digress.
Behind me in the registration queue was Liam and we were billeted in the same flat together. Not only that, but we apparently had exactly the same taste in workshops, as our itineraries were identical. Close confinement has a way of making people bond like nothing else and for the whole weekend we were inseparable. Over coffee (or in our case tea) we both discovered we loved baking, shopping, travelling and cheesy movies with happy endings. And our favourite colour is red! We also have a pithy sense of humour and a tendency to pepper our speech with the odd, well chosen rude word.
Peas in a pod.
We then confessed, rather tentatively in case we sounded arrogant, we wouldn’t mind running workshops ourselves. Liam already worked with some writers’ groups, is a NWS reader and has a master’s degree in creative writing. I am (or was until very recently) a secondary school teacher and teacher-training mentor. Between us we understood the nuts and bolts of writing a good book and had the necessary experience to help people unlock their own potential to write their own.
Over wine, we discussed doing it together and pooling our skills, and by the end of the weekend were completely convinced we should do it. You see, we are both fluent in sarcasm, don’t take ourselves too seriously, and thoroughly enjoy working with and presenting to people (sorry- buts it’s that weird introverted extrovert thing again!).
Even our way of writing complements the other’s. I am a panster by nature, writing by the seat of my pants with no plot aside from two or three hastily scratched bullet points...
and Liam meticulously plots out each book before he puts pen to paper. Both sides of the writing coin, yet we are both successfully published authors who weren’t successful once.
More importantly, we were both passionate about our belief that writing, like baking, DIY and driving, are all practical skills learned best by doing.
Only living a few miles from each other in Essex, after the conference we kept in touch this time. Met for lunches. Drank copious amounts of tea and have finally bitten the bullet. Together we have formed Real People Write Books- a partnership dedicated to sharing our love of writing, helping and motivating others to write their own books. Practical, activity-led, jargon-free writing workshops anyone can afford and attend.
Their first workshop- Write That Book!- gets its inaugural outing on Saturday 21st January 2017 at Victoria Library. It will be the first of many. Without the wonderful RNA, that never would have happened.
For more details about Real People Write Books or if you want to know more about the upcoming workshop check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/realpeoplewritebooks/ or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or peruse the itinerary HERE