Monday, July 04, 2016

Are you an RNA Conference Virgin?

I  still remember how it felt to head for my very first conference back in 2000. I was so nervous. But I soon got settled and this year I’m back for my 12th or 13th – how did that happen?

In 2002, I helped introduce some ‘newbies’ (aka Conference Virgins) to the Conference experience and then for the next 2 years I ran the first timers’ welcome scheme and newsletter – something that’s now an established part of the conference. So when I was asked to write a post for the RNA blog about the things a first-timer should pack, I just had to go back over my past newsletters to collect up my list. 

So here is the Virgin’s/First Timer's Packing List.   Hope it helps!

  • Clothes you can  live in for a day of  workshops/sitting on chairs/taking notes/taking part/drinking tea or coffee/eating lunch/talking/meeting people.  Be comfortable  - dress code is pretty casual.

  • Layers – this is England - you never know what the temperature will be. In Sheffield we baked in the heat  - other days - well, see below!

  • Rain protection – umbrella/ jacket to run from accommodation to workshops etc

  • Shoes you can walk in from bedroom to workshop to coffee to workshop to lunch to queue for lunch in to workshops to tea to your room . . .

  • Glitz  for the celebration dinner – this is the time to wear shoes to flaunt  and have photographed for the blog . Some people dress up to the nines, other just  up to five – use it as an excuse to glam up if you want.

  • Notebook File Pens – you may be provided with some of these  – but it’s amazing how many people forget that they will need to take notes  etc The goody bag usually has paper in it but if you have a preference for a particular sort of notebook or a pen  bring one.

  • A bag to carry them around in and collect up handouts from workshops  papers will slip and slide in your hands. Straps long enough to go over your shoulder help – specially when trying to drink tea/coffee/eat bacon rolls etc. There is always a goody bag given by RNA - but you want to make sure you have something suitable for all the stuff you need to tote around.

  • It can be useful to have a small fold-up/cotton bag (or that 'goody bag' )  to go inside your other bag to carry the books you inevitably buy from the bookshop

  • Don’t bring book(s) to read – your goody bag will provide some and there is always the bookshop

  • Small bottle of water to carry round  - specially in workshops etc if it gets warm and have water  in your  room to avoid hangover  see below!

  • Cash for  books, drinks, extras

  • Tissues

  • Alarm clock or one on  your phone  - you don’t want to miss anything. Use your phone to plan your day as well. 

  • Paracetamol  for ‘overload’ headache

  • And/or   hangover cure – water/paracetamol/milk thistle. Every year the bar staff are warned the Romantic Novelists can shift a little wine. Every year they don’t quite believe it – until they have to send for fresh supplies!

  • Ear plugs if noise bothers you – it’s a place you’re not used to and people do gather and chat in the kitchens etc.

  • Toiletries shampoo etc

  • Hairdryer if needed

  • Minimum makeup stuff – do you really think you’ll have time for a full glam up for the evening?

  • Pyjamas or similar for wandering from room to kitchen/staying and chatting in kitchen

  • List of books you want to get hold of/authors you hope to meet
  • Laptop/ipad/blackberry/whatever if you really can’t live without email

  • A pack of disposable plastic tumblers are a good idea – wine drinking back in the digs can be difficult with no glasses....  (Thanks to Anna Louise Lucia – one of the original ‘virgins’  who reminded me about this one!)

  • Anna also says:” I bring a note of my workshop choices, so I don’t have to double check.”

  • And  you might want to bring extra tea bags  specially if there's one brand you love - or you go for green/white/fruit teas.

Other points you might want to consider:

Pace yourself 
The RNA is quite a small conference, particularly when compared to America’s RWA – but it doesn’t always seem that way when it’s your first time and you don’t know many people. You don’t have to do everything and even if you attended all the workshops you wanted you probably won't take everything in if you're rushing frantically from A to Z. One of the important benefits of a conference is meeting and talking with fellow writers - people who actually get what this is all about.  Balance this with the workshop benefits and take time out when you need it. It's so easy to get swept away in the hype, the networking, the fun but taking a moment to regroup your thoughts/grab a water/caffeine boost can set you up for the rest of the conference. If you give yourself some "break" time, it'll stop you feeling overwhelmed and give you a chance to absorb what you've heard.

Meeting authors and others
Remember that published writers are only human - this means that they  will  usually be easily approachable and happy to talk - if you approach them at the right time.  Specially if you want to ask them to sign a book! But published authors can get as overwhelmed as new writers. When an author is talking with an agent/senior editor - any editor is not the best time to approach. But if they are looking a bit lonely or in a queue for lunch  that's a good time to stop and say Hi.

This is the case with people giving talks or workshops - if you have questions that there wasn't time for in the talk most people will be happy to answer - but make sure that they're not on their way to another talk/a meeting/ coffee with someone/a meal. You can always come back later.

Smile and say hello to people.  Introduce yourself. You never know who you might end up standing/sitting next to

Above everything else, have fun  and enjoy yourself.  If you have a problem  or feel lost – ask. There will always be someone who’ll know the answer or if they don’t they can find someone who will help.

See you there

PS I'm  giving a talk on Emotion on Sunday afternoon if you're there for the whole conference and not leaving at lunch time.

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