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.