Last weekend was the inaugural Festival of Romance, at Hunton Park near Watford in the UK (a very posh venue). I attended on the Saturday to see what it was all about, appear on a panel, attend some panels and generally mingle, meet and chat with some like-minded people. I knew other erotica and erotic romance authors were going to be in attendance too, so I wasn’t going to be the lone smutter in the room!
To avoid rambling on forever, I’m going to break the day down into the panels/debates I attended and give my little commentary.
I got there in one piece, in plenty of time, despite my horrendously early start and having to drive through mile upon mile of 50mph restrictions on the M1. Luckily I had my music to keep me awake!
Registration was a whizz, and I quickly bumped into some people I knew and started chatting and checking out the venue. Soon, though, it was time for the first panel… and I was on it!
Panel: For Her Eyes Only
I was a tad nervous as this was the first panel I’d appeared on, but luckily I had Xcite editors Elizabeth Coldwell and Antonia Adams there to be all informative and interesting if I failed. The audience were gentle with me, however, and I had fun answering questions about the difference between erotica and erotic romance, pen names, how writing short stories and longer pieces differs, how I got into erotica, and much more. I emerged from the panel immensely glad I’d taken part, and much more comfortable about doing it again in the future, which is just as well really, as I’m doing one at Erotica in November. Details here.
The Big Debate: Men and Romantic Fiction
I went into this debate with the intention of sitting there quietly, rather than debating, which I managed very successfully. It was a great fun debate about whether men read romantic fiction in secret, whether they’re fans of romantic fiction, whether they should write it, and much more. The fact that there was a guy on the panel made it all the more interesting – Roger Sanderson, who actually writes as Gill Sanderson commented (this isn’t word for word, just my memory and hastily scribbled notes!) that men can write romantic fiction just as well as women, and that he doesn’t care what the press or other people think – he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
There was discussion on labelling, i.e. are the terms “chick lit” and “rom com” what put men off? Some members of the audience said that in some cases, if guys are told what the book is about then they’d be much more likely to read it, than if they were just told it was a romance. Girly pink and flowery covers were a big issue – raising the question about men reading romantic fiction on their eReaders because a) there’s no visible cover and b) nobody knows what they’re reading.
Overall, this was a good fun debate and raised some interesting questions about romantic fiction and the way it’s marketed, as well as the wonder – do men really read it in secret? I’d love to know, please leave me a comment if you have something to say about this!
Panel: From Chick Lit to Hen Lit
This was another good fun panel. It raised some similar questions to the debate about men and romantic fiction, about marketing, covers and more. But, most importantly, it discussed the label “chick lit” itself and how it came about. I don’t remember who said this, but apparently the term was originally “chic lit” but the press twisted into “chick lit” to be derogatory. Many people commented that the press still tend to be very down on the genre (whatever its label!), but the readers don’t care what it’s called – they’re buying and reading it in their droves. It was also commented that the term “chick lit” actually encompasses a huge amount of books. Many people’s conceptions of the genre are that it is light and fluffy reading – but this isn’t always the case. Many books deal with darker and more difficult issues, but are still packaged in those same girly, flowery covers, and they’re still purchased.
A majority of people disagreed with a recently made comment that “chick lit is dead.” People are still buying masses of these types of books, whether they’re dealing with darker themes or not – so the label should be reclaimed and twisted back to a positive slant. Love live chick lit, whatever you want to call it!
Keynote Interview: Mills and Boon
This is down on the programme as an interview, but was actually a presentation from Mills and Boon. It basically had tons of background on the company and the various lines of books it publishes. There were handy hints and tips on how you can get your work noticed and published by Mills and Boon, including a useful handout. It definitely changed my perception of the Mills and Boon brand – they know what works and they’re sticking to it, but they’re modern and constantly evolving. If I ever decide to try my hand at romance without the naughty elements, I certainly wouldn’t say no to them!
Keynote Interview: Carole Matthews
This was an interview, and a very good one at that. The microphone was playing silly buggers, but as I was sat within a couple of feet of Carole and the interviewer, I could still hear everything. The interview covered a lot of ground, from Carole’s personal experiences with writing, research, agents, publishers, titles, cover design and much more. It also touched on more general elements which would be useful to any other, irrespective of genre. Carole regaled us with a couple of very amusing anecdotes and was happy to answer questions and give out advice – even going so far as to say that she’d be around for the rest of the day and evening if anyone wanted to ask her any questions or have any more advice, which spoke volumes about her personality. No wonder she’s such a popular author! I’m amazed I haven’t read any of her stuff before, but I definitely will.
Indulge with Loveswept – cupcakes and gifts served by your favourite Loveswept hero
I’ve skipped meals out of the programme because they’re… well… meals. But this was a snack with a difference. A scantily clad young man had the pleasure of wandering around the room dishing out yummy cupcakes. He got less than half way before his open shirt was removed altogether, much to the appreciation of the women in the room. He was quickly surrounded by women who were just as interested in him as his cupcakes. I, for one, appreciated both. He was no Jared Padalecki or Philip Winchester, but he was offering me cake, so I was nice to him. He also came round and gave out bundles of postcards tied together, which included details for a free romance eBook download, which naturally I took advantage of.
Dotted in between these various events were chances to chat – hurrah! So I had the opportunity to catch up with some people I knew, talk writing, business, books, new projects and much more. Overall I came away from the day with some fab information, cemented relationships, some cool freebies and a few extra pounds (in weight – from the cake 😉 ). If I can get to the festival next year, I’ll definitely go and would recommend anyone else to, too.