Doing this post I feel like one of those reporters standing outside the Odeon Leicester Square, waiting for the stars to arrive for the newest big film premiere!
When I arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington for the awards ceremony for the 2008 Romantic Novel of the Year the red carpet was already out. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me, but for the six short listed finalists who were outside in the unexpected sunshine, having their picture taken.
Once inside and pointed in the right direction for the suite where the ceremony was taking place, I knew at once that I’d reached the right place from the decibel level - one hundred or so authors, agents and publishers, meeting, greeting and generally preparing to have a good time. There were many friends I hadn’t seen for a while, and plenty of catching up to do. Everyone was dressed for the occasion – a lot of very smart suits, a sprinkling of sparkly stuff, and some very nice jewelry - what Nora Roberts termed ‘day-time diamonds’ in one of her books. I had a chance to speak to Catrin Collier, the friend who was one of the short listed authors, who was suitably glamorous and clutching a copy of One Last Summer, on her way to be interviewed for the TV. It didn’t seem like five minutes before the toast mistress and her staff began shepherding guests through into the dining room for the proceeding proper.
First there was lunch – guinea fowl followed by individual mulled wine soufflés – absolutely delicious and a total puzzle as to how they got them to stand up long enough to serve them!
Once coffee was circulating it was time for the main event – the presentation of the award – two awards in fact - as there is also a prize given for the year’s best category romance. Appropriately, in their centenary year, all the contenders were Mills and Boon writers; Liz Fielding, Julie Cohen, Lucy Gordon, Kate Hardy and Fiona Harper, with two books nominated. The prize was judged by RNA members Trisha Ashley and Katie Fforde and went to Kate Hardy for Breakfast at Giovanni’s.
Then it was the turn of comedienne Helen Lederer, one of the 2008 judges, to speak on the main award. She immediately got all the would-be published authors on her side by talking of her own writing ambitions and confessing that the first person she saw when she walked in was an agent who had just turned down her manuscript, and the second person was a publisher who had done the same.
A video presentation on all the finaling books showed how different they were from each other – as Helen has pointed out previously on Title Magic, the RNA award has a very wide interpretation of what constitutes a ‘romance’. If it has a central love story then the book qualifies.
On this occasion three of the contenders were ‘historical’ writers - Catrin, Maureen Lee and Catherine King, three were contemporary - JoJo Moyes, Freya North, and Adele Parks. The judges praised all the finalists, (Catrin got the distinction of the comment that hers was a read that took up a whole box of tissues!) but the judges’ choice proved to be Pillow Talk by Freya North, the story of a sleepwalking jeweler and a handsome, insomniac teacher – a ‘what if’ that raises untold possibilities. In accepting the award Freya referred to the loss of a close friend while writing her previous novel Home Truths, as a result of which she had decided to donate her winner’s prize to the charity Cancer Research – a touching gesture in memory of a friend.
After that there was a chance to mix and mingle – I didn’t get to wow any publishers or agents with my powerful sales pitch, but it wasn’t really that sort of event. I met many old friends and had the chance to thank them in person for the support they gave me in American Title. In particular it was good to speak to Jean, otherwise known as JG Goodhind, on the sucess she is having on both sides of the Atlantic with her cosy mysteries, set in the beautiful city of Bath and featuring Honey Driver, a hotelier who collects antique underware.
It took nearly an hour for the staff to persuade everyone to adjourn to the bar and other areas of the hotel and when I left, to revisit some old haunts in Chelsea, where I used to live, there were still clumps and huddles of authors networking/gossiping in corners.
All together a fun event. I don’t know whether Helen or I will ever get to be one of those finalists in some future time, but it’s certainly something to dream about.