Not for the first time, Alex Beecroft inspired me. She’s a member of the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and had gone to one of their meetings. And spoken to other authors. Real, live, face to face ones. In a mad moment I resolved to do the same, so I found out who was our local contact and fired off an e-mail asking a million questions. Well, three. Did they meet socially? Could newbies come along? Did I need to be a member to attend?

I had a delightfully welcoming reply – come along to our lunch meeting, no membership required, there’s a speaker, there’s a raffle! So, come the big day, I put on what Tamara Allen calls my ‘runs her own rock band’ outfit, ignore my 16 year old asking if Romantic Novelists’ meeting was a euphemism for ‘orgy’ and set off, with two concerns. Would I, even at 51, be the youngest in the room? And what would happen when I admitted I wrote gay romance?

I was made very welcome, everyone asking the same questions – do you write romance, are you are you published and are you from Havant. I never got to the bottom of the last one. Someone had come from Havant, I guess – in fact there were people from Shoreham and Swanage, all coming to Southampton to eat, drink and chat. And there were three men among the eighteen or so present.

Over lunch, I chatted to three other authors and the inevitable question arose – which romantic genre? Historical. Romantic suspense. And – I swallowed hard – gay. I waited to have my raffle ticket taken back and be sent from the room. Instead, they tried to put me at ease. “They’re all stories.” “I have a gay character in one of my books.” “Sarah Waters writes the genre.” It then became apparent that the lovely young Scottish bloke on my table was gay and the conversation turned to ‘who writes what’. He felt strongly that just because he was gay, it didn’t mean he had to write ‘gay’ stories and he didn’t get at me because I’m not gay and I did. I could have kissed him – I just hope he didn’t think I’d gravitated towards him because of some ping of the gaydar. (I didn’t. Charlie always just ends up near the youngest bloke in the room.)

The speaker was interesting, especially for me as she was writing a series of books. Publsihed by Orion, had the book of the month at Asda recently, but she said so many things we could identify with. “See this girl on the cover?” She looks nothing like my heroine.” Cue nods of understanding all around the room.

Will I go back for the next meeting in July? Yes. Will I join the RNA? I might. It won’t do much in terms of selling more books, but it wouldn’t hurt to bolster the group of m/m writers in their ranks. It takes authors from outside the UK, too. RNA Would I recommend going to a meeting if you had one nearby? Yes. Meeting other people with similar interests is always useful; you build up your knowledge, you make good contacts (I wouldn’t be published, wouldn’t have even wanted to be published, if I hadn’t ‘met’ lee Rowan.) I believe it’s also part of us saying “gay romance is as legitimnate a form of romance as any other and should be treated the same as comparable m/f stories”.

Maybe I was lucky. Maybe the reaction will be different next time if I sit with a different group of people (maybe they won’t e-mail me to confirm the venue!) But I showed my face and took another step on the coming out road. And no, dearest daughter, there wasn’t an orgy.