Apologies for my absence. I've been frantic the last couple of weeks with finishing a rough draft of my second novel, Saint, and attending the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Fremantle Perth. I have returned to the desk after a fortnight feeling a bit dazed and confused because during my week in the West I fell in love with so much - music, art, words, people - I think I'm suffering in-love-brain-fry.
My problem has always been that I fall in love too easily (if there is such a thing). Fremantle was no different. As I walked the paved streets taking in the softness of its aged sandstone buildings and the eclectic mix of characters that people it, I fell in love. Fremantle is a writers paradise. Artwork sneaks up on you. It adorns building walls and is carved into the pavers on the footpaths.
We circled the malls and the laneways and discovered a magical fairy kingdom, a gothic Camelot and the best vintage record shop I've ever seen. Bookshops were everywhere. New Editions offered a dangerous coffee/literary combination that lured me to sit at its tables to partake in two of my favourite pastimes - drinking coffee and reading.
Elizabeth's Second Hand Books offered up an impressive collection of old erotica and introduced me to the truly adventurous concept of 'Blind Date with a Book.'
I love meeting new people, although it can be exhilarating and scary. Sometimes I have to push myself to stretch out beyond those who know me to make connections with new people, but it's invariably worth it. The RWA conference was peppered with 'in the flesh' moments, chances to meet other women writers who I've been interacting with online or admiring from afar.
I bumped into Lisa Walker, author of Sex, Lies and Bonsai, which I'm currently reading (and loving). I was loitering at the tea/coffee station and we struck up a conversation. I almost leapt at her when I realised who she was, lamenting that I didn't have my book with me for her to sign. She was very gracious as I revelled in my 'fangirl' moment.
On Sunday I was lured into sharing a bottle of wine with Ros Baxter and Ali Ahearn, co-authors of Sister Pact. I've been cyber circling these fascinating women for a while on Facebook. The #RWAus13 Twitter hashtag brought Ros and I together after a breakout session and we instantly connected, like old friends.
Then there are the conversations with people who have read and loved The Yearning. Anytime someone says 'I read your book' I get a hot flush. I'm terrified by they might say next. But I'm learning people don't approach you about your book unless they enjoyed it. And hearing readers reflections and questions about the story often gives me a new insight into my work. The characters are as real to them as they are to me. We're mutual voyeurs in a shared fantasy world.
After the conference we visited Fremantle Gaol and I was stunned by the magnificent artwork in some of the cells. Adversity and suffering can inspire very great art, in words, music and images. I wondered what talents the world is missing while people are incarcerated. There must be great poets, painters, musicians in gaols all over the world, imprisoned for great sins and small, or for simply disagreeing with sanctioned opinions of their regimes.
Like meeting a new lover, being in a new environment wakes one up. It's easy to descend into the sleepiness of routine, and there is something to be said for the quiet reflection that space allows, but familiarity doesn't always spark new ideas. A journey away from home is a journey away from oneself. When we fall in love we enter a state of uncertainty and we become open to feelings, experiences, people and places in a different way.
Even though I've been tired in the week since we arrived home, I am inspired. I've put aside quiet time to contemplate my notes, my photos, my memories. No doubt you will see them reappear somewhere in my work, surrounded by a glow that could only be described as first love.
Thank you RWA - without you and your dedicated team of volunteers, I wouldn't be 'in love' again.