I must be getting used to this. I no longer get butterflies in the tummy as I go in through the door of Joe Daflo’s, I’m used to being the second youngest person present and I know that no-one will kill me if I say I write gay romance. I do still have the feeling that they’ll out me one day and discover that I’m not really a writer, but that’s more how I feel about me than how they feel.

Today’s speaker was Jenny Haddon, author, RNA treasurer and generally good egg. She was telling us about the history of the RNA, which celebrates 50 years of existence in 2010. They’ve undergone changes of name, and perhaps of mission, but the present day organisation’s aims are (in their words):

We work to enhance and promote the various types of romantic and historical fiction, to encourage good writing in all its many varieties, to learn more about our craft and help readers enjoy it.
Romantic Fiction covers an enormous range, from short stories through category romance and much of women’s fiction, to the classics. The nature of romantic fiction means that most of these novels are written and read by women. The RNA, however, boasts a number of very successful male authors amongst their membership.

The list of past officers boasts plenty of well known names, and it was the stories about some of these larger than life characters which enthralled us. There was no surprise in hearing tales of people who had Ivor Novello round to tea or ones who didn’t think you were ‘in’ unless you had royalty in your address book. What was more intriguing were tales of the author who travelled abroad to watch operas and came home wearing fur coats and jewels which belonged to Jewish people who were about to leave pre-war Europe (the valuables being, in effect, smuggled in plain sight so that when these émigrés arrived they would have something of value to sell).

Given the present hoo-hah on various fronts (you don’t need to spell that out, do you?) I listened to some of the early history trying to fight a wry grin. Back-biting, power struggles, people unable – or unused – to working together and having consensus decisions, all the familiar elements were there. Author branding and maintaining the image the public expect, the under-appreciation of romantic fiction by the ‘highbrow’ critics – plus ca change? And when Ms Haddon described organising authors as being like herding cats I wanted to shout out ‘Bingo!’

As I keep saying to any UK writers, find your local RNA chapter and hie thee hence. You’ll love it.

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