I was a Conference Virgin – Eleni Konstantine (former librarian, known as Helen Katsinis)

RWA conferences are magic. They are filled with inspiration, gas-bagging, and fun.

My first RWAus conference was the 11th Conference, ‘Falling In Love Again’ in 2002. The back drop was the Chifley on Flemington in Melbourne. I don’t believe it’s there anymore, but it had an old-world charm to it. I had joined RWA years before, but it was only in 2002 that I joined Romaus, and got to know people online. I also became one of Paula Roe’s editorial assistants for Hearts Talk (yes, my affiliation with Hearts Talk goes back a long time), and thought it was a good idea to go to the conference.

But to be honest, while I dreamed of one day being a writer, it was a hobby, and the conference was a way of getting a couple of days to myself- relaxing, and fading into the background.


And because of this, I made a big booboo – I didn’t treat the conference as professional development. I’d been to workshops and seminars in my librarian life, but nothing really on this scale for writing. And it was this RWA conference that made me realise, yes this IS what I want to do.

Let me explain. At the time I was working as a librarian in a law firm. I was in year two of my chronic fatigue syndrome. I had put on a lot of weight so most of my clothes didn’t fit and felt all wrong, my sore knee was killing me, and so when I packed for the trip, I packed comfy clothes, and not my annoying work clothes. So what did I pack? Trackie daks. Yep, you read right.

Trackies!!!! Okay, there were new and they were in great condition, and one pair was a legging style (in again now) so people wouldn’t have noticed what it was – but still, trackies?!!!

Forehead-slap.

I look back at it with horror. But in a sense, I think I went though this experience so I can have a conference virgin story! LOL!

If anyone noticed, they didn’t say a word to me about it. Everyone was friendly and lovely, but I know I felt uncomfortable, and that is when I had my epiphany. This is what I want my job to be – a writer, and as such, I would dress like a professional. I am not talking power suits here, but the casual ‘I’m taking this seriously’ look, not the ‘casual day’ to school look.


The conference itself wasn’t as large as the ones now. But it still had variety, plenty of fantastic authors, and plenty of chance for networking. I put faces to names from the loop, and meet other writers both published and would-be ones like me.

I didn’t attend the Friday session, unfortunately, so on Saturday, the first person I met was fellow Hearts Talk editorial assistant, Joan Gillham. A getting to know you exercise had been that you got a name of one part of a couple, and you had to find the other half. I was Richard Burton. Joan was Elizabeth Taylor. We found it hysterical that we (the two EAs) should be paired up. Joan was fantastic. She knew it was my first conference and looked out for me. She introduced me to Annie West (before she was published), and she too, looked out for me too. I’m not fantastic at networking, but this helped soooo much.  (It’s why I always make an effort to talk to newbies and first time conference goers.)


Then were two days of non-stop talking about writing and the industry. I remember it was more a plenary style conference and speakers included – Stephanie Laurens (who I remember saying that an author’s only duty was to entertain the reader), Marion Lennox (who told us she once wrote a book in 3 weeks), Karin Stoecker from HM&B London office (on the range of imprints), Emma Darcy and Miranda Lee (who both spoke on writing love scenes).

There were author chats on the Saturday. I sat in on Keri Arthur’s first ever author chat, which was fun and informative about the paranormal genre. And there were a couple of tutorials on the Sunday (yes, conference has changed). I remember taking Fiona McArthur’s talk on self promotion; and Keri Lane’s tutorial on writing for the international market. Both fantastic speakers.

I loved it all. As the weekend wore on, I remember being more and more enthusiastic about  my writing. I was even thinking of  pen names. Helen Katsinis was the librarian, not the writer.


But then the AGM hit, and I was in for a shock. RWAus was in trouble. There was a need for more volunteers, or it could well fold. All I could think was ‘No, not when I’m now taking this seriously’. Well, since it’s now the 20th year, you know that didn’t happen. Members banded, and a new online committee came to the rescue (thanks Alison Brideson, Trish Morey, and the others who took up the challenge).


I became inspired that weekend, and continue to be inspired when I attend conferences. I continue to meet new people, and catch up with all my writing buddies, listen to interesting keynote speakers, attend fantastic tutorials, dress up for the cocktail party, and cheer on other members at the Awards Dinner.


And most of all, now I’m definitely, Eleni Konstantine, writer.

All thanks to that first conference, and a booboo in dress sense.

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24 Comments

  1. Loved your story Eleni!
    I just bet no one noticed what you wore, they were focused on your friendliness. But you’re right about being professional.

    Is it August yet?

    Reply
    • Thanks, Bec. My mum has a saying in Greek – ‘many will see, no-one will notice’. (rough translation).

      A little while longer to go until August. Countdown is starting, I’m sure.

      Reply
  2. Suz Hamilton

     /  June 16, 2011

    Beautiful post, Eleni. Will be looking forward to meeting you face-to-face at the conference.

    Reply
    • Thanks for popping in, Suz. Unfortunately, I’m not heading to Melbourne this year. So it has to be a face-to-face on the Gold Coast next year. Have fun!

      Reply
  3. We all have adjustments to make when we reluctantly leave our studies and blink in the bright sunshine, Eleni. lol.

    Reply
  4. hey, what’s wrong with trackie daks!!??? LOL! I’d wear them ALL the time if I could =))

    Reply
    • LOL – yes, I live in my trackies, Mel. I’m with you on that. And with leggings especially, you can dress up, so does you can have your comfort and style.

      This year we will be tracking it – no-one will see what I’m wearing online. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Not me! I’m rocking the heels!

    Helen, when you said that about trackies last night, I did have a laugh but you know what, it’s about being comfy too isn’t it. Inside and out. Conferences aren’t nearly as scary as some virgins would think. Just have a great time!

    Reply
    • I wish I could wear your heels, Bronwyn. Sigh. Stoopid bung knee.

      Yes, that is it – if you are comfortable in yourself, then you will be comfortable with those around you. So advice is to be yourself, and enjoy.

      Reply
  6. I love your mum’s saying, Eleni. So true!

    Reply
  7. Ahh, another victim… err… volunteer I recruited!! 👿 I believe that conference was only the 2nd I missed, Eleni. Good to see you were looked after! (But then again, I’m pretty sure all newbies are looked after, right?)

    Reply
    • LOL Paula. Yes, victim all right. Once you start volunteering, does it ever stop? 🙂 You should have a badge saying RWA recruiter!

      Yes, newbies are looked after, which is always great to see.

      Reply
  8. maryde

     /  June 16, 2011

    What a refreshingly honest story Eleni. 🙂 I’m sure it will put many minds at ease for their first time vivit to the conference:) Mary

    Reply
    • Thanks Mary. Glad you liked the honesty. I think sharing is caring, right 😉 We all grow and learn. Hopefully conference virgins will be more at ease. They will survive!

      Reply
  9. Uh right – no trackie dacks! Got it 🙂 (Damn, there goes my wardrobe!!)

    Reply
    • Sorry, Kez. 🙂

      Though I think now fashion has a more of a great range of smart clothes that are more comfy. And in my case, in a bigger size too.

      I still try and be comfortable.

      Reply
  10. I have to admit here that I also made a fashion faux pas as a conference virgin in Sydney. I attended despite breaking my foot a month before. This meant a complete revision of footwear and the only thing that fit was ugg boots so I spent 95% of the conference in them. Couldn’t bring myself to wear them to the cocktail party or the awards dinner but they were kicked off under the table at dinner.

    Just relax newbies, enjoy and ask questions.

    Cheers
    Tracey T

    Reply
    • I think recovering from a broken foot gives you an exception from fashion faux pas. Though, now uggies are more fashionable too! So not so bad, Tracey.

      Indeed great advice, Tracey for the newbies. Relax and enjoy.

      Reply
  11. sheepisly removing trackie dacks out of bag. actually I think I need to buy some : ) Thanks for the post, Helen. And I’m glad you’re now Eleni Konstantine, writer.

    Reply
    • LOL, Diane. Hey it seems that my story is bringing out all the trackie wearing lovers. Good to see. Maybe we should have a trackie day at a conference. If more than one person had trackies, then it would be okay 😉 Thanks for popping in, Diane.

      Reply
  12. Anita Joy

     /  June 17, 2011

    Hey Eleni, can’t imagine you not taking your writing seriously!! Thanks for the fun ‘virgin’ story 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks, Anita. That’s a lovely compliment. The conference took me from hobbyist to the serious writer you now know and love 😉

      Reply

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