I’m up against it again – off for a week’s holiday on Saturday, two more books I really must read and review before I go, and no option but to put my tentative plans to run a series of interviews on ice for now. But I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to spread the word about the contenders for this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award, announced on 7th June. I think this might be my favourite of the RNA’s awards, and means so much to those on the list – it’s for authors whose debut novels have gone through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and are subsequently accepted for publication.
The award is sponsored by Dr. David Hessayon OBE in honour of his late wife, Joan, who was a novelist, RNA member and supporter of its New Writers’ Scheme, and it showcases a variety of debut novels within the romantic fiction genre (and, I always think, really demonstrates the really wide range of wonderful writing that fits within that definition). The novels are judged by a panel of published authors from the RNA and publishing industry professionals: previous winners include Jo Thomas, Charlotte Betts, Lorna Cook and Caroline Day.
Many of you will already be very aware of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, which provides the most wonderful and welcome support to unpublished writers of romantic fiction. Manuscripts can be submitted for assessment and are critiqued by published authors – and additionally, the members of the scheme can attend RNA events and participate in members-only activities and networking opportunities.
Melissa Oliver is the organiser of the Joan Hessayon Award and won the award in 2020 – I did actually manage to do an interview that year (perhaps because holidays were on hold for a while…!), and you’ll find my chat with her here. She commented:
‘As a previous winner, I know first-hand that this prestigious award champions and recognises newly published authors who have graduated from the RNA’s fabulous New Writers’ Scheme. It’s a fantastic achievement and this year the depth and variety of the books up for the award are a testament to the continuing appeal and popularity of romantic fiction and all its subgenres.’
And Jean Fullerton, the RNA’s Acting Chair, added:
‘Yet again, the Joan Hessayon Award showcases a wonderful crop of RNA debut writers.’
I have my ticket for the RNA’s York Afternoon Tea in September (you can get yours here – it’s always a lovely occasion) – but this year it won’t include the award ceremony as it has in the past. This year that will be held at 6.30pm on Saturday 16th July 2022 at Harper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire, as part of the RNA’s annual conference. You never know, perhaps that’ll be when I can manage some interviews too – or perhaps even better, can mark the occasion by reviewing a book or two!
But let me share details of the 2022 contenders – if you click on the book title, it’ll take you to its Amazon page…
Jennifer Bibby, The Cornish Hideaway, Simon & Schuster UK
A beautiful village. An artist who’s lost her spark. And a community who help her find it again.
All Freya has ever wanted to do is paint. So when she fails her Master’s Degree in Art, on the same day that her boyfriend decides he needs a ‘more serious’ partner, to Freya it feels like the end of the world.
Luckily, she has a saviour in the shape of best friend Lola, who invites her to the sleepy Cornish village of Polcarrow, to work in her café. With nothing keeping her in London, Freya jumps at the chance of a summer by the sea.
Freya needs time to focus on herself. But then dark and mysterious biker Angelo blows into town on a stormy afternoon, with his own artistic dreams and a secretive past, and Freya’s plans of a romance-free summer fly straight out of the window…
Heart-warming, heartfelt and romantic, The Cornish Hideaway is a novel of community, friendship and learning to love again, for fans of Jenny Colgan, Cathy Bramley and Heidi Swain.
Anita Faulkner, A Colourful Country Escape, Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group)
Falling in love isn’t always so black and white…
When vibrant but penniless Lexie is dumped by her posh boyfriend who is looking for a more financially suitable match, she decides to pack up her beloved orange campervan Penny in search of a new path. Stumbling upon a vacancy at a family-run paint company in the Cotswolds, Lexie believes she’s found her perfect match . . .
Lexie arrives at Nutgrass Hall, home of Carrington Paints, but it seems that owner Benedict Carrington is less than impressed with her arrival, and Lexie realises she’ll have her work cut out for her if she’s to convince stuffy “Beige Ben” to trust her with rescuing his out-of-touch business. But Ben has more on his mind than just the company – his mother is determined to find him a suitable wife worthy of carrying the Carrington family name, or she’ll take the business from him.
As Lexie sets to work on injecting some life colour into Carrington Paints, Ben allows himself to be set up with Tewkesbury’s finest ladies. But the more time the pair spend together, the more they realise their feelings for each other aren’t so black and white. Will Lexie be able to brighten into Ben’s colourless world before it’s too late?
Let yourself be whisked away with A Colourful Country Escape and fall in love with the cosy Cotswold charm, the colourful characters and some heart-stopping romance. Perfect for fans of Heidi Swain, Jo Thomas and Bella Osborne.
Suzie Hull, In This Foreign Land, Orion Dash
‘I beg of you this one thing – that if I should perish here, in this foreign land, that you will look after her.’
March, 1914. When talented artist Isobel embarks on a journey to Egypt, it’s to reunite her best friend Alice with her husband, Wilfred – and to use the stunning sights of Cairo as inspiration for her own paintings.
A whirlwind romance was the last thing she expected, but when Isobel meets Wilfred’s handsome brother, Edward, neither can deny the strong connection between them – especially when unexpected tragedy strikes, leaving them all reeling.
Just as they get to grips with their grief, WW1 erupts, and the lovers are forced to separate. They promise to meet again in London. But when Edward is listed as ‘missing – presumed dead’ only weeks after landing in France, Isobel is devastated, unmarried and on the brink of ruin. She has only one way to save her honour… but it means betraying the love she holds so dear.
A heartrending and thrilling WW1 romance, In This Foreign Land is the stunning new debut from Suzie Hull, for fans of Kate Hewitt, Shirley Dickson and Kate Eastham.
Laura R. Leeson, The Valentine Retreat, Champagne Book Group
The Valentine Retreat should be the perfect place for Megan to take a mini break from her broken life. She’s determined to hide her imperfections and secrets, to allow herself to soak up the opulence and glamour of the hotel for a few days. But she’s not the only one at The Valentine Retreat with something to hide.
Jim is struggling with his new job. Working at The Valentine Retreat wasn’t even close to what he had in mind as his next career move, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He needs to keep his head down and make this a success. No one can find out the truth about his life.
Anthony Valentine believes he has everything under control. The Valentine Retreat is running smoothly and he’s sure the authorities think his illicit activities are hidden in plain sight at his hotel. They are dead wrong about that.
Megan’s arrival at the hotel reveals Valentine’s hidden agenda. And the flames of attraction that flicker between Megan and Jim ignite more than their mutual passion as the velvet curtain of deceit that hides Valentine’s deepest secrets catches a spark. As it begins to burn, their innermost fears are laid bare, and the fire threatens to destroy them all.
The Valentine Retreat is the first in Valentine’s Vendetta trilogy.
Lissa Morgan, The Welsh Lord’s Convenient Bride, Mills & Boon Historical
Enjoy the drama that unfolds in this medieval marriage of convenience… a wedding between enemies, a marriage to heal their scars…
Hiding a disfigurement, Eleanor de Vraille is already lacking confidence when she arrives at her future husband’s cheerless Welsh castle. And Rhun ab Owain’s open disapproval of her does nothing to make her feel at ease.
Their union is to seal peace between their families, nothing more. But Eleanor’s heart rebels – is she a fool to hope for any affection from this strong-willed nobleman with the dark glittering eyes?
Kirstie Pelling, Life’s a Catastrophe, Embla Books
What if thinking like your cat could solve your problems?
Aly Meadows is a self-proclaimed ‘catfluencer’ using her two beloved pets to earn thousands of likes on Instagram. But behind the lens, Aly is broke, facing eviction and living a life that’s a million miles away from the glamorous world of social media stardom.
Rick Harvard, the CEO of talent agency Glimmer, has the power to change her life, but only if Aly agrees to dive in at the deep end. Can Aly come out of her shell and channel the confidence of her insta-famous cats? And if so, will she finally find the love and laughter she deserves?
Perfect for fans of Fiona Gibson, Lindsey Kelk and Mhairi McFarlane.
Alex Stone, The Perfect Daughter, Boldwood Books
The perfect daughter…
Jess Harper has spent her whole life trying to make her mum, Abigail happy and proud. And everything Jess does, from the clothes she wears, the job she has, the men she dates, are all approved by Abigail first.
The perfect boyfriend…
So when Jess announces that she has a new man in her life – plumber Adam – Abigail is less than impressed. ‘A plumber? Really, Jessica….’ Adam encourages Jess to break free from her mum’s manipulation, can’t she see what’s happening?
The perfect mother….
But Abigail is only doing these things to keep Jess safe, to protect her from getting hurt again…isn’t she?
Or the perfect liar?
Jess, caught in the middle, doesn’t know who to believe or trust. And then Adam vanishes without trace.
Now Jess is the police’s prime suspect and they want to know if Jess really is as perfect as she seems….
A gripping new psychological thriller for fans of Sue Watson, Shalini Boland and S.E.Lynes
Jessie Wells, The Good News Gazette, One More Chapter
Because we all need something to smile about!
She may be down but don’t count this determined single mum out just yet…
Nine years ago, Laura Harris returned from London to the quiet hamlet of Westholme with her tail between her legs and a bun in the oven. Where once her job as a journalist saw her tearing off to Paris at a moment’s notice after a lead, now the single mum covers the local news desk, fielding calls from pensioners claiming they’ve seen aliens. At least, she did… until she’s unceremoniously let go.
When Laura invites her friends over to commiserate, wine and whining soon turns into something more… and before the night is out she’s plotted her next step: The Good News Gazette.
Now, as a developer threatens to force Westholme into the twenty-first century, Laura’s good news movement finds her leading a covert campaign as a community crusader. She may have started The Good News Gazette as a way to save herself, but she might just be able to save Westholme in the process…
Helen Yendall, A Wartime Secret, HQ Digital
England, 1940. Can Maggie keep her family – and her secret – safe?
When Maggie’s new job takes her from bombed-out London to grand Snowden Hall in the Cotswolds she’s apprehensive but determined to do her bit for the war effort. She’s also keeping a secret, one she knows would turn opinion against her. Her mother is German: Maggie is related to the enemy.
Then her evacuee sister sends her a worrying letter, missing the code they agreed Violet would use to confirm everything was well, and Maggie’s heart sinks. Violet is miles away; how can she get to her in the middle of a war? Worse, her mother, arrested for her nationality, is now missing, and Maggie has no idea where she is.
As a secret project at Snowden Hall risks revealing Maggie’s German side, she becomes even more determined to protect her family. Can she find a way to get to her sister? And will she ever find out where her mother has been taken?
An emotional and heartbreaking wartime novel for fans of Diney Costeloe, Dilly Court and Mandy Robotham.
Well, there are certainly a few in there that I plan to add to my reading list! Many congratulations to the new novelists on the list for achieving their dream of publication – although there will be only one winner at the award ceremony, you’re all winners in my eyes, and well done you!
My thanks to Melanie Griffiths, RNA Event PR, for providing the press release on which this post was based. For more information about the Romantic Novelists’ Association, do please visit their website.