Introducing the short list for the prestigious RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2020!

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Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist.

Read on to find out the stories behind the talented shortlisted authors for the prestigious award as they reveal the themes that are at the heart of their lovely novels.

Zoe Allison, Impervious, Totally Bound

After years of hard work and burn out in Medicine I came to realise how much I loved writing and what a release it was – a balm for the soul. I wrote a couple of opinion pieces for a medical newsletter and after that tried my hand at writing children’s picture books. As my own children grew I got back into reading romance and remembered what I enjoyed most about the genre – the happy endings. I decided to write my own romances, with the strong heroines and non-toxic heroes that I craved to see in the books I read.

Jan Baynham, Her Mother’s Secret, Ruby Fiction

On retirement, I joined a local writing group. Once my stories started getting longer, I undertook a novel-writing course, enjoying the challenge to explore my characters in more depth and delve further into their stories. Joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme was the best decision I made on my journey to becoming a published novelist.
I love writing about families and the skeletons lurking in their cupboards. In ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, my main character, Elin, has a well-hidden secret. The novel explores the bond between a mother and her daughter, forbidden love, cultural differences and a search for true identity.

Laura Bambrey, The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, Simon & Schuster

The theme of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness was dictated by my main character, Tori. As I spent time getting to know her, looking past her severe anxiety and issues with specific phobias I realised that, right at her very core, she was chronically lonely. This sent me off on a fascinating trail of research. Loneliness has so much stigma attached to it – it’s a strangely taboo subject and something that is very difficult to discuss – but we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. I hope this book helps to open up those conversations.

Victoria Garland, Finding Prince Charming, DC Thompson

My first attempt at writing was at the age of twelve. I was given a typewriter for Christmas and started pounding out my own version of a Nancy Drew mystery. Remember those? Fast forward three decades to when I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. After having several short stories published in My Weekly I decided to write a pocket novel for them. I was asked for a sparkling Cinderella story for Christmas and Finding Prince Charming was born. I had an absolute blast writing it, playing with the fairy tale theme and falling madly in love with the hero.

Rosemary Goodacre, Until We Meet Again, Hera

As RNA members know, the New Writer Scheme is a great way for debut novelists to have work critiqued by professionals, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
The centenary of the Great War reminded me of this tragic period of history. What must it have been like to have been suddenly swept into it? My characters, Amy and Edmond, had to be special people. They fall in love as war breaks out, snatching days and weekends together, uncertain of their future. Only their love brings them through disaster.

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Annette Hannah, Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe, Orion Dash

About fifteen years ago the Signal Box near where I live became automated and I always thought it a shame that such a lovely building should be neglected and boarded up. I often visualised it as a café and when my protagonist Lucy needed a venue for her wedding planning business, I decided to use the old Signal Box as inspiration and followed my dream even if it was just in my imagination. Writing a book has been my lifelong ambition and to have achieved it feels fantastic. Being a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award is a wonderful rite of passage.

Stephanie Harte, Risking It All, Aria

I’d dreamt of writing a book for years but had been put off by the daunting task. Filled with self-doubt, I talked myself out of the idea every time it resurfaced until I plucked up the courage to put pen to paper and join the New Writers’ Scheme.
In Risking It All, Gemma’s forced into a life of crime to clear her husband, Nathan’s debt after he secretly borrows money from a gangster. Her loyalty is pushed to the limit as she battles with her conscience. Losing Gemma could be the price Nathan has to pay for his reckless behaviour.

Stefania Hartley, Sun, Stars and Limoncello, Totally Bound

When I moved to the UK from Sicily, my English was too poor to imagine that I could ever write anything. Eventually, my Italian became rusty too. But one day I discovered that I could write articles about my subject (I was a Science teacher). After twenty years, I finally knew English well enough to write! It was as exhilarating as sprouting wings. I started writing about anything that excited me and memories of my Sicilian youth popped up more and more. Now I love to share with others those memories and stories of hot Sicilian summers, sun-drenched passion and sparkling seas.

Kirsten Hesketh, Another Us, Canelo

My debut, Another Us, is inspired by my son who was diagnosed with mild Aspergers when he was ten. A few years later, sorting through some of the bumpf I’d been given at the time, I stumbled across a statistic which claimed that eight out of ten marriages with a child on the spectrum end before that child is sixteen. Our son was already sixteen by this point and I decided the statistic was rubbish. But what if I’d known about it earlier on? Might I have reacted differently, behaved differently? And so the idea behind Another Us was born.

Sharon Ibbotson, The Marked Lord, Choc Lit

As a child, I never wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be a nun. But after my parents informed me that I was neither Catholic nor was being a nun like it was in ‘The Sound of Music’ I started to consider other options. I loved reading – in fact, I still believe I am a better reader than I am a writer – and I started writing when I lost a copy of a library book I never got to read the end of, making up my own conclusions to the story and seeing where I could take the characters I had fallen in love with. I wrote ‘The Marked Lord’ when I was pregnant, sitting in my garden and dreaming of home (Australia plays a large role in this story). It’s all about second chances and letting go of past hurts, both physical and emotional. It was a lovely book to write and I’m still very fond of it (I am also still very fond of ‘The Sound of Music’ but then who isn’t?)

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Emma Jackson, A Mistletoe Miracle, Orion Dash

“Back in 2013 I went along to see the Christmas lights being turned on in Alfriston village with my partner and one-year-old daughter. It was a bitter night, but the buoyant atmosphere and chocolate-box setting set my mind racing with possibilities for a Christmas novel. From that spark of an idea, A Mistletoe Miracle, a festive romantic comedy, grew. Slowly. I squeezed in writing in the evenings and children’s naptimes over the next six years and in 2019 joined the RNA NWS, knowing that if I wanted to be published it was up to me to start taking my writing seriously.”

Lynn Johnson, The Girl From The Workhouse, Hera

I didn’t mean to become a novelist. In my fifties, I began researching my family tree and discovered things I never knew about my mother’s family. At my local writing group, I started to write short stories. The Girl From the Workhouse, was one of those very early stories and it grew – but was I writing history or fiction? I decided on fiction. And my biggest stumbling block took time to resolve itself. Dare I give my Grandma a boyfriend who was not my Grandad? Once I had the answer, my writing flowed. Fifteen years later…success!

Nina Kaye, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, Orion Dash

My childhood dream to write became real when I turned to writing to support my rehabilitation from a difficult illness, and to provide escape from it. Recently, I’ve completed another story inspired by this time, and I hope to share this in the future.

The key ingredients of The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating are the beauty of Edinburgh’s setting, personal experience in the hospitality industry, and (of course) my appreciation of gin! Real life issues are an important touchstone for my writing, as is the light-hearted side of life.

Lucy Keeling, Make It Up To You, Choc Lit

I wrote my first story when I was 8 and not to toot my own horn, but it was good. It had Ice Monsters roaming the streets. From then on, every few months I would get this urge to write. As I got older, I would manage a solid three chapters before I ran out of steam. It was only when I discovered that I could plan out a story, that it didn’t have to just magically spill from my fingertips, that I actually managed to finish one. Now, the only ice monsters I write about are the ones that melt with a HEA.

Ruth Kvarnström-Jones, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice, Printz Publishing

One is seldom too sick to scroll through Facebook. That said, as a copywriter flattened by pneumonia back in 2012, even scrolling depleted my energy supply pretty pronto. Until I saw a meme that suggested one had an obligation to use up every ounce of talent before one died. Must write my novel! Energy inexplicably refreshed, I began making notes for Halleholm- Lovisa’s Choice.
Set in the chocolate-box environs of the Stockholm Archipelago, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga: the tale of a multi-generational family feud that nearly rips apart a town and shatters one woman’s dream.

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Mairibeth MacMillan, The Viking’s Cursed Bride, Tirgearr

When I was wee, I got a tape recorder as a birthday present. My friends then spent several summers voicing the characters in the radio plays that I wrote – I still have some of the tapes! Later, when I took a career break from teaching drama, my interest in writing was rekindled and I completed degrees in creative writing and playwriting. I became interested in using writing to explore the stories associated with place, and most of my initial ideas are inspired by visits to particular buildings or places. The Viking’s Cursed Bride was initially inspired by a visit to Dumbarton Rock.

Melissa Oliver, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight, Mills and Boon Historical

My debut is a sweeping medieval romance, set against the back-drop of the Baron’s Conflict, which began in 1215. There’s a nod to the legend of Robin Hood- which, in turn, took its inspiration from the real-life story of Fulk FitzWarin III.
King John demands that his trusted knight; Sir Hugh de Villiers marries the reluctant widow; Lady Eleanor Tallany, and also quashes local outlaws…. Unknown to Hugh, his new wife and the outlaw are one and the same.
Through twists, turns, and intrigue; Hugh and Eleanor’s spark of attraction need to overcome standing on opposing lines, or extinguish forever.

Maggie Richell-Davies, The Servant, Sharpe Books

Novels were always a portal through which to roam the moors with Heathcliffe and Cathy, to take the waters at Bath with Beau Brummel, or to fall in love with Darcy, so it was inevitable to yearn to write my own. Then a visit to London’s Foundling Museum, with its heart-breaking scraps of fabric and ribbon left by women in the hope they might, one day, be able to reclaim their precious child, inspired me to write The Servant, the story of a poor eighteenth-century girl battling to survive the injustices of the age – and to find love.

Jacqueline Rohen, How To Marry Your Husband, Arrow

J Rohen

Written by Jacqueline’s family: From childhood, Jacqueline was an avid reader and budding writer. She found ideas for stories everywhere, notebook at the ready. One such inspirational nugget was Mick Jagger’s public statement that he and Jerry Hall were never officially married; the story stuck with Jacqueline for years, finally evolving into the plot of her debut romantic novel. Eventually, Jacqueline’s own romance led her to chimpanzee conservation in Uganda where, forcing herself to become a morning person, she determinedly set aside the time necessary to fulfil her dream of being a published author. She would have been so proud to be nominated.

Kathleen Whyman, Wife Support System, Hera

Working as a magazine journalist, Kathleen always aspired to be a novelist, but got slightly sidetracked over the years by work, children and Mad Men box sets. It was her eight-year-old daughter’s words – ‘Stop talking about writing a book and just write one’ – that gave her the push she needed to write Wife Support System.
The novel, published by Hera Books, was inspired by Kathleen’s own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.
Kathleen’s next novel, Second Wife Syndrome, has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.

Fiona Woodifield, The Jane Austen Dating Agency, Bloodhound Books

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since my childhood love of reading spilled into the desire to write stories of my own. In 2018, I sent the manuscript for my first novel, The Jane Austen Dating Agency off to the fantastic RNA New Writer’s Scheme and had lovely feedback.

The Jane Austen Dating Agency focuses on a heroine who has spent rather too much time reading romantic novels, so her reality fails to live up to the dream. She joins a regency dating agency where she meets some wonderful friends, some rather interesting and familiar characters, to the Jane Austen fan at least and discovers her true self.

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