It was a lovely convention — nowhere near as big as RT in the USA — more like 200 avid romance readers and a large group of romance authors flying in from all corners of Australia, and a few from other countries.
There were three keynote speakers, Courtney Milan and Kristen Callihan from the USA and Kylie Scott, from Queensland, who each delivered speeches on their journey to publication, and gave their view on why romance matters. It was interesting, as they each came up with the topic independently, and the three very different speeches had much in common.
First up for me was a "speed dating" session, where ten authors in a room met ten readers — for four minutes each. It was fun, frantic and deafening, and no sooner had the conversation started to get really interesting than it was time for the readers to move on to the next author. Then it was time for me to play time-keeper for another session of speed dating — ten fresh authors and another group of readers. It was fun, trying to keep people up to schedule, using my phone's timer facility, and calling out "Time to move on, ladies!" over the din.
After that we broke for morning tea. Australian conferences are big on feeding people — morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea — and this convention was no exception. Cupcakes and cookies in the morning, rice paper rolls and fruit in the afternoon, plus of course, a variety of teas, coffee or cold water.
I was on two panels. For the first, I moderated a discussion on "Book Boyfriends", asking the four panellists who were the their book boyfriends, what male characters would they choose to be stranded on a desert island with, and what would make them break up with a book boyfriend? One topic we didn't get time to explore was about book boyfriends who'd made it onto the screen. Who, for instance was the best Darcy in the various versions of Pride and Prejudice? (I've shown the main ones here, but there are many more versions -- see this post if you're interested.)
My second panel was as a participant, discussing whether feminism conflicted with romance. We agreed emphatically that there's no conflict. We all write about strong women. Steampunk/fantasy author Erica Hayes, who also writes as Viola Carr summed it up well: "We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe it. We know women should be equal. Romance is read, written and published by women. It’s a simple idea – that people respect each other as humans. Society doesn’t act like that, but we write it. It’s aspirational." (quoted in Renée Dahlia's blog)
One panel I wasn't able to get to was "Dukes Need Not Apply" — about non-traditional historicals. There's a report on the discussion here:
I like this quote from Courtney Milan, replying to a question from the floor: “I’ve never read an historical novel, because I don’t care for the damsel in distress trope. How do you get beyond real history and create strong women?”
Courtney Milan responded – “History has lied to you.” We aren’t damsels in distress. We’ve always been strong. We just get erased from history told by men. Our stories exist, you just have to hunt for them." (quoted in Renée Dahlia's blog.)
The full program is here, if you're curious. It was enlightening, inspiring and a lot of fun, and for me, the convention was topped off when my books won a number of awards at the awards night, and I was awarded "Favourite Australian Romance Author." Thank you to all the volunteer members who worked so hard to put this excellent convention together, and who donate their time, energy and skills to make ARRA the organization it is.
So, over to you readers now: What ARRC panels would you have liked to attend? What's your view on feminism and romance? Do you have any "book boyfriends?" Do you like dukes or "ordinary Joes"? And which is your favorite version of Darcy?