Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Different Kind of Contest

Lee and Anitra posted earlier this week with two fabulous pieces on contests. I recently attended the award ceremony for a slightly different kind of competition, here in the UK. Not quite the sort of contest as those described by Lee and Anitra, but a very big event for new writers of romantic fiction over here. The Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Award brings together all those writers who have been through the RNA critique scheme that year and who have subsequently made it into publication.

The award takes place as part of the RNA Summer Party – a bit of a misnomer this year, as it was raining – I settled for a sensible pair of black trousers rather than the frothy frock I’d been hoping to wear. The venue was the beautiful library of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Doesn’t sound like a romantic location, but it is – a working library with a gallery, balconies and deep window embrasures, full of books – they do tend to be about mining and other engineer type subjects, as you might expect, but you can’t have everything. The approach, up a wide sweeping staircase, is pretty spectacular too. In fact the whole building is rather splendid, overlooking St James’s Park.

The party is a gathering for gossip, sipping champagne and making contacts – much exchanging of business cards and networking. And canap├ęs. I chickened out of something gooey, served in a spoon with what looked like spinach, but all the others were delicious, even if I didn’t know what I was eating half the time. I particularly liked the mini sausages, served with mashed potato as a dip. Bangers and Mash, in miniature.

The serious part of the evening is the judging and presentation. This year there were five newly published writers: - Beth Elliot with The Wild Card, Monica Fairview with An Improper Suitor and Elizabeth Hanbury with The Paradise Will, all published by Robert Hale Ltd, plus Giselle Green with Pandora's Box - published by Avon (HarperCollins) and Jane Lovering with Reversing Over Liberace - published by Samhain.

The award is sponsored by Dr David Hessayon, in memory of his late wife Joan, who was a romance writer and longstanding member of the RNA. Dr Hessayon is the writer of the ‘Gardening Expert’ books. There are over 49 million copies of his works in print and 1999 he received a Guinness World Record Award as ‘Britain’s best-selling living author of the 1990s’. During his usual warm and witty speech he confided that he will shortly be celebrating 50 years of publication. His generosity, as well as providing a prize for all the finalists and the main award of £1,000, also extends to buying everyone a glass of champagne to toast the winner, a gesture always very well received. This year was no exception and everyone toasted Giselle Green, with enthusiasm.

Giselle has been trying for publication for nine years, so her message was definitely never to give up hope. Pandora’s Box was described as a brave book, which tackles the story of a mother and her fifteen year old daughter who has been diagnosed with a debilitating and fatal illness. An old diary unearths memories and the ending has a surprising twist. And the descriptions of Cornwall are, apparently, superb. Giselle is also the author of A Writer's Guide to the Zodiac - on using star signs to help build and understand characters, which sounds like something a Title Magician ought to check out!

It was an excellent party. I’m already looking forward to next year. That one really will be special, as our own Helen will be one of the line-up in contention for the award, following the publication of The Magic Knot, by Dorchester in February 2009.


Lexie O'Neill said...

I love your posts! It's almost like traveling to England, when the dollar is weak and my wallet even weaker!
I think the party sounds lovely--and I need to hear about those people writing for nine years before publishing.

Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, I second what Lexie said. I love your posts. It is traveling where I don't get to -- thanks so much.
That will be so cool when we get to hear from Helen on her experience of the awards.
Hey, we need a report or a blog on astrologically building a character.

Evonne Wareham said...


You'll all have to come over for next year's party to cheer Helen on.

Trish - start swimming now!

I would like to do some research to find out the history of the IMech building - it is the kind of space you imagine a Regency heroine might inhabit, but I don't know if it was around then.

Savanna - maybe we can get Giselle to blog on her zodiac book? I will give it some thought.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Wow, it really is a totally different type of contest than the type Lee and I discussed. Yours sounds like a lot more fun with all the food and drink. So, did they announce the winner or?

If you do research the building please share what you discover--it sounds beautiful.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great description, Evonne. I wish I'd been there this year. I thought about attending, but I just have too much on. I will, of course, be there next year.

I'm off to the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in Chichester at the start of July. Should be fun. I've only been once before in 2005. I'm looking forward to some networking!