I made it to Watford at the same time as josephine_myles and then discovered that charliecochrane was already there. Once again reporting on the stuff I actually went to, although once again there were other things I'm sorry to have missed:
Novel Openings: How books start. Authors read 150 word openings from their novels. MC: Charlie Cochrane.
Novel openings are all about classic lines to draw people in, and engage them to read more. I bought two books on the strength of the readings and suspect I'll be picking up a couple of the others in the near future. All the authors were very well behaved about sticking to the word count, and often left us dying to know what the next sentence might be. Highlights for me were:
Katie Stevens' Candles on the Sand. Chocolate cake before wedding dress fitting. I bought that one.
Sue Moorecroft's Love and Freedom. Sunburn and American in UK. I suspect I'll be getting hold of that one at some point.
Jan Jones' Stage by Stage. Starting in the middle of a row: not running to usual pattern. I absolutely had to buy that one.
Obviously Charlie's excerpt was also splendid, but I already have that book.
The Big Debate: Men and Romantic Fiction. Why is romantic fiction almost exclusively read and written by women? Do men read and write it in secret? Is the literary world snobby about romance because it's read and written by women? With Roger aka Gill Sanderson, Nell Dixon, Caroline Bell Foster and Nicola May. Chair: Louise Graham.
From my notes:
Roger Sanderson: wrote 30 war stories. Had fifth romance accepted by M&B and wrote 44 more.
Nell Dixon: men prefer the romantic suspense stories
Caroline Bell Foster: imagining why men read romance. Want androgynous book cover and author name.
Nicola May: men blinkered, but will read if sold to them as something other than chicklit. Like idea of romantic comedy.
Louise Graham: marketing problem with selling romantic fiction to men.
Titles dependent on who publishers think they're marketing to. If written by man will get more masculine marketing.
Lots of excellent comments came from the floor as well, but I'm not sure we came up with a definite solution.
Panel: Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? Join the panel to find out where great romantic stories come from. With authors Charlotte Betts, Juliet Archer, Sophie Angemaring and Jan Jones. Chair: Jan Jones.
From my notes:
Jan Jones: Stage by Stage, clashing worlds. Drives conflict. Chaperone for child actors: invisible to cast. Led to thoughts of what if... and how would it work?
Newmarket for regency romances: easy to spot old buildings. Libraries and prints online. Narrow lanes were still there in 1960s so easy to find photographs. The Rookeries/Dukeries: dozen or so criss-crossing lanes, teeming with life (30 taverns).
Juliet Archer: Darcy and Friends series: Importance of Being Emma and Persuade Me. All best ingredients in Jane Austen's books. Plus visuals from adaptations.
Charlotte Betts: Apothecary's Daughter, sequel coming out next year. Love of research. Children's history books. 1660 street map of London showing extent of Great Fire. Very local to Piatkus offices. Imagining how things had been then: all senses. Visited streets of Delhi, and realised similarities.
Sophie Angemaring: Erotic SF. Worked a lot in all-male teams. Met many charismatic characters. Women have to be very ballsy in that environment: may be unsympathetic when first encountered. Victorian sewers!
Lunch - supported by Total-E-Bound. Another excellent spread, and I got to meet more new-to-me authors. This was followed by the Authors Fashion Show which was a fun idea, but I wasn't sitting in the best place to appreciate the costumes fully.
After lunch we had our panel: Not What Your Mother Might Expect to discuss gay romance. It went pretty well, although I'd have liked more audience participation.
Then I went back to the marquee for the Keynote Interviews
First up was Mills and Boon: Anna Boatman and Megan Haslam from the editorial department at Harlequin Mills and Boon.
From my notes (and I learned a lot in this one!):
Facts: founded 103 years ago. 170 titles/month. Sell 130 million books per year.
* Medical Romance
* Historical Romance
* Historical Undone (ebook only, sexy short stories)
* Modern Romance (alpha heroes, lots of drama)
* RIVA (contemporary. Younger characters)
* Cherish (softer, gentle, rom-com-ish)
New Voices (competition)
One chapter uploaded and judged (1,000 plus)
21 (20) second chapters judged
Top four picked
Character, conflict, unpredictability
Character: more important than plot. Emotional journey very important. Know characters inside out. Don't have to be perfect, just perfect for each other.
Conflict: barrier between hero and heroine. Emotional, character driven. Internal conflict better for emotional engagement with story. Must be layered and sustainable. How can hero and heroine help each other get over their fears?
Unpredictability: keep readers engaged. Unanticipated, cliché-free and emotionally engaging journey. Stay true to your original voice. Author brand. Look at using an original format.
We don't just buy books, we buy authors! Aiming for two books per year from each author. Download pdf of tips from new voices website.
There was also a handout, which I need to pin on my notice board (I need a new notice board first, of course).
The second Keynote Interview was with Carole Matthews (who I'd already met at lunch), interviewed by Elle Symonds, editor of Trashionista.
From my notes:
Her first book was Let's Meet on Platform Eight
About to start a blog.
19th book coming out soon (first for Little Brown). Set partly in Africa. Hairdresser from Buckinghamshire falls in love with tour guide. Wrapped up in You.
Tends to write about Milton Keynes a lot. Worth visiting places when writing about them.
Two books per year.
Really exciting time in publishing. Harder to get mainstream deal than it was. Never been easier to self-publish, etc. Rise of eBooks wasn't anticipated. Smaller independent presses getting more clout. Book bloggers doing great things.
Value of TV Book Clubs!
Book titles usually decided by sales team (via Tesco!).
Another author I need to investigate further!
Finally, it was time for the Mills and Boon editors one to ones. Mine was with Anna Boatman, and...
She didn't entirely hate my first chapter. She complimented me on my voice, and liked that the story starts in the heroes POV. He needs to be stronger, though, although I can already see ways to fix the wimpier parts of the first chapter. Talking to her, I agreed that I need to put more of the focus on the emotional conflicts, and to develop them better. I also need to give more thought to the characters' back stories and motivations.
I came out of the discussion (and I'm sure we had longer than 10 minutes) feeling generally positive about my story, and I'd like to have something much more polished in time for next year's event. The session has also given me the confidence to come up with more possible scenarios for other category romances, including one about a female motor sport engineer.
After that I ran around saying goodbye to people and then headed home to find food and get some sleep.
I'll definitely be there again next year.