Friday, 19 March 2010

An eagle-eyed editor

The highlight of the week was the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association lunch. The RNA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and marked the occasion in style with a glamorous awards ceremony at London’s Royal Garden Hotel. Film critic Barry Norman presented the prizes (including lifetime achievement gongs to Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope.) “Ooh good,” he said when he opened the Romantic Film of the Year envelope and saw that An Education had won.

I was sitting next to Miranda Dickinson, whose heartwarming debut novel was one of the six books shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year award. Actually, the story behind her book, Fairytale of New York, is like a fairytale itself. Drama teacher turned copywriter Miranda submitted her unfinished manuscript to a website for unpublished writers – where eagle-eyed Avon editor Sammia Rafique spotted it and offered her a three-book deal. The book has sold more than 100,000 copies in four short months and Miranda, who was accompanied to the lunch by her proud mum and Sammia, still can’t believe her publishing dream has come true. A great read, it’s the story of Rosie Duncan, who seems to have the world at her fingertips. She has a thriving floristry business, fantastic friends and glitzy Manhattan lifestyle, yet behind her glossy facade lie years of heartbreak.

Another book I loved was Louise Bagshawe’s Passion. Bagshawe sounds a bit like Superwoman - as well as writing novels and looking after three children, she’s also a Tory parliamentary candidate. Her tale (half-thriller, half love-story) of shy Oxford academic Melissa Elmet, who is plunged into an international murder plot, is a glamorous, pacy blockbuster that reminds me of Jackie Collins.

But in the end Lucy Dillon’s Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts scooped the main prize. Lucy’s captivating book must be one of the few romantic novels to be set in a rescue kennels. It features sassy PR Rachel Fielding, whose aunt bequeaths her a dogs’ home, complete with an assortment of abandoned mutts. Rachel isn’t a “dog person” at all but as she battles to match the pets with new owners she learns important lessons about loyalty, second chances and unconditional love.

Lucy (pictured above), a glamorous redhead in sky-high heels, made a wonderfully gracious acceptance speech. Along the way she name-checked her two Basset hounds, Violet and Bonham, who were being looked after by friends back home in Herefordshire. So if you’re looking for a great read, try one of these. They prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that romantic fiction is blooming.

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