My love for the RNA runs deep, stemming from my adoration for one of its founders, the late, great Netta Muskett.
My mother was never what you would call ‘academic’, but when she was around fifteen (so this would be the late sixties) she won a book for an English essay she wrote at school. The book she won was The Light from One Star by Muskett, and when my Mum and Dad emigrated to Australia, she left it with my Grandmother, who in turn gave it to my Aunt, who in turn gave it to her daughter. On a visit to the U.K in ‘96, my Mum mentioned that I was something of a ‘reader’ (a vague definition for her awkward, quiet, head-always-buried-in-a-book child) and the book was produced, still in mint condition, having been long forgotten in a cupboard for nearly twenty-five years.
To say I was entranced was an understatement. Quite frankly, I had never read a book like it. Fourteen-years-old and reading this book by torchlight from my Aunt’s spare bedroom, My younger sister asleep beside me, I was introduced to a world of high society, scandal, and romance.
The Light from One Star tells the story of a renowned British surgeon with a private hospital in Harley Street, whose head is turned by a young actress. Muskett was a talented author with an uncanny knack for breathing life into her characters, and the actress, for all that she is- outwardly- the antagonist of this story, is written with such honesty and charm that it makes it impossible to hate her. Because it soon becomes very clear that the greatest enemy of this surgeon- who marries the actress despite many warning signs that he should not- is really himself.
And that was the kicker that made me stay up all night, reading on. That it didn’t matter what the cold-blooded actress did or did not. That it didn’t matter how the lowly and plain secretary the surgeon soon fell in love with entered and eventually left his life. All that mattered was that this man, this surgeon, this hero-protagonist, was responsible for all the ills that fell his way, just as he was responsible for his own eventual happiness. The whole book was a masterpiece in human emotions and human frailty, and to this day I still adore every word.
Muskett was probably the prime reason I started writing my own novels, taking my own little triumphs and sadnesses, my heartbreaks and happiness, and jotting them down into notebooks, so much so that my mother stopped telling people I ‘read’ and started telling people that I ‘wrote’.
And Muskett is the reason I joined the RNA. She was a founding member of the association, and the day I got my membership card I the post I nearly wept for joy. Because in joining the RNA I was close to a woman who had, for so many years, shaped the sort of stories I wanted to tell. I was doing something that she had done, and I felt so close to her in that moment she almost became tangible before my eyes.
The RNA has brought joy to me in other ways. I love going along to my chapter’s meetings when I can, getting advice and hearing the stories of an amazing grouping women (particular shout outs to Clare Flynn, Sophie Weston, Carol Cooper, Jane Lacey Crane, Fi Harper, Lucinda Lee, and Janet Gover for their patience, stories and sheer openess). And I love going to their events, all of them brilliant evenings, where I get a chance to ‘glam up’ (I’m a mother of two smalls and I rarely get a chance to dress up these days). And on Wednesday evening, the annual Winter Party and Industry Awards, was no exception.
I started the night at The Shard, with my publisher and editors, for drinks with a sweeping view of London at sunset. I love the Shard- they were building it when I moved to London ten years ago and I always associate it with my ultimately good decision to move here. Of course, I set off both metal detectors on entering the building, thanks to the 64 pins I had gripping my hair in place, but after that initial embarrassment it was a quick trip to the 32nd floor.
I got to meet Lyn, Lu, Berni and Jane (who has the patience of a saint for editing my work) and also, delightfully, the lovely Kathryn Freeman and Lynda Stacey- who’d brought with her her husband Haydn (which is probably the best name I’ve heard in a long time). Not being from London they were puzzled by the tube, but I offered to lead them from the Shard to the venue. I’m not sure what Lynda was more impressed with- my innate knowledge of the London transportation system, or my quick change of shoes on the journey (I was wearing designer heels- beautiful but not ideal for walking!)
The RNA host their Winter Party in the gorgeous One Birdcage Walk- an Edwardian library five minutes from Westminster. I love drinking white wine and eating canapés here, surrounded by books… even if they are books I’m probably not going to read (applied mechanics being well out of my comfort zone).
The party was thriving, and five minutes after my sister and I picked up our lanyards and got our first drink, I’d managed to say hello to the lovely Jean Fullerton, whose London sagas always make me smile, as well as to Fi Harper, who knows more about this business than anyone else I’ve ever spoken to. I had a drink and a chat with my fellow Aussie, Janet Gover, as well as a quick word with Carol Cooper. I introduced my sister to the brilliantly talented and brilliantly haired Julie Cohen (and I beg all of you to read her ‘Together’ right now) and also managed to speak with Anita Chapman, Lucinda Lee and the incomparable Sophie Weston.
And this was all before the awards! It was a delight to hear about the new bursaries available to writers, and to see the positive steps the RNA is taking towards further inclusion. And it was also a delight to see libraries, book bloggers, agents and publishers lauded for their efforts in our industry.
I won’t go on about the food (although there was an old-fashioned pick and mix which I did pick and mix from) but I will say the venue was lovely and their efforts much appreciated.
The whole night just flew by, and although I was sad that it was over for another year, I know there is still the RNA Christmas lunch and the spring party to look forward to!
I went home tired but very happy, slipping into bed next to my husband, who woke just enough to ask me if I’d had a good time.
I corrected him with ‘I had a wonderful time’.
With many thanks to the RNA for this amazing party. I can’t wait for next year already.
By the way, the photo below probably shows how tired I was by midnight! I’m such a Cinderella these days, and my heels, while lovely, did make my feet feel they were walking on broken glass by the end of the night!