Thursday evening, and time for the RITA® awards ceremony. This is the glitzy highlight of the RWA conference. Everywhere I looked, there were writers, publishers, editors, and agents, all done up in their finery. My first stop was at Harlequin’s Toast – a drinks reception before the main event. Harlequin Mills & Boon were well represented – here I am with some of the gang!
From top: me with Bryony Green and Jo Grant from Harlequin Mills & Boon. Bottom: Me with Jo Grant; me with Karen Kincy (my roommate)
We had VIP tickets (they really go all out to make you feel special) and were seated near the front. The ceremony was slick and professional, and the winner announcements were punctuated by videos from members highlighting how important RWA was to them, and how members help each other through difficult times. Karen and I had a great time just simply being there.
The lifetime achievement award went to Suzanne Brockmann, and she made a wonderful, impassioned speech about pushing the boundaries in romantic fiction. She herself was responsible for many groundbreaking moments, though met with resistance along the way. “How are readers ever going to expand their world view if they don’t get to meet characters like my adorable gay sheriff?” she said to her then editor. Love is love is love is love! was her conclusion. Powerful stuff.
Finally, it was time for the award for Best Historical Romance (short). Just beforehand, my heart suddenly began to race, as for the first time I contemplated the possibility of actually winning. They had advised us to prepare a speech regardless, but with seven finalists in my category, I honestly hadn’t anticipated it.
The winner was announced by Kelly Bowen, my buddy from the day before (she won the category last year, and won the Best Historical Romance (long) this year). It seemed to take ages to read out all the finalists, and then when Waltzing was announced as the winner, I was genuinely stunned!
Eventually I got it together enough to stand up, grab my notes and reading glasses, and head for the stage. Bryony Green from Harlequin came with me, as the editor of the winning book also gets and award. My own editor, the wonderful Julia Williams, wasn’t able to be there, so Bryony went on stage in her place.
I got through my speech ok, then Kelly gave me the award. It’s really heavy! I can’t quite express the sense of numb delight and incredulity that threatened to overcome me. I mean, a RITA! Seriously!
Here’s the link to the announcement and my speech:
Afterwards, there was a sense of unreality as I accepted congratulations from dozens of people, all the while with a stupid grin on my face! Both Kelly and Kait Nolan won their categories too, which was lovely.
Me with Kait Nolan
And then, heartstoppingly, Tessa Dare (yes, the Tessa Dare) came up to me to congratulate me and ask for a selfie! Seriously!
I was chatting afterwards to Jess Russell, who was also a RITA finalist this year, and she was wearing the most amazing dress. It included the covers of every one of the RITA finalists!
The afterparty was fab – those romance writers certainly enjoy the dancing and the craic!
I chatted with some wonderful librarians, and danced away with a bunch of women I’d never met before. It was fab! Oh, and yes, by this time I’d changed into flat sandals.
Here’s Farrah Rochon’s clip of some of the dancing. Yup, that’s me!
This whole, marvellous experience wasn’t over yet. The next day I had meetings with agents (yes, I know, most writers have agents. I don’t – yet! But I will), then all the Harlequin Historical authors, plus some of the lovely Harlequin team, got together for lunch.
Top row: Bronwyn Scott, Julia Justiss, Flo Nicholl, Christine Merrill, Sheila Hodgson,
Middle row: all of us together
Bottom row: Bryony Green, Liz Tyner, me, Vic Briton, Blythe Gifford
The partying wasn’t over yet. Friday night was the time for the (apparently famous) Harlequin party. Even more exciting, the Harlequin RITA winners & finalists, and authors celebrating a landmark book, were invited to a VIP reception beforehand. This was such fun! Fabulous food (risotto to die for!), free makeup artists and hairdressers, and the chance to mingle with Harlequin’s top executives!
Then it was time to party! Harlequin thoughtfully provided soft blue socks to dance in, and you can see lots of partygoers wearing them. The dancefloor filled as soon as the music began, and didn’t empty all night. I likened it to an Irish wedding in that sense – and also the feeling that you could dance with anyone, whether you’d spoken to them before or not. My particular dancing buddies included Abby Green, Katherine Garbera, Stacy Boyd, Kimberley Troutte, Scarlet Wilson, and Joss Wood.
I tried to video us all joining in with the chorus of ‘Living on a Prayer’ but facebook has muted half of it for copyright reasons. Skip forward to the last 20 seconds to hear us singing!
What a night! What a week! And what an experience! It was a-ma-zing! I will never forget it.
To other writers – if you ever get the chance to go to this conference, do it! Such a warm, welcoming community of (mostly) women. Although the RITA experience will probably never happen again, still the conference itself is worth it. Next year it’s in New York, in the last week in August. I’ll be there, dancing shoes at the ready!