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ARRC2017: wrap-up

4 May 2017


The authors who attended ARRC2017, (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

The fifth Australian Romance Readers Convention (ARRC2017) was held in Melbourne on 24–26 February 2017.

The audience at the opening session at ARRC2017. (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

We were thrilled to welcome three bestselling authors as our keynote speakers—Courtney Milan, Kylie Scott and Kristen Callihan. By all accounts all three keynotes were awesome, and the feedback on Courtney’s speech has been phenomenal. The photo to the right is the main room, with everyone listening intently as Courtney Milan gave her keynote speech.

Our three keynotes: Kristen Callihan, Kylie Scott and Courtney Milan. (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan.)

All three keynotes were extremely generous with their time and there were many opportunities for readers to meet them. This is the only photo we have of all the keynotes together.

In addition to the panel sessions, we had keynote lunches, speed dating, the book-signing session and of course the awards dinner. There were also optional extra events such as the high tea and lunch cruise.

Thank you once again to our generous sponsors—in particular our platinum sponsors, Booktopia and eXtasy Books—and to all the authors and readers who came along to the convention and made it so much fun!

ARRC2017 panels

A large part of the convention was of course the concurrent panels. This year we had 15 panels, along with a few special sessions (such as speed dating). Below are highlights from the panels, with thanks to the panel moderators for preparing these.

Panel 2a—Tropelicious

When you get a group of authors and readers together to talk about their favourite tropes, you know it’s going to be a bacchanal of laughter, enthusiasm, a few disagreements, and, of course, more book recommendations than any one bank account can handle.

Hosting Cassandra Dean, Kylie Scott, Eden Summers and Christine Wells was an enormous pleasure as they shared their reading preferences, their writing preferences (not always the same!), and books they’ve loved.

Not surprisingly, our historical writers and readers love marriage of convenience stories, while our contemporary writers are very fond of the angst and aggression of an enemies to lovers story.

(L to R): Christine Wells, Cassandra Dean, Eden Summers, Kate Cuthbert (mod), Kylie Scott (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

With an open invitation for participation from the audience, we quickly discovered that EVERYONE loves a good forbidden love story, the room was split on duck-out-of-water stories (some love them, some find the reflected embarrassment too cringy to handle!), and very few people are into the secret baby stories.

But the final conclusion was that romance readers are up for trying anything, as long as there’s a possibility for a great story.

Panel 2b—Shining a light

(L to R): Fiona Lowe, Courtney Milan, Emily Madden, Rachael Johns (moderator Amy Andrews not shown) (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Discussion involved whether panellists thought it was the role of romance fiction to shine a light on various current or past social issues. We talked about the different themes/issues authors have tackled in one of their books.

Courtney discussed the issues of suffrage and torture in The Suffragette Scandal. Fiona discussed the impact of a disabled child on the extended family as well as sex in twilight years in Daughter of Mine. Rachael Johns spoke about the impact of autism from the pages of Outback Dreams. Emily Madden spoke on grief issues and a child custody plot through the eyes of the father in her book Summers With Juliette.

Panel 2c—Why you should try …

(L to R): CS Pacat, Imogene Nix, Ebony McKenna, Demelza Carlton (moderator Darcy Delany not shown) (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Why should you try a new romance genre? Ebony McKenna, Demelza Carlton, CS Pascat and Imogene Nix captivated their audience in this fun and quirky discussion. The conversation touched issues such as the way romance is treated in YA novels compared to adult romance, the emerging genre of mermaid romance that Demelza Carlton is championing, love in the paranormal and how to write from a male perspective.

Ebony McKenna encouraged readers to try young adult ‘because we’ve all been there, we were all young adults once. Plus it’s loads of fun. I love reading YA because there are so many genres within YA to choose from, so there’s always something interesting going on.’

Imogene Nix talked about the way science fiction allowed readers to enter a world of fantasy, a realm of possibility, and where hurdles can be overcome using science. The genre also allows for a glimpse of the future, where even the common cold and cancer can be overcome. It allows for hope that the future (and near future and even in some cases the now) can be better. How is that for a happily ever after?

And Demelza Carlton urged readers to try indie authors ‘because we’re not restricted by the narrow confines of what big publishers feel they can sell, we can write ANYTHING. Mermaids in space. Thrillers set in Australia. Heroes who wear thongs on their feet. All those times you said, “I wish someone would write a book about X”, chances are … an indie author has.’

Panel 3a—Book boyfriends

(L to R): Shannon Curtis, Kelly Hunter, Alli Sinclair, Anne Gracie (mod), Cassandra O’Leary (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

The ‘Book boyfriends’ panel, with Alli Sinclair, Cassandra O’Leary, Kelly Hunter and Shannon Curtis was a lot of fun. After naming some of their book boyfriends, each of the panellists was asked: What do you look for in a book boyfriend? The consensus was: he has ideal looks and physique, he’s an alpha guy, he’s handy in a tight spot, he can make me laugh, he’s focused on his girl, he’s protective, and he can rescue me.

Each panellist had a slideshow of potential heroes, which we can’t show here, but check out Cassandra O’Leary’s inspiration boards.

We talked about love triangles and found there was no debate at all between Team Ranger vs Team Morelli. (Guess)

When asked: Is it wrong to have more than one book boyfriend? the resounding answer was NO! In fact most went for a book boyfriend harem—so they could pick and choose depending on mood.

The session ended with a Book Boyfriend Puzzle from each of the panellists. Here’s the one from Kelly Hunter:

Who am I?
I walk a little outside the law but my moral code is solid.
I’m in law enforcement. Kind of.
I wear a lot of black but I like tightey whiteys.
If you want to get out of your handcuffs, I’m your man.
I know you keep your gun in the cookie jar.

Panel 3b—Playing for keeps

(L to R): Kristen Callihan, Amy Andrews, Allison Rogers (mod), Melanie Scott, Cate Ellink (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

I asked to moderate the sports romance panel without any sports knowledge, because I enjoy the stakes and passion the sports aspect brings to the romance, so I still find it hilarious that of our sports romance panellists, Kristen Callihan, Melanie Scott, Amy Andrews and Cate Ellink, only Cate had any prior interest in sports. You wouldn’t know it when reading their books, though.

Amy was approached by her publisher about writing a sports romance, Kristen’s Game On series began as straight new adult and the football element came later, while Melanie wanted to write three romances with linked heroes that weren’t brothers or in the military together and chose baseball because she’d seen a live game in the US.

Some of their players were amalgamations of existing athletes, and Amy argued that football has a misogynistic reputation, so she reined in her players’ behaviour while keeping the banter. Although the sports aspects of their stories were well-researched, sadly none of our authors have seen the inside of a locker room.

My favourite question of the session was why we tend not to see a heroine active as a professional athlete in a romance. (Kulti by Mariana Zapata was the notable exception.) Partly this is because female athletes aren’t paid as well as men and have to balance a second job with the same level of training as their male counterparts, which doesn’t leave time for relationships. Also, the fantasy of a strong, powerful man still holds a huge appeal for many readers, while others would be interested in seeing how it might work with a female pro athlete and a non-sporting hero. Would he be beta by default?

Our authors’ related projects include another Game On book by Kristen Callihan and Amy has recently released her third Sydney Smoke Rugby title, Playing the Player.

A lucky attendee won a NRL family membership to the club of their choice, donated by Juliette Arthur.

Panel 3c—Turning the tables

(L to R): Essie Orchard, Alex Adsett, Mary-Lou Stephens (mod), Kate Cuthbert (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

This was a chance for industry representatives to ask questions of the audience to find out what readers want from publishers. The panel consisted of Kate Cuthbert from Harlequin Escape, Alex Adsett from Adsett Publishing Services and Essie Orchard from Hachette.

I emailed them a list of possible questions and directions and suggested we meet beforehand to ensure the panel members achieved their aims. Each of them came armed with a series of questions and after some discussion we agreed on a direction.

Right from the beginning the audience members were eager participants. They answered questions about a proposed sampler app from Hachette, the importance of covers and pricing, genres, heat levels, buying and reading habits, among a host of other subjects. The discussion was robust and continued on after the end of the session. Fortunately, there was time for this due to a break before the book-signing event.

4a—Q&A with Thea Harrison

Mary-Lou Stephens (mod), Thea Harrison (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Due to the foresight of our AV guys, any technical issues with the Skype session were ironed out the day before and the Q&A went seamlessly.

Thea was generous with her time and her insights into her writing life and the world of the Elder Races. She also discussed her earlier career as a romance writer under the name of Amanda Carpenter.

The room was full of Thea Harrison fans who had questions to ask. Some were a bit shy so I had many questions to keep the conversation flowing.

From the feedback received after the Q&A I would say it went exceptionally well. There is a recording of the session available on YouTube.

Panel 5a—Who do you think they are?

(L to R): Diane Demetre, Lisa Ireland, Amanda Knight (mod), Avril Tremayne, Vanessa Carnevale (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Moderated by Amanda Knight, and featuring bestselling authors Lisa Ireland, Avril Tremayne, Vanessa Carnevale and Diane Demetre, the ‘Who do you think they are?’ panel focused on an in-depth look at characters in romances.

We discussed how our characters evolve—who they are and where they come from. We discovered each author has a very different process in developing and learning about their characters. Sometimes characters speak to us, sometimes they’re inspired by a real person or a stranger we’ve passed on our path of life, and sometimes they’re a mix of all of these elements combined.

We also heard about the importance of research and the time it takes to verify the details of the worlds our characters live in, and that the smallest detail can share the greatest insight into a character’s emotional depth and background.

It was a session filled with fabulous laughter, a bit of sass, some sage nods and the sounds of some furious note-taking. The authors also shared their latest work and the details of some upcoming releases.

Panel 5b—The rise of rural romance

(L to R): Pamela Cook, Victoria Purman (mod), Nicole Hurley-Moore, Sarah Barrie, Charlotte Nash (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Panel 5c—Miss Fortune’s Etiquette lessons

Christine Wells and Bronwyn Parry (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

In this fun session, presenters Christine Wells and Bronwyn Parry guided participants through some of the intricacies of etiquette in Regency society.

Christine began with introductions in the Regency society, outlining precedence and who is presented to whom. Bronwyn demonstrated and we practised our curtseys, with varying degrees of elegance. There may be some more practice required before we are presented to the Queen!

A little about dance etiquette followed—the implications if a lady refuses a gentleman a dance, and why the waltz, introduced to English ballrooms about 1816, was so (deliciously!) scandalous—assuming you were dancing it with the right man, and not Mr Collins.

The language of the fan—in truth, a marketing ploy, but fun nevertheless—had us practising our coy and/or seductive techniques, and we also discussed the language and symbolism of flowers.

The most memorable moment came when someone asked, just what did a lady do after numerous cups of tea? In the days before houses had such rooms as bathrooms … let’s just say, the answer surprised many!

Panel 6a—From the ruins

(L to R): Keri Arthur, Kylie Scott, Shannon Curtis (mod) (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Panel 6b—Feminism vs romance fiction

(L to R): Bronwyn Parry, Erica Hayes, Donna Maree Hanson (mod), Anne Gracie, Amber Bardan (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

During ARRC in Melbourne, I chaired a panel on Feminism vs Romance. That’s the short name. The panel was really about whether feminism can co-exist with romance and the topic is related to issues I am exploring in my PhD studies. The panellists were Bronwyn Parry, Amber Bardan, Anne Gracie and Erica Hayes and they were fantastic panellists.

I think in this day and age more women are claiming the title of feminist. This is not a scientific assessment or backed up by research—just my own thoroughly biased observation. However, I can point you to Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman, who has a very simple definition of feminist on her blog. This is in contrast to people who are feminist activists of whatever stripe who claim the title solely for themselves. Politics!

The panellists all identified with feminism and talked to the audience about what feminism means to them.

The panel was interesting for me because all the panellists had interesting things to say about their own feminism, whether it is something that is growing and learning about agency to being a firm believer for many years.

Also, there was overwhelming support for the idea that feminism must co-exist in romance fiction and does. There is no feminism versus romance. They co-exist!

What really won it over for me is that these authors have no inner turmoil about balancing their feminism with their writing (I am paraphrasing here) and that they are writing strong, empowered women, such as women rescuing themselves and heroes who respect the heroines.

Even when touching on social issues like domestic violence, a romance can explore these issues because there is a happy ever after and, as Erica Hayes said, ‘It’s a safe place’ because the reader knows it is going to work out in the end.

Renee Dahlia has also done a comprehensive write-up of the content of the panel.

Panel 6c—Regular Joes

(L to R): Cathryn Hein, Penelope Janu (mod), Jennie Jones, Kelly Hunter, Joanne Dannon (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

This panel was asked the question: ‘Do heroes have to be wealthy and outwardly successful men to be perfect?’ And it answered the question with a resounding no! The panellists, Cathryn Hein, Joanne Dannon, Jennie Jones and Kelly Hunter talked about some of the regular Joes in romance—and what makes them so special.

The panellists discussed romance heroes, and the ways they interpret honour and integrity, and decided that regular Joes typically have something extraordinary in their characters.

Examples were given of Nora Roberts’s Chesapeake Bay heroes, Cam, Ethan, and Phillip. Regular Joes can also be seen as an achievable fantasy, making the romance more real, and they are relatable characters too. And they are likely to have more time for the heroine! And Regular Joes, the panellists decided, are just as capable of providing romantic moments as billionaires.

Regular Joes work hard and have strong ethics and values, and usually do the right thing by their families. Kelly’s Jackson brothers were given as examples of memorable regular Joes. As was Danny from Cathryn’s Santa and the Saddler. Joanne has created a variety of memorable regular Joes in her books, as has Jennie.

The panel wound up the discussion by looking at what kind of women make good romantic complements to everyday heroes, and concluded that a regular Josephine brings something to the relationship that a regular Joe needs. They often they have something essential in common, like a fighting spirit.

The panellists had many insightful and entertaining takes on what it means to be a regular Joe, and why they are so popular in romance—and in life!

Panel 7a—Steampunk romance

(L to R): Bec McMaster, Kristen Callihan, Viola Carr (mod) (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

We were lucky at ARRC17 to have two of the world’s most popular authors of steampunk and historical paranormal romance: our international guest Kristen Callihan (the Darkest London series) and Australia’s own Bec McMaster (the London Steampunk and Dark Arts series).

The conversation ranged from what makes steampunk cool (we agreed it was tough heroines, sexy heroes and lots of kick-butt adventure!) through to why write steampunk at all (because we love cool costumes, wacky technological shenanigans and Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes). We discussed Kristen’s cool magical heroines and Bec’s sexy dark heroes. Time was limited but we also touched on the social conscience of steampunk, and the responsibility of authors (or not!) towards historical accuracy and diversity in a fantasy genre.

Our audience members included keen steampunk fans, as well as the curious, with a few people who were completely new to the genre. Our guests enjoyed spending this time with such enthusiastic romance readers, and hopefully we managed to lure in some new fans for steampunk!

Panel 7b—Dukes need not apply

Moderator: Kat Mayo
Panellists: Alison Stuart, Allison Butler, Courtney Milan, Tea Cooper

Panel 7c—Building the perfect villain

(L to R): Maggie Nash, Helen Sibbritt (mod), TM Clark, Michelle Somers, Kendall Talbot (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

This was a fun panel, which I moderated with authors Maggie Nash, Tina Clark, Kendall Talbot and Michelle Somers. How could it not be fun when you are discussing murders and getting into the minds of the killers you are writing about?

The lengths and research that authors go to, to ensure that everything is accurate was very interesting. I am sure that a lot of these authors are on federal watch lists with some of the things that they have researched—poison anyone? Michelle brought along a ‘prop’, Renaldo, whom she used in her last book, to work out scenes and he was very popular.

The audience had some great questions that the panel were only too happy to answer, with lots of laughs and chuckles. It was great to hear the answers to questions from the audience. One such question was ‘What would you not write or do in one of your stories?’ and the general answer was no killing of children or animals, although one author has done all and she was hanging her head in shame. (But I have to say I have loved her stories because she has done so and done it really well.)

Settings were discussed and there have been some fabulous settings from all four authors. The audience had some wonderful questions and there were lots of laughs as well and talk about heroes who save the day or heroines for that matter.

There were prizes given and I am sure that the audience have all gone away with lots more books to add to their already massive TBR piles.

Book-signing event

The book-signing event at ARRC2017 was awesome! The room was really interesting (although lots of stairs), and there were lots of nooks and crannies to add in extra authors.

The room was impossible to catch in just one photo, but here’s an idea of what it looked like:


[Photos courtesy of Helen Konstan and Debbie Phillips]

There were 69 authors signing, and about 150 readers went through the room. It was noisy and chaotic and fun!

Keynote lunches

Barbara, Linda, Michelle, Helen, Catherine and Lyn with Courtney Milan (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Melissa, Chris and Penelope with Kylie Scott (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

Danielle, Pamela, Tiffany, Janine and Elaine with Kristen Callihan (Photo courtesy of Helen Konstan)

ARRC2017 links

A lot of people have posted wrap-ups on their blog. You can find some of them here:

Escape Publishing
Renee Dahlia #1
Renee Dahlia #2
Renee Dahlia #3
Renee Dahlia #4
Word Wenches
Dark Love Stories #1
Dark Love Stories #2
Cathryn Hein
Love Cats Down Under
Cate Ellink
Donna Maree Hanson
Breathless in the Bush
Janine Kimberley
Love is the Best Medicine

[This article is based on articles that first appeared in the ARRA member newsletters in March and April 2017.]


  1. 7 May 2017 5:50 pm

    Such a fantastic weekend! Enjoyed myself so much! Great work to everyone involved!

  2. 4 May 2017 12:32 pm

    Fabulous wrap up for a fabulous weekend again thank you all so much for the work that went into it 🙂

    Have Fun

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