A Most Important Lesson (Memories of the RNA Conference 2015)

As I write this I find it hard to believe that a whole week has gone by since I attended the annual Romantic Novelists' Association Conference, held this year at St. Mary's University in London.

Those of you who know me will know that I work in a school, and as this week has seen the end of term it's also one of the busiest weeks in the year. For this reason it has been almost impossible to put pen to paper, but I was also very aware that I wanted my experiences to sit with me a while before I shared my thoughts - to give them a little room to breathe and the chance to mature.

I sat on the train on the way home giving myself a little pat on the back. It was my first conference and I almost didn't book to go, leaving it until the last minute. I'm not a naturally gregarious person and I don't enjoy travelling, but what spurred me on was the chance to meet some of the wonderfully friendly and supportive people with whom I've been chatting on social media over the last few months. To cut a long stort short we did meet up, and I'm not going to name names (you know who you are!) but these lovely people helped to make the weekend so memorable, and is one of the nicest things I've gained from the weekend.

In short the weekend was a whirl of nerves, excitement, fun, laughter, learning, and utter exhiliaration, and after being cloistered away from the outside world for nearly three days, I emerged blinking into the sunlight back in the real world, tired, enthused and very happy, and although I didn't recognise it at the time, something of huge importance had happened to me over the course of that weekend.

The feeling crept up on me little by little during the week, gathering momentum, and now as I sit reflecting on the events of a week ago I realise that this feeling has solidified into a single cohesive thought. I realised that the greatest lesson I learned that weekend was to take myself seriously as a writer, and I gave myself permission to be one.

Three important things have cemented these thoughts. The first is that despite having had the date for the Simon and Schuster One Day submissions circled in red in my diary since the day it was announced, I took a conscious decison not to enter, and I rather surprised myself in doing this. I realised that entering was taking me in a direction that I didn't want to go, and that actually were the remotest merest hint of anything to come of it, it wouldn't be the right thing for me just now, but not only that it would delay and change entirely the plans I have laid out. Viewed like that, the answer to my 'why am I entering?' question was obvious, and the only conclusion there could be was not to enter.

Secondly, although Letting In Light was doing very well before the conference, this week it has notched up yet another gear. It reached number 254 in kindle store this week and on two days, broke successive daily sales records. I've been jumping up and down with excitement over this before, but this week its really sunk in what this really means to me as a writer, particularly as one who is self published.

Finally, once I'd realised that I had to start taking myself seriously I began to think properly about what I need to write. As of today I am the proud owner of a dedicted writing space, just for me. It's somewhere I can leave my stuff out and not have to keep tidying it away. It means I'm not perched at the kitchen table or on the sofa trying to ignore the TV. I'm under the stairs which is a bit Potteresque, but at last I have my own space.

Since before Christmas I have also been talking to my employer about the possibility of reducing my working hours, and although this had largely been agreed, somehow the months had continued to slip by without any decison being taken. So this week I wrote a formal letter requesting a reduction in hours to a four day week. As we have just appointed a new member of staff who will act as my assistant it seemed an opportune moment, and to my delight it was agreed to straight away. From the new term in September I will now have a whole day a week to write, and I can't begin to tell you how excited this makes me feel (VERY!).

I learned many things from my first conference, but for me, on a very personal level this shift in perception has, in many ways, seemed the most important.

Happy writing!

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