Once sat, after wondering whether it really was possible to drive for an hour and a half and still be in Essex, Liam said hello to author friends he already knew, noted with a smile that he wasn’t the only man present, and settled down for the serious matter of drinking tea and waited the requisite four and a half minutes for his tea to brew satisfactorily. During this critical moment, after agreeing to share the four tier cake stand of sandwiches, cakes and scones, he struck up a conversation with a Mills and Boon historical novelist, Virginia Heath.
Virginia had recently quit her job as a history teacher to write historical novels for the biggest romance publisher in the world, Mills and Boon. ‘Go big or go home,’ was her reasoning and she’d certainly gone big, having written and contracted four novels with her publisher at this point.
Liam was at this stage up to his eyes in his MA in Creative Writing and although not wishing to bore others with the details, he explained how he was getting on, the assignments he’d submitted and added, ‘I’m the only person on the course who writes, and quite shamelessly, I might add, genre fiction. Everyone else who writes prose, writes literary fiction. I love genre fiction. I grew up on it. I love a pastel coloured book cover, if it has shoes and a bottle of wine, so much the better. My favourite book is Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes. I have no shame about loving romance and genre fiction.’
The speaker for the afternoon tea in Colchester was Victoria Connelly, who talked about ‘Getting Back to the Books’ where she explained that as an author there is always a never-ending list of things to do other than writing: promotion, blogging, social media, reading articles on the publishing industry… and that Miss Read was very much about focussing on the writing. Victoria said with self publishing authors they have the freedom to write what they want and that an important part of being an author is to always be moving forward to the next big idea. ‘You can’t make someone want to write yet it’s the best game to play when you do.’
Liam and Virginia agreed that if they had a pound for every time someone had told them they’d love to write a book but they didn’t have the time, they’d both have a lot of pounds!
The importance of actually writing the book, among everything else an author has to do, can’t be underestimated. Virginia had done just that after quitting her job, and Liam too, had been talking about wanting to write a book until in 2011 he finally sat down and wrote that book.
And that was where Virginia and Liam left things until…
At the RNA Conference at Lancaster University in July 2016, they bumped into each other again and happened to be sharing a kitchen in the university accommodation. Let’s just say that a lot of things happened in that kitchen, many things were discussed with the other kitchen inhabitants. A lot ‘went down’ as they say during that weekend (and not just wine), and unfortunately, details can’t be shared here. Suffice it to say, what happened at Lancaster, stays at Lancaster. But during that weekend over cooked breakfasts, numerous cups of tea and when naughtily sat at the back of some conference sessions whispering to one another, Liam and Virginia discussed the idea of combining their experience of writing books and editing with their publishers, what Liam had learned through his MA in Creative Writing, demystifying that and making it less academic and more practical, by using Virginia’s experience of teaching.
They also both agreed that sometimes when you want to write a book, the last thing you need to do is read about it in another book or online. They agreed that writing, like baking, DIY and driving, are all practical skills learned best by doing.
On the train journey back from Lancaster Liam reflected on his discussions with Virginia during the RNA conference.
Virginia and Liam are both residents of Essex, a county not always renowned for ‘real’ people with its structured reality shows such as TOWIE, residents with fake tan, fake hair extensions and fake eyebrows, however that’s all just for show. Essex, says it how it is. Essex it keeps it real. Essex just gets on and does it and doesn’t take itself too seriously (Basildon has a sign in homage to the Hollywood one on a roundabout as one enters the town). And as two proud Essex residents, Virginia and Liam agreed to bring this approach to learning about writing.
And so Real People Write Books was born!
If it weren't for the wonderful RNA, Liam and Virginia would never have met. Writers need other writers, as my friend and fellow author, Jean Fullerton often says, and I couldn't agree more. Writing is generally a solitary occupation so networking, chatting, drinking tea and eating cakes together are key to being a happy writer.
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