Showing posts with label RNA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RNA. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The RoNA Awards - winners include Katie Fforde, Jenny Colgan and Rowan Coleman

This was the first year in ages that I didn’t get to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s RoNA awards bash - and I’m really fed up about missing it.

The RoNA awards celebrate the very best in romantic fiction and the party is always fun and ultra-glamorous. The champagne flows, you get to meet some of the best writers, publishers and agents in the business and RNA members’ shoes (from sky-high heels to leopard-print ballet pumps) are a delight to behold.

This year’s party was held at the RAF Club in London’s Piccadilly, with Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley (no mean writers themselves) on hand to announce the five category winners.

So three cheers for Katie Fforde, who won the Contemporary Romantic Novel award for the second year running – this time for Recipe for Love.

Rowan Coleman triumphed in the Epic Romantic Novel category with Dearest Rose while Jenny Colgan scooped the Romantic Comedy Novel award for Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams.

The Historical Romantic Novel winner was Charlotte Betts for The Apothecary’s Daughter and the Young Adult Romantic Novel award went to Victoria Lamb for Witchstruck.

The five winning novels now go forward to the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year award and the overall winner will be revealed at the RNA’s summer party on May 16.

RNA chair Annie Ashurst, who’s written scores of novels herself, told the 250 party guests: “… we are here to celebrate the success of our brightest stars. We are proud of their talent, tenacity and dedication to their craft.

“It is a lovely thing to write a novel and to keep on going even as doubts set in – as they do with us all. Our awards give us an opportunity to publicly recognise the enjoyment you bring to your readers.”

Hear, hear, Annie...

PS. As well as the RoNAs, Sophie Kinsella was given an Outstanding Achievement Award. The RoNA Rose Award went to Sarah Mallory.  

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Interview with Jane Lovering - author of Please Don't Stop the Music

Jane Lovering is a literary tour de force. A mother of five, she works as a science technician at a north Yorkshire secondary school and has written a string of romantic comedies. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, she recently scooped the Romantic Novel of the Year award for Please Don’t Stop the Music, her first novel to be published in the UK. It’s been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance too, which will be announced on June 12. Jane’s been writing for 25 years and her next novel, Vampire State of Mind, is out in August, so I jumped at the chance to ask about her work.

You've said it took 25 years to get published. Can you talk about the road to publication?

Jane: I wrote rather sporadically in the early years, convinced my genius would somehow be recognised. When this failed to happen, I worked my way up to entering competitions and had a few successes. I wrote several truly awful novels, the details of which I have removed from my memory and submitted these to publishers, with predictable results. Eventually, however, I decided to sign up for a creative writing degree, where I was introduced to the Romantic Novelists’ Association, which I joined on the New Writers’ Scheme.

How did you come up with the idea for Please Don’t Stop the Music?

Jane: I was at an RNA convention, listening to a publisher talk about requirements for heroes in the line of books she published. She was talking about heroes being allowed, these days, to have a “darker" side, not having to be picture-perfect. I had a blinding flash of light (although that could have been the excessive alcohol consumption the night before) and thought “I know who he is.  I know what he’s been through.” My own financial situation was (and continues to be) somewhat precarious, so the impecunious existence of my heroine was a natural thing to write about.  I always hated reading about Mr Perfect falling in love with Miss Perfect and living happily ever after – so I decided to redress the balance in favour of the rest of the human race.

The novel is a captivating mix of comedy and quite a dark storyline. How do you weave these two elements together?

Jane: I think comedy is a natural counterpoint to darkness. The comedy makes the darkness somehow easier to relate to. It is only by laughing at truly terrible situations that humans can survive them, after all. The humour in the novel is mainly conversational, witty come-backs - all those comments that you wish you’d made at the time (the ones you only come up with in the middle of the night), and observational.  I think I might be a frustrated stand-up comedian.

You work as a school science technician. How do you combine your job and family life with writing novels?

Jane: Firstly, I trained my children to believe that dust is a natural substance, that clothes are meant to be wrinkly, cooked food is black and tastes of charcoal and if you can see the carpet under the dog hair you are doing something wrong.  This helps greatly. I work from 8.30 until 12.30 at school. This is a “proper job,” which gives me something respectable to say when people ask what I do for a living. Being a writer isn’t what I do, it’s what I am.  It does mean getting up early to make sure the dogs are walked, chickens are fed and let out and everybody is up, dressed and pointing in the right direction by 8am, though.  When I get in from work I walk the dogs again, rummage feebly in the freezer for something suitable to burn for dinner, perform such tasks as prevent the environmental health office descending, and then sit at my laptop from 1.30 until called upon to fetch, carry or ferry children.  If I am deep in editing or first-draft territory I will write again once everyone is fed, until bedtime – with a break to walk the dogs again, because they are demanding little so-and-sos, feed the cats, and lock the chickens away.

Are you a very disciplined writer? How and where do you write?

Jane: For one so lackadaisical about housework, I am quite disciplined in my writing. I work in my bedroom (where there are no distractions in the form of Jeremy Kyle and cake) on my laptop.  Usually sitting in bed, because the heating in this house is a bit hit and miss, and for nine months of the year I am FREEZING, so I have the duvet up to my chin and the mouse under the covers with me. Sometimes I pile a cat or two on as well, but they often try to sit on the laptop and have to be ejected. I don’t believe in setting myself targets. I am easily enough discouraged as it is, and if I missed my target I should be convinced that it was hardly worth getting on with the project at all, and spend the next six months on the sofa with a pile of walnut whips and Good Housekeeping. 

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Jane: Write it. Finish it. Then put it in a cupboard, and get on with the next one. Eventually, round about the six-month mark, curiosity will get the better of you and you will pull that first novel out of storage and re-read it. If, after those six months, you still think it’s a good story, make the changes you will certainly find necessary, put it away for another month, then re-read. Repeat as necessary until you cannot find anything more to change, or you are making changes for the sake of it, then send it out. Then forget it. Write another one. If, as often happens, after those six months you feel you have written the biggest pile of poo ever to fall upon the planet, put it away again. The next one will be better. And the next.

What is your own favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?

Jane: I have too many favourites.  There is no one ultimate novel, although, if cast away on a desert island, I should probably ask for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to come with me.  Zaphod Beeblebrox is my all time hero, beta male, largely insane and completely amoral, my kinda guy. So I’d have to say that Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have been huge influences on me, although in the romantic comedy field it’s been mostly Jenny Colgan and Marian Keyes. In the interests of full disclosure, I also love Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, Jasper Fforde and Diana Wynne-Jones.

Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering (Choc Lit, £7.99)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Twitter - and Sarah Duncan's writing blog

If you’re a writer in the first stages of your career – or any stage in your career, in fact – then Sarah Duncan’s blog is a must read. The author of five novels (including the highly-praised Kissing Mr Wrong), Sarah is also a creative writing lecturer and the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Bath.

I’m a big fan of her blog, which covers everything from characterisation and dialogue to writing a synopsis (or not, as the case may be) and finding an agent. Yesterday’s post, as thought-provoking as ever, examined the thorny question of networking for writers – and more especially, the dos and don’ts of Twitter.

Sarah smartly compared Twitter to a drinks party. “ At this party it's socially acceptable to eavesdrop on conversations and join in if you've something to say even if you don't know the people talking, but generally the party operates on the usual lines,” she wrote. “Only the most socially inept people bang on about themselves all the time, conversations are about give and take, and no one likes being sold things at a social event.”

I reckon Sarah’s drinks party analogy sums up the best and the worst of Twitter. The most entertaining people on Twitter hardly ever mention their books or articles or blogs (mind you, many of them are such superstars they don’t have to), while the most annoying people never blooming shut up about themselves.

Actually, the best things about Twitter are the friends you make. I’ve chatted to lots of people on Twitter so often that I forget I’ve never actually set eyes on them in real life. I met a couple of writers at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s summer party recently and it felt like I’d known them forever.

Oh, and when it comes to singing Twitter’s praises, my biggest treat of the week resulted from a tweet. Quod, my favourite Oxford restaurant, recently ran a competition to win lunch for two. I retweeted the competition - and guess what?  I won! So thank you, Quod, for a fantastic lunch. It was the perfect end to my week on Twitter. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Jane Lovering wins Romantic Novel of the Year award

Glamour, champagne, pink balloons and sky-high heels – all the hallmarks of a fabulous Romantic Novelists’ Association party were firmly in evidence last night.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the RNA’s summer bash in London, where Sky News presenter Kay Burley was on hand to present the prestigious Romantic Novel of the Year award.

Kay, whose second book, Betrayal, is out next week, wore a chic, sleeveless dress and confessed that she was still learning her craft as a novelist. “Romance is so difficult to write,” she said, “especially if you have a teenage son who is embarrassed at everything you do.” She added that romantic fiction is one of the biggest-selling genres today and the minute she got home she was going to get all five shortlisted romantic novels on her Kindle. “It’s no surprise my name isn’t on the shortlist,” she quipped. “But there’s always next year.”

Kay whizzed through the five contenders – Christina Courtenay, Katie Fforde, Caroline Green, Jane Lovering and Rosie Thomas - at top speed and then declared the winner. It was debut author Jane Lovering, for Please Don’t Stop the Music. I reviewed Jane’s novel a week or so ago and it’s a pacy, snappily-written novel that boasts some great laugh-out-loud moments and some dark moments too. I warmed to Jane immediately when she scooped RNA’s romantic comedy novel prize a couple of months back and declared: “It’s taken me 25 years of writing to publish a book. If I can do it, anybody can. So go for it, girls!”

But no one looked more stunned than Jane (above) last night when she was announced as the Romantic Novel of the Year winner and Kay Burley presented her with her prize – a large glass trophy.

“Oh my God,” said Jane shakily, her bright red hair gleaming under the lights. “Don’t give me a big glass bowl. Me and a big glass bowl aren’t a good idea. If anyone had told me ten years ago in the middle of single parenthood and small children that I was going to win this award I would have wet myself. Quite frankly I still might!’”

Last night was a double celebration for Jane, a mother of five who works part-time as a science technician at a North Yorkshire secondary school. It was her daughter’s 16th birthday the same day and she was there to see her mum’s fantastic win. She must have been SO proud…

PS. As well as the Romantic Novel of the Year award, the party also saw the presentation of the RNA’s annual prize for the best in new writing. This year’s Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Scheme Award went to Evonne Wareham for Never Coming Home.  

Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering (Choc Lit, £7.99)
Never Coming Home by Evonne Wareham (Choc Lit, £7.99)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dear Virginia Ironside - Hell is NOT a room full of other women

It’s been a bad week for women, I reckon. First we had Samantha Brick wailing how other women hate her because she’s so beautiful and today the usually astute agony aunt Virginia Ironside has written a piece in the Daily Mail titled “Hell on earth is a room full of other women!”

Ironside claims: “I have dozens of female friends and I’m deeply fond of them all. But if you put a load of women together, a toxic chemical change seems to occur – one that turns them into bitchy, gossiping harpies, and produces an explosive reaction to me. And I’m not the only person to feel this way.”

Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know ANY women who feel this way. I’ve worked in loads of offices where women have been in the majority and have encountered nothing but professionalism, support, friendship and fun.

Ironside mentions that she used to work at Woman magazine, where she says, she found “how bitchy and cruel women can be when they’re in a group – women, who on their own, are perfectly nice and friendly.”

Funnily enough, at the time Ironside was writing for Woman, I worked as a feature writer for the opposition, Woman’s Own. The two weekly magazines were in the same South Bank tower block, two floors apart, and I’m sure the offices were pretty similar. The Woman’s Own features department consisted of one man and around ten women, and I can’t remember any bitchiness at all. Deadlines were tight and the pressure to get the best interviews intense, but we worked hard and had fun. I made lifelong friends there – in fact if my best pals Lesley and Daff phoned right now and suggested lunch I’d drop everything and go like a shot.

I’m a freelance writer now and mostly work from home so I wondered if I’m perhaps out of touch. But over the last five years I’ve worked closely with an international PR company, writing newsletters about apprenticeships, skills and training. All my colleagues there are high-flying women in their 20s and 30s and I’ve found exactly the same environment of hard work, courtesy and respect.  No back-biting whatsoever.

And then there’s the fabulous (mainly female) Romantic Novelists’ Association. From providing advice and support to up and coming authors to throwing ultra-glam parties to celebrate the achievements of their top names, the RNA proves once and for all that hell is NOT a room full of other women…

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Big Egg Hunt in London

I’ve loathed eggs since I was seven years old. In those far-flung days I used to take a packed lunch to Halton Primary School, just down the hill from the RAF base where my father worked. 

My mum had read somewhere that it was good for children to eat an egg a day (times have changed), so every morning she lovingly put a hard-boiled egg in my lunch box. I obediently ate them but suddenly the day dawned when I just couldn’t face another. Not ever. And I haven’t eaten an egg, boiled, fried or scrambled, since. I cook with them but when it comes to eating them by themselves, no. I  buy them so rarely that my children regard them as rare delicacies and savour every precious mouthful.

But despite my dislike of eggs I was entranced by the giant eggs I spotted in London this week. With Easter on the horizon, two charities, Elephant Family and Action for Children, have launched The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt. More than 200 beautifully crafted eggs, created by artists, designers, architects and jewellers, have been hidden around the capital.

The idea is that egg hunters can enter a competition to win a diamond jubilee rose gold egg, worth £100,000 and decorated with 60 gemstones (one for each year of the Queen’s reign), by texting a keyword from each egg to 80001. Entries are open till April 3.

Not only that, the decorated eggs, 2ft 6in (74cm) tall and made of fibre glass, will be auctioned for the charities at the end of the hunt.

Anyway, walking through Mayfair with my daughter before the RNA awards on Monday, we came across this beauty. Egg number 126 is the creation of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. It's called Love is Life and is perched high above the doorway of the bar at Claridge’s. I still haven’t been converted to eating eggs but finally I've found an egg I like.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The RNA Awards - winners include Katie Fforde and Rosie Thomas

The Romantic Novelists’ Association sure knows how to throw a party. I was thrilled when my invitation to the RNA’s RoNA annual awards dropped into my inbox. For a start, the awards celebrate the very best in romantic fiction, but secondly, the RNA’s bashes are brilliant fun and ultra-glamorous. The (pink) champagne flows, waiters whizz round with elegant canapés and you get to meet some of the best writers, publishers and agents in the business.

This year’s party was held at One Whitehall Place in Westminster. Author Jane Wenham-Jones, resplendent in a sparkling silver dress and pink hair, hosted the awards ceremony, while bestselling crime writer Peter James (he’s sold 11 million books and been translated into 33 languages – wow) presented the prizes. As Jane told the packed audience, Peter’s books are “not so much ‘then he kissed her,’ more ‘then he bashed her head with a blunt instrument.’”

Peter James declared right at the outset that he was very fond of the RNA. An RNA awards judge 20 years ago, he’d been struck by the “terrifically compelling” stories he came across then and had been hooked ever since. He also pointed that romantic fiction and crime fiction account for more than half the book sales in the UK today. And not only that, he reckoned most of the great writers of the past wrote books that would now be classed either as romantic novels or crime novels – War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, The Great Gatsby and more.

Then came the big moment – the awards themselves. To tumultuous applause, Katie Fforde stepped up to receive the Contemporary Romantic Novel award for Summer of Love. Katie saw off stiff competition from fellow big hitters Jill Mansell, Freya North, Miranda Dickinson, Karen Swan and Kate Johnson.

The Epic Romantic Novel award was won by Rosie Thomas for The Kashmir Shawl, reviewed on House With No Name last month. She beat Michael Arditti (the only man on the RoNAs shortlist), Betsy Tobin, Deborah Lawrenson and Ruth Hamilton.

The Historical Romantic Novel award went to Christina Courtenay, for Highland Storms, while Jane Lovering scooped the Romantic Comedy category for Please Don’t Stop the Music. When Jane climbed onstage to receive her award, she gave hope to budding writers everywhere. “It’s taken me 25 years of writing to publish a book,” she told the audience. “If I can do it, anybody can. So go for it, girls!”

Finally, the first-ever Young Adult Romantic Novel award went to Caroline Green for Dark Ride. “I’m completely in shock,” she admitted.

The excitement isn’t over yet though. All five winners now go forward to the prized Romantic Novel of the Year award, which will be announced on May 17.

Judging by yesterday’s ceremony, romantic fiction is in very good heart right now. As RNA chair Annie Ashurst (aka highly successful Mills and Boon author Sara Craven) said: “In the big sky of romantic fiction today’s winners are among the brightest stars. Their talent, diversity and commitment are awe-inspiring and we congratulate them all on their success.”

We certainly do.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday book review - The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

I’ve been a fan of Rosie Thomas’s novels for years. I’ve read virtually all of them and reckon my favourites are Follies (set in my home city of Oxford), Sunrise and White. Those three are certainly the ones that have made me cry the most.

Rosie is a keen traveller and over the years she’s climbed the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally and trekked across Antarctica. Not surprisingly, her exotic travels have provided the backdrop for lots of her books, including her latest, The Kashmir Shawl, which is out in paperback next week.

Her 20th novel, it’s set in two locations - the hills of North Wales, where Rosie grew up, and remote northern India. The story begins in 1939, when Nerys Watkins and Evan, her serious-minded Presbyterian husband, set out on a missionary posting to the Himalayas. After Evan travels further afield to preach, Nerys joins a group of glamorous friends in the lakeside city of Srinagar. The women live on houseboats, dance, flirt and fall in love – a world away from life with their husbands.

Sixty years later, long after Nerys’s death, her granddaughter Mair returns to Wales to clear out her late father’s house. There, hidden in a chest of drawers, she discovers an embroidered pashmina, with a lock of silky brown hair wrapped inside. There are no clues as to whose it was, so Mair decides to travel to Kashmir and unravel the story for herself. 

Rosie, who’s twice won the Romantic Novel of the Year award, is a wonderful storyteller. The Kashmir Shawl isn’t quite as breathtaking as White (and I found Nerys’s story far more interesting than Mair’s) but I was completely captivated by the images she paints of the rugged Himalayas and Kashmir’s beguiling beauty. When she describes Nerys’s arrival in Leh, a barren town cut off by snow for half of the year, you can sense the young woman’s shock at the cold, isolation and high altitude. “It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of her brain and her blood,” writes Rosie, “leaving her whole body as limp as string.”

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas (Harper, £7.99)

PS. The Kashmir Shawl has been shortlisted in the epic romantic novel category of the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year award.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Friday book review - Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

A whole year has whizzed by since I reviewed the six books on the 2011 Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist. But I vividly remember reading The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes for the first time and predicting in a flash that it would win. Her heartrending tale of passion, adultery and lost love was “everything a romantic novel should be,” I wrote in my review, and sure enough a couple of weeks later it was declared the winner.

Jojo’s new book is out this week and she’s done it all over again. By the time I got to the last few pages of Me Before You, I had tears streaming down my face and very smudged mascara. Not a good look, especially if you’re sitting on the train.

While lots of writers stick to familiar territory in their novels, Jojo surprises her readers every time. In the past she’s written about everything from brides travelling to meet their husbands after the Second World War (The Ship of Brides) to a businessman planning a controversial development in a sleepy Australian town (Silver Bay).

Her latest is the story of Will Traynor, a hotshot city financier whose life is shattered in a road accident. Quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair, he can’t do anything for himself and doesn’t see any point in life. He’s miserable, sarcastic and quick to take his frustration out on everyone around him, especially when his mother hires the sunny-natured, crazily-dressed Louisa Clark as his new carer. But surprisingly, the pair gradually form an unlikely friendship – a friendship that changes both their lives.

In less skilful hands, this novel could have been downbeat and utterly unconvincing. Jojo herself admits that given the “controversial subject matter” she wasn’t sure she’d find a publisher (actually, she was wrong - publishers were so keen that a raft of different companies bid for it.)

But in fact it’s an uplifting, wonderful read – a believable love story that makes you laugh, cry and think about a person’s right to live or die.

Me Before You is going to be one of the most-talked about books of the next few months. It’s been chosen as one of Richard & Judy Spring 2012 Book Club reads and many are already predicting that it could be as big as David Nicholls’ One Day. I reckon they could be right.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Michael Joseph, £7.99)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The fabulous RNA

Romantic fiction often gets slated – largely due, as Joanna Trollope once said, to snobbery and the genre’s pink covers, embossed lettering and “cartoon drawings of cocktail glasses and handbags and ditsy girls falling off their designer heels.”

But so much of the criticism is downright unfair. A total of 25 million romantic novels are bought by readers in the UK every year and romantic fiction boasts some of the most talented writers around. Marian Keyes, for instance, is a wonderful novelist and has covered everything from domestic violence and depression to alcoholism and dementia in her ten bestselling books. If you haven’t read Last Chance Saloon or The Other Side of the Story by the way, you are in for a treat.

But I digress. I had to write this blog after reading Claudia Connell’s sneery piece about the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s summer party in today’s Daily Mail. She claimed it made her feel as though she’d “accidentally stumbled into the Annual General Meeting of the Jam Makers and Knitted Toy Association” and described the guests as “the kind of ladies you’d find working in charity shops or arranging the church flowers.”

RNA members were outraged by her remarks. And I’m not surprised. I’m not an RNA member but I’ve been to lots of their parties and they’re a fabulous group of novelists, not at all the type she describes.

They’re impossible to pigeon-hole either. They range from young to old, from ultra-glam to not-so-glam and from writers just starting out to novelists whose books fly into the bestseller lists the minute they’re published.

New chair Annie Ashurst, for instance, is not only a highly successful Mills and Boon author (she writes as Sara Craven) but also a former Mastermind champion and member of the RNA team that stormed through to the final of University Challenge – the Professionals a few years back. Outgoing chair Katie Fforde has just had her 16th novel, Summer of Love, published to great acclaim while press officer Catherine Jones, aka Kate Lace, will see her 15th book, Gypsy Wedding, hit the book shops in August. Between them they’ve shifted loads of books over the years – and helped countless RNA members along the tricky road to publication too.

The image shows the cover of Fabulous at Fifty, a history of the RNA's first 50 years.
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