To this writer, Britain equals romance. When you think of a place that makes your heart patter and your head tipsy, that inspires those tingly feelings deep inside, most people default to the City of Light, Paris. But if you tally up where all the swoon-worthy classic romances are set, well, Great Britain wins hands-down. Pride and Prejudice. Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Rebecca. The list goes on. So it was with great envy that I read post after post, year after year, about a gathering of UK LGBTQ+ romance writers and readers called UK Meet.
But this year, I crossed that item off my bucket list, hopped on a plane, and joined them!
UK Meet 2016 was held at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton over three days in early September. But my business holiday started a few days earlier, with a short trip to London, aka one of my spiritual homes. My plan: seeing sights I’d missed on previous trips, dining at some of the top affordable restaurants, and theater, theater, theater. The Victorian walk and bookstore at the Museum of London helped me with research for my new historical mystery romance series, Stoker & Bash. I also got to visit the 2016 version of the townhouse I’ve picked as their headquarters in Berkeley Square:
An improvement on 221B Baker Street, no? 😉
On the theater front, I discovered that Lin-Manuel Miranda is the J.K. Rowling of musical theater. I think I was one of the oldest people at In The Heights, but it thrilled and moved me all the same. This guy is the real deal. Another talented newcomer who riveted me was French playwright Florian Zeller, whose The Truth made some incisive points about modern marriages. And I fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Kenneth Branagh live and sparkling in an otherwise mediocre production of The Entertainer.
By the time dinner at the scrumptious Honey & Co. rolled around, I was… Well, I was still a nervous wreck, since UK Meet was starting the next day, and I was going to meet two online friends live and in person for the first time, the darling book reviewer Karen Wellsbury and author inspiration Aleks Voinov. Setting the tone for the whole weekend, they were lovely and generous and sweet and welcoming. I didn’t want the evening to end.
The next morning, the train to Southampton beckoned. As did the three items I packed into 160 red organza bags as part of the romance author booty every delegate takes home. My offering? A flyer designed by graphic wizard Robin Patterson, a Stoker & Bash character bookmark by artist extraordinaire Mila May, and two maple leaf-shaped pieces of maple syrup candy. (Liberally sampled by me prior to bag-stuffing, natch.) The assembly line…
Having stalled and fretted in my hotel room long enough, I rabbited down to the Grand Harbour to register for UK Meet. I had managed to bulldozer through most of my panic up until then by focusing on all the organizational details, but then I found myself standing in the hotel lobby in front of a large crowd of people and I almost turned tail and ran. But I had come all this way, had been planning for this for months, so I made my way to the registration desk and just about got my pen name out at a volume that could be heard by humans.
I think the most important thing I learned that weekend was that everybody feels this way their first time. Soon enough, I was in the hotel bar chatting with two fellow newbies, May Raymond and Ruby Moone, trying to work up the courage to go chat with my favorite authors. I met even more fabulous people at the event that night and throughout the weekend, notably my Sunday partner in crime and fellow Fortitude obsessive Sam Evans.
On Saturday, a morning panel on designing book covers segued into an incredible keynote speech by Shaun Dellenty, an educator who started his own charity promoting inclusivity and teaching methods that “tackle gender stereotyping, LGBTQI stereotyping, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and related derogatory language” in primary schools (visit his excellent web site here). He recounted his personal story of overcoming school bullying and homophobia to excel as an adult with such passion that there wasn’t a dry eye in the hall by the end of his speech.
With everyone teary and sniffly, we segued into the first block of book signing, which meant getting my half-table ready with all my books and swag!
This is where I bemoan not taking better pictures… But I was just too nervous/excited/emotional/flibbertigibbet to concentrate on something so simple as focusing a camera! And there were so many lovely people, including some fellow Canadians, who came to visit, it was over in a blink. Then it was my turn to freak out over getting books signed by J.L. Merrow, L.A. Witt, Julie Bozza, Jordan L. Hawk, and K.J. Charles. And have a little happy cry afterwards because, wow, the emotion and the enjoyment of the day became overwhelming. Thankfully, sweethearts Alyson Pearce and Teya Martin cheered me up by talking vampires.
And that was the best part of the Meet, conversing with like-minded folk about romance writing, pop culture, favorite books/authors/genres/TV shows/films. The high point of the whole event for me was my lunch with K.J. Charles, Sam Evans, Alyson Pearce, and Ruby Moone, talking historical events we’d like to see written about, what readers want from authors if they change genres, and all things Agatha Christie. It’s these connections that will stay with me and these friendships that will (hopefully) live on past this year’s UK Meet, and will be the thing I remember most about the event once all the particulars have faded from memory.
So, a big thank you to all the authors who took time to chat with me and offer advice, all the wonderful people who made my trip so enjoyable, and to the organizers who worked so hard and gave us so much. Is it 2018 yet?