March has flown by. I have had some posts in my drafts but I decided to summarise them all into one because life has become busier than I anticipated.
Australian Romance Readers’ Convention 2015
I attended the Australian Romance Readers Convention 2015
this past weekend a fortnight ago (note: I drafted this post immediately after ARRC yet it has been sitting in drafts ever since). It was a mostly enjoyable weekend away. I say mostly because my husband was supposed to come with me but the day before we left he discovered he had scheduled eye surgery 8 months previously and forgotten the date. I ended up leaving a rather ailing hubs at home in the care of our teenage sons and the occasional care package from my mum and sister. As much as I enjoyed ARRC2015, he was in the back of my mind the whole time. He is slowly improving but it will be another month before he is 100% better.
ARRC of years gone by
As I have been to all 4 ARRCs, I found some interesting similarities and differences between this convention and others. There seemed to be more writers than readers at this convention than previously. Though I know that the organisers capped the author registrations, I do believe that many authors registered as readers. Which is OK as they too are readers but it made me wonder as to how accessible this made the event to readers who do not aspire to be writers. The first ARRC has been pivotal to changing my life so far. Prior to ARRC2009 I was quite happy in my workplace as a librarian but several moments during ARRC made me question what I wanted to do when I grew up. Part of that discovery was the academics panel which has not been repeated since the first conference. I would love for ARRC to shift some of their events to focusing on romance reading. Every event was author focused – and I LOVE listening to authors discussing their writing critically and these are authors who for the most part do not get invited to writers festivals so this convention is an absolutely important platform for them to share their work. However, I would like to see alongside author discussions, readers and their journey too, academics and their work in progressing the understanding of romance fiction – not in a self serving way but just with the knowledge that it made such a difference to me that it may just make a difference to someone else too.
Panels and speakers
I attended many panels. I was quite happy to see Kat Mayo moderating the category romance panel. For regular readers here, you will know that I have a deep deep love for category romances and though in the previous years I have enjoyed their panel discussions, Kat Mayo managed to bring a depth of understanding of the category novel with critical commentary and serious questioning of the authors. Previous moderators had been authors themselves, so of course the questioning was going to take a different slant but Kat’s questions varied from feminism, writing and being socially responsible, and of course, sexy times. I also enjoyed the NA panel moderated by the wonderful Adele Walsh. It is impossible to attend all sessions as they are run concurrently but those I did attend were professional and mindful to all the participants and audience members. I also lurked lurked lurked and spent a stupid amount of money at Doreen Watts’s retro romance stand resulting in over 40 books to take home.
Nothing shits me like reader disdain
I thought carefully about whether to acknowledge the post from a few weeks ago but I feel that I need to place some of my own context here (I did consider responding to the blogger but I felt that her blog is her space and she has every right to feeling safe and not attacked or taken to task by too many people over there). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the post I speak of (I don’t want to link to it), an attendee that came to ARRC complained that no-one was friendly to her, that the attendees were fat and old and that ARRC was made up of cliques.
Up until 2009, I had never taken part in any online community, not on blogs, not on forums or listservs beyond necessary workplace groups. The day before ARRC09, I joined Twitter with the thought of live blogging as I knew only one person who was attending. By the end of the convention I had met wonderful welcoming, sharing friendly women who had all known each other for many years (from online and real life spaces). These same women and many more are still in that Australian Romance reading community, are still welcoming to newcomers and it was thrilling to meet up with them again. I saw people who have become dear friends, I also met people for the first time that I have known for many years through Twitter. The atmosphere at ARRC2015 was friendly and fun amongst the people I spoke to. Some of us did discuss though how difficult it must be if you were on your own and we were mindfully looking out to include those who looked lost into our conversations. So when that post came out, I was mightily annoyed. How on earth can you expect people to be friendly to you when you slink off to the bar everytime there is a break? How on earth would anyone know that you were part of the convention? I think that the blogger turned up thinking that she was better and smarter and ever so cleverer than everyone else. In her blog she writes about those over 40 year old, fat “readers of a type”, those who read categories because they don’t understand how awful they are – don’t they know that this prose is sooo awful and all my friends tell me my writing is sparkly balls in comparison (I’m paraphrasing here). Well, I am over 40, overweight and deeply in love with categories and perhaps one could say my reaction to her is personal. But I know myself well enough to say that it isn’t. My reaction is one that comes from an understanding of how the disdain of readers, the condescension in the voices of those who consider themselves to be superior readers, can impact people’s self worth and their confidence in their reading choices. Reader shaming is unacceptable. ARRC has been for years a safe place for readers who cop it regularly to gather without judgement and this woman shat on our space. No-one inadvertently spoke to her because she felt herself above everyone that was there. This was not a clique reaction. And as for a 33 year old thinking NA represents her age group….wellll……perhaps she should look up a definition of New Adult fiction. Personally, I don’t judge people by their age. I am just as comfortable chatting with a 19 year old as a 70 year old. But I do judge people by their attitudes to others.
When I first heard that Victoria Dahl was coming to ARRC I was excited! Victoria Dahl was one of the first authors I followed in 2009 when I started tweeting. She followed me back. We have shared many a twitterchat over the years. I have read most of her books. I love some, I like the rest. She has yet to write a clunker. So I knew I was a fangirl. But when you are on twitter, you sometimes get a feeling that maybe you are that weird amalgam of fan/follower/friend/mindhive. Over the years, I have met many twitter authors in real life. Some have been interesting “lovely to meet you” and that is where it stays, a tiny number have made me grit my teeth and politely move away, others have been “we get on in Real Life as much as on Twitter how lovely is that” and there are others who end up becoming wonderful colleagues, friends, mentors, confidantes. And I was scared and weirded out that Victoria Dahl sat comfortably between those last 2 categories. She is that person that if I had met her on the first day of my kids schooling we would have hit it off. She isn’t a fan of babies (me too!), she is raunchy (I’m not *cough*), she drinks sangria and Pimms (yes please), she is funny (I am too – just ask my sons!), she is, her words not mine, a lazy feminist (same here) and her Keynote was possibly the best BEST keynote I have ever heard at an ARRC – and that is saying A LOT! That is some hard core competition. I seriously recommend you forking out the money to buy the ARRC2015 CD for this speech. She spoke about female heroines that are unlikeable, who have made mistakes and that as readers we need to give them the same level of love that we give broken heroes. Her speech kicked off International Women’s Day and was empowering and worthy of a Helen Reddy song. I just wanted to hang out with her all the time. I hope I didn’t make her feel uncomfortable (hah! I most probably did) but OMG! She was just like having a fun girlfriend to hang out with. Despite being sick she carried herself with grace and humour. She was gorgeous. I tried hard not to be too clingy. She did seek me out once (was that to check my location so she can run away and sit elsewhere?) and she did say that Sarah Mayberry and I were her love train *swoon*. I’m happy to share her with Sarah who probably summed us up well by calling our love train “mildly stalkerish”. I think I am also the only person who got in trouble from a moderator for talking to Victoria too long and keeping her panel from starting. For shame!
Aside from my husband’s eye operation and living with a manky, piratical eye glimmering at me, life is in full swing. I am once again teaching Information theory, this year to both undergraduates and postgraduate students. I am still working once a week in a public library faraway from home (the one hour commute each way equals reading time). Both my sons started in new (separate) high schools this year and the past 6-8 weeks has been an intense transition period for all of us. New routines, new institutional regimes. Their two schools are diametrically different in their teaching and discipline styles though they each suit our sons perfectly. One is on the habourside with no fences, flexible timetables and encourages longhand writing juxtoposed with study apps on devices. The other is at a suburban Catholic school (we are not Catholic) which does not allow phones, requires laptop use in class, has automatic prison like gates and has a strict uniform regime (damn it! more ironing!). Their very different styles of teaching environments seem to be having similar outcomes – 2 very engaged, young men who are learning.
I am finding that all this has taken over my reading life. I have only read a handful of books so far this year and I really need to up my reading game. How I will achieve this, I do not know as I also have my own thesis to continue working on too. But reading recreationally is not something I can give up – not even for a short amount of time. I find that everytime I do give it up I end up in a work slump. I have, however, become incredibly selective as to my reading choices as I cannot bear to waste any time on DNFs, 1 or even 2 star reads. Experimental reading has been left by the wayside as I just want guaranteed reads and many of the narratives I am enjoying are TV and youtube/Vine based (Thug Life – I love you). My blog reading has slowed down but some make me play with ideas on reading that they pose (I will return to Vacuous Minx‘s and Robin’s Dear Author posts on culture of buying vs the culture of reading in a later post). I relish my commuting time as I get to read first chapters (when I am not trying to catch up reading journal articles). Ultimately, recreational reading drives me as a person. It brings meaning to my workplaces and it gives substance and purpose to my own studies. Hopefully, I will manage the whole work/life/reading/socialmediaing and still manage to meet up with friends and get some sleep. Hopefully.