At the beginning of February, the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) announced the shortlists for their annual Romantic Novel Awards for 2022, as well as the winner of the Popular Fiction Award. It’s something I always look forward to so much – I’m always surprised to find some wonderful looking books that entirely missed my radar, and there are always quite a few that I really have to add to my reading list – and you’ll find the full list here.
The awards celebrate excellence in romantic fiction in all its forms, and this year include a new category, the Christmas/Festive Holiday Romantic Novel Award – you’ll already know how much I enjoy my Christmassy books, so I was particularly delighted to see that one! In addition, the Romantic Comedy Novel Award has been renamed the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy, in honour of the late Jane Wenham-Jones, author, broadcaster and compère for the Romantic Novel Awards for the past eleven years.
The award categories for this year are as follows: The Fantasy Romantic Novel Award, the Jackie Collins Award for Romantic Thrillers, the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award, the Christmas/Festive Holiday Romantic Novel Award, the Shorter Romantic Novel Award, the Romantic Saga Award, the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy, the Historical Romantic Novel Award, the Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, and the Popular Romantic Fiction Award (voted for by librarians, booksellers and book bloggers/reviewers). The Outstanding Achievement Award will be presented later this year.
The awards, which have been held since their inception in 1960, are highly respected in the UK publishing industry. Previous winners include Phillipa Gregory, Joanna Trollope and Rosamunde Pilcher. The awards are unique in that they are judged entirely by readers, without input from any industry professionals.
Sharon Ibbotson, the Awards Coordinator for the Romantic Novelists’ Association, said, “During a difficult year, people needed escapism and romance more than ever. Our shortlisted authors for 2022, chosen by our readers, delivered both. The Romantic Novelists’ Association is proud to celebrate them and their achievement.”
And it’s not an on-line event this year (how wonderful!) – the winners of the awards will be announced during the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Novel Awards ceremony, which is being held at the Leonardo Royal Hotel London City on 7th March. Best-selling novelist Jo Thomas will compère the ceremony, with BAFTA-longlisted film producer Lizzie Gillett presenting the Jackie Collins Award for Romantic Thrillers on behalf of sponsors Simon & Schuster, and actor Larry Lamb presenting the remainder of the awards. And yes, I do have my ticket (still searching for a suitable dress…!), and I’m very much looking forward to being there on the night to cheer on some of my personal favourites.
Liz Fenwick has already been announced as winner of the Popular Romantic Fiction Award for her novel The River Between Us, and will receive her award at the ceremony – this was a book I so enjoyed (you’ll find my review here), and I was delighted to see that so many others felt the same. And I know I probably shouldn’t, but I would like to mention a few of the other books I’ve enjoyed that I spotted on the shortlist.
It was an absolute delight to see Jessica Redland’s Snowflakes Over the Starfish Café (you’ll find my review here) on the Christmas/Festive Holiday list – I’ve been reading and enjoying her books since way before she hit the heights when she joined Boldwood, and I’m really so thrilled about her success. There are (as you might well expect…) quite a few personal favourites on the Romantic Comedy list – Mr Right Across the Street by Kathryn Freeman (I’ve loved her books from the very beginning too – you’ll find my review of this one here), The Promise of Summer by Bella Osborne (review here – it was wonderful!) and Love on Location by Lynne Shelby (loved it – you’ll find my review here).
There are a couple of books I really loved in the Contemporary category too – A Sky Full of Stars by Dani Atkins (just wonderful – review here) and One Summer Sunrise by Shari Low (you’ll find my review here). And I haven’t yet managed to read Love at Café Lompar by Anna and Jacqui Burns – I’ll remedy that as soon as I can – but I was thrilled to see a book from the wonderful Honno Welsh Women’s Press featuring in such a prestigious list, as one of the books shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel award.
But I will admit that there was one name on the list that gave me a special thrill – Kate Ryder, shortlisted in the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award category with her novel, Beneath Cornish Skies. Kate is an Amazon Kindle international bestseller who writes romantic suspense and timeslip/otherworldly/fantasy novels. On leaving school she studied drama but soon discovered her preference for writing rather than performing. Since then she has worked in the publishing, tour operating and property industries, and has travelled widely. Originally hailing from the South East, today Kate lives in Cornwall (where she predominantly sets her novels) and is constantly inspired by the ruggedly beautiful landscape of her adopted county.
I first discovered her writing back in 2017 when I read and reviewed (and very much enjoyed) her self-published novel Cry of the Gulls. In April 2018, that book was republished by Aria Fiction as Summer in a Cornish Cove – a heartbreaking love story combined with an edge-of-your-seat thriller, with the perfect emotional touch, sympathetic and believable characters, and the most wonderfully drawn setting (you’ll find my review here). Cottage on a Cornish Cliff followed – picking up the stories of Oliver and Cara from the earlier book, beautifully written, with real substance to the lives and emotions of its characters, a totally compelling read… and the detailed descriptions of the Cornish coastline and countryside are quite exceptional (you can read my review again here).
Kate’s next book was the quite superb Secrets of the Mist, published in September 2019 – I’d always planned to catch up with The Forgotten Promise, a book Kate published independently before I discovered her writing, so I was delighted to find that this was that previously published book, updated and extensively revised for republication. I’m a massive fan of time slip romance, and I loved everything about this one – two equally strong stories, the shifts between them perfectly managed (often accompanied by swirling mists…), romance I believed in, the most wonderful characterisation, the best of storytelling. Goodness, I even loved the cover, so cleverly evoking the atmosphere of the book, and echoing a key moment in the story that had really brought a tear to my eye. I was delighted to include it in my Books of the Year list for 2019 – you can read my full review again here.
My thanks to Melanie Griffiths, PA to the RNA Committee, for providing much of the material for this post – and I do have a few words from Kate on that book’s inspiration and journey to publication:
For me, variety is the spice of life and shortly after the Millennium my husband and I moved to Cornwall to restore a 200-year-old cottage. During its renovations we discovered a time capsule, hidden by a previous owner, which prompted me to consider past occupants and the lives and dramas that may have played out within the four walls of our cottage. I’ve always been interested in the possibility of great love leaving a vibration and I definitely believe in old houses retaining memories. I was a member of a creative writers group at the time, writing short stories, but the seed was sown one cold, winter’s day while I waited for customers at a country market. I’d come to know a fellow trader as a woman with a down to earth attitude, so I was surprised when she told me (in a matter of fact way) about a cottage she once owned on Dartmoor that she had shared with a ghost. During the years she lived there, she regularly witnessed an apparition moving across her living room before disappearing through the wall. That’s all I needed for my creative juices to kick in!
I penned a short story from this golden nugget. When I finished reading it to my fellow aspiring writers, a sea of expectant faces peered up at me and demanded to know what happened next. I was so fired up that the words just flowed and soon the self-published timeslip romance, The Forgotten Promise, was born. I was thrilled when this version was not only awarded the very first Chill with a Book “Book of the Month” but also short-listed for the 2016 Choc Lit “Search for a Star”. In 2017, I signed a four-book deal with Aria. After further editorial development my self-published novel was released as Secrets of the Mist, which has since achieved bestseller status on Amazon UK, Australia and Canada.
And the book on this year’s shortlist – Beneath Cornish Skies – was another of my Books of the Year, included without hesitation in my 2021 list. It was one of those rare and exceptional reads where the author got everything absolutely right – and I think this might be the right time to share again my full review…
Just sometimes, it can take me a few chapters to settle into a story – but not this time. I really think the prologue to this book is quite superb – that dream filled with sensory experiences, the recognition, the reassurance, the glow. And then we’re into the real world… Cass’s life with long term partner David, a relationship that stemmed from strange beginnings, an uncomfortable one where one partner has all the power and Cass’ spark has been dimmed by their time together. Finding that he’s involved in a relationship, along with denying her need for motherhood, is the last straw… and Cass makes her bid for freedom, becoming “superwoman” to a family living in an old manor house in Cornwall.
I just loved the way she blossomed – her ongoing relationship with the horses she’s always loved (I’m not remotely “horsey”, but her affinity was so well drawn), her relationship with the family’s children, spreading her wings, discovering there’s a whole new world outside her previous existence. For me, the joy of this book was largely about seeing Cass take control of her life, growing in confidence, moving on – but there’s always that distinct possibility that she might choose the easier path, and your conviction as a reader that she really mustn’t do so.
In some ways this is a love story – her relationship with Luke, married to Amanda (David and her would really have been made for each other) and distinctly out of bounds to her. But he also helps her transition to her new life – and introduces her to a world of knowledge and feeling that she’s never experienced before. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I liked his inclination to educate her with small lectures about history and the natural world – but as the book progressed, I decided I liked that element very much indeed.
I’d perhaps expected more of the paranormal, maybe a little timeslip – that’s not a criticism, just an observation. But the elements that are there are really well done – a ghost here and there, a feeling of foreboding attached to a setting (and particularly chilling), and a touch of “magic” that drives one of the book’s more dramatic moments. I thought it was perfectly judged – a shimmering at the edges, more about the interaction between then and now and the surrounding landscape, less overt and more affecting as a result.
I must mention too the exceptional sense of place throughout this book – first the South Downs, then North Cornwall. The depiction of the scenery and the natural world is particularly vivid – especially the Cornish clifftops and those holloways, the threatening woods – always with that feeling that there’s only the thinnest of veils between the past and present.
I loved this book, and read it in two wonderful sittings – it would have been one, but I sadly had to give in to sleep. The writing is excellent, the story entirely engaging with characters you really care about. The twists and turns, the secrets revealed… I loved it. Do give this one a try – very different, a story so well told, and highly recommended by me.
Kate, I know, is understandably delighted to be on the shortlist – and I’m almost as excited about it as she is. She commented, “I am truly honoured to be shortlisted for this prestigious award. When I first joined the RNA in 2016, little did I know how this writing journey would evolve but I am proud to say that I now have two international best-sellers amongst my published titles. I’ve met some wonderfully inspirational fellow writers and industry professionals along the way, and the RNA continues to be a great source of support and learning.”
My congratulations to every author on this year’s shortlist – it’s a tremendous achievement, and they’re all heroes and winners in my book. And I’ll see you all at the party…!
Readers who are interested in becoming a reader-judge for next year’s awards (I did my bit by reading two contenders this year…) should contact Sharon Ibbotson, the Awards Coordinator, at email@example.com