Facing a fear – my first talk

Yesterday was another first. I gave a talk at my local library—my first talk as a published author. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the ‘audience’ (it seems a rather grand title for a small event) was the relatively newly-formed creative writing group, and I also knew that my library had informed a couple more local libraries of the talk in case their creative writing groups or book groups might like to come along. I originally intended to publicise the talk on Facebook, through my membership of a couple of local Facebook groups but, in the end, decided against it as it was my first time.

When I first agreed to do the talk I was a touch blasé. It’ll be fine, thought I. It was only the day before that the knot of nerves in my stomach threatened to overwhelm me and, by the time I arrived at the library (on high heels that already pinched as I hobbled up the stairs), I was deeply regretting my initial bravado. I felt unprepared and the old adage ‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ kept buzzing around my head.

As it happened, it was great. It was informal—we all sat around a large table (thank God. Remember those heels!)—and it felt more like a chat than a talk, albeit with me doing most of the chatting. There were 7 people there, including my friend, Morton Gray, who came with me as chief cheerleader. I talked about how I came to be published: from my ambition as an 8 year old to be an author, to the way ‘real life’ gets in the way, to the moment I got ‘The Call’.

I had written a few prompts, mainly to keep my timeline straight (sounds like writing a novel, doesn’t it?). Also, knowing that one of the questions I am asked most frequently is ‘How long does it take you to write a book’ (to which I normally mumble and fudge my way around the answer), I set out to find out how long it does actually take me. Answer? I don’t know. The three books I have completed so far have been started and stopped and interrupted by Nanowrimo (http://nanowrimo.org/ ) and editing demands of the previous books and real life too many times to count. I even created an Excel sheet to try and reach an answer (now that’s a grand way to procrastinate!) but I am still no wiser. As it happens, nobody did ask that question which is just as well.

We had a lovely Q&A session at the end, finding out what everyone was writing and whether publication was the ultimate aim and, afterwards, one of the ladies attending asked me if I would be interested in giving a talk to a local Townswomen’s Guild. Of course, I said ‘yes’, particularly on being told they have a budget for speakers ;-).

Afterwards, I treated Morton to a cappuccino and we reminisced about how far we have come since we first met 3 years ago at our local RNA chapter lunch. The questions asked after my talk were the same questions we were asking back then. Now, we are supplying the answers.

Have you had any experience of speaking in public and do you have any top tips for people, like me, who are just getting started?

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The RNA Conference 2014 and dubious medical practices

This time last week, I was dogging Katie Fforde’s footsteps around a table. We were compiling bundles of bookmarks and postcards for inclusion in the goody bags for the delegates due to arrive at the 2014 Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. The conference was held at Harper Adams University, a former Agricultural College, near Telford in Shropshire. I’m told the smell was all-pervading. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be grateful that I’ve no sense of smell. Having lived for so many years on a farm I would no doubt have felt right at home.

The venue was great; the food superb (the meat, raised on the farm, was mouth-wateringly tender); and the company, as ever, stimulating and joyful. As we are only an hour’s drive from Harper Adams, my friend, Morton Gray, and I planned to arrive early and help with the bags, which is how I came to be following Katie Fforde (president of the RNA, no less) around the table. It’s what is so great about the RNA, everyone pitches in.

Of course, the main reason for attending the conference is the many brilliant sessions on offer. Not the wine, the food, the chat, the laughs, meeting old and new friends. Honest! There were 34 sessions to choose from, usually 3 for every one hour slot. It was so hard to choose which to attend and inevitably there were sessions I regretted missing.

Of all the sessions I went to, the one that really stood out for me was Melanie Hilton and Jan Jones: Into the heart of the past. All about romantic fiction research, it was particularly apt for me. It was fascinating to hear how these authors carry out their research. There were wonderful slides to illustrate the talk, including some of Melanie’s vast collection of original prints. A few original artefacts were passed around the audience, and it was a privilege to handle, amongst other things, a genuine Norwich shawl: to see the size of it (huge, since you ask – full length) and to examine the workmanship up close. I learnt many fascinating facts (all of which I religiously recorded!), including that it was possible to make love in a park drag, which is a gentleman’s sporting vehicle built to look like a stage coach.

We also learned of some of the pitfalls in using language in Regency times. For instance, the word fiancé did not come into use until the 1850s. Before then they used betrothed or affianced wife.  Also, in 1801, the word debutante referred to a female stage actress. It was not used for a girl coming out into society until 1817. That’s definitely one to remember!

A challenge was set for the audience at the start of the talk: to identify the purpose of what looked like a pair of wooden bellows, complete with the usual tapering nozzle and with an additional short tube-shaped inlet at right angles to the nozzle. This instrument raised a laugh at the end of the talk when it was revealed as a Tobacco Smoke Enema Device for Reviving Drowned Persons. Yes, it was inserted into some poor half-drowned soul’s rectum and smoke from a pipe was directed through the inlet and puffed up the victim’s bottom! We didn’t learn if anyone had actually been revived by this method, but it seems somewhat doubtful.

My only quarrel with Melanie and Jan’s session is that it clashed with two other talks I would have loved to attend. C’est la vie.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in London. Special mention here to Jan Jones (organiser extraordinaire), Roger Sanderson and Jenny Barden for making the conference such a success.