For those attending for the first time, whether as aspiring or published novelists, members or non-members (and speakers!) the Conference can be a strange mix of exciting and daunting. This year I'm co-ordinating the First Timers' Network, a simple e-mail loop designed to put first timers in touch with each other, answer questions and generally make it easier for new attendees to get the most out of the Conference.
I remember my first RNA Conference as a blur of impressions. Kind people taking the time to answer my questions about what they wrote, even if I could have found that out by studying the best seller lists... the sheer volume of dinner-time conversation... inspirational speakers... and the sure and certain knowledge I was making lifelong friendships.
I asked a few RNA members what their Top Tips for first time attendees were. Our illustrious President was quick to highlight that potential for making new friends. "Speak to everyone," said Katie Fforde. "Everyone is friendly and everyone is in the same boat. One of the joys of the conference is getting to know friends better and to make new ones. Break out of your posse. If you knew a few people it's easy to just stick with them, but if you can, sit at another table and find a new posse."
Annie Ashurst, RNA Chair, said, "I think I'd advise people not to try and go to everything on the programme, however tempting, or they'll be worn out, brain going into overload etc. Choose your events carefully and remember you'll learn a lot simply through social contact with the rest of us in the bar and at meals."
Julie Cohen, a past first timer of the same vintage as myself, agrees. "Although the workshops are great, don't feel you have to take in absolutely everything. It can be good to take breaks, too, and let what you're learning sink in. And Leave extra room in your suitcase for books."
On the subject of packing, a passion of mine, do take a look at Kate Walker's post on the subject from last year which is full of great advice. Since I'm a graduate of Kate's original group of first timers back in 2002, I asked her again for a Top Tip. "Enjoy yourself!" she said. "Don’t worry about meeting up with all those ‘names’ from the spines of the books you’ve loved – every one of those authors had her time of being unpublished and trying to make it. And every one of them is a human being!"
So there you have it:
· Speak to everyone.
· Make friends.
· Don't try to do everything.
· Leave space for books (good advice for life, I think...).
· And enjoy yourself!
But I think it's Jan Jones, Conference organiser (and all-round saint and superwoman) who sums it up best. "Don't be shy," she says. "And take biscuits."
Anna Louise Lucia has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, but first sat down to write a novel in 2001. She rewrote it in 2002. And 2005. And 2006. In between rewrites, she wrote three other books, but the first one just wouldn’t go away. It was published as Run Among Thorns by Medallion Press in 2008. She loves to write stories where ordinary people do extraordinary things, where they face up to risk, temptation and death. Anna lives in Cumbria with a sympathetic husband and four demanding cats.
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