I meant to use my next blog to cover a few hints on Finding Your Voice but the short list for the Shorter Romantic Novel Award elbowed it out of the way. (In case you didn’t know, the Romantic Novelists’ Association announced the short list for their suite of awards for romantic fiction last Monday.) For Libertà Books are sponsoring that award again this year.
As you may imagine, the whole hive are proud enthusiasts for the genre, both as writers and readers. So many, many congratulations to our short listers.
The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award
A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, Kate Hardy, Mills & Boon True Love
The Warrior Knight and the Widow, Ella Matthews, Mills & Boon Historical
The Day That Changed Everything, Catherine Miller, Bookouture
Second Chance for the Single Mum, Sophie Pembroke, Mills & Boon True Love
The Return of the Disappearing Duke, Lara Temple, Mills & Boon Historical
Cinderella and the Surgeon, Scarlet Wilson, Mills & Boon Medical
The Shorter Romantic Novel Award
When the RNA started in 1960, awarding an annual prize was one of its two objectives. Publishing was very different then, and I would say that at least two of the Main Award winners in that decade would fall into today’s Shorter Romantic Novel Category: between 30,000 and 70,000 words. That includes one by a favourite author of mine, Paula Allardyce, called The Witches’ Sabbath.
But in the noughties it became clear that a significant proportion of RNA Membership felt disenfranchised. Mills and Boon had become virtually a monopoly publisher of short romance in the UK. No Mills & Boon had appeared on the main award short list for more than thirty years – the whole writing lifetime of many authors.
Di maintained this for 5 years, chairing the judging panel herself and writing the short list adjudications herself.
At the same time Mills & Boon presented the Betty Neels Rose Bowl to be held for a year by the award winner, in memory of one of their most beloved writers.
Her books, largely hospital-set romances, still endure, 20 years after she died.
Indeed, while writing this I found another serious Betty-enthusing website. It’s lovely. The woman was truly unique and her writing has a gentle, practical tone which is timeless.
Sponsoring the Shorter Romantic Novel Award
Chumocracy has become a well-recognised and justifiably despised concept over this last year. All of us want to steer clear of that.
But we did want to help celebrate the shorter romantic novel because it is still a bit of a hidden gem. And there are times when no other sort of book will do.
This is where some people say “escapism” — and sneer. But, in this time of Third Lockdown, I’m all for escapism. It doesn’t mean you deny reality. How could you?
It means you go somewhere else for a brief period of time, where you are completely absorbed, where the good end happily and you have the time to get your breath back before plunging back into The Fight.
The Shorter Romantic Novel and Lockdown Me
I found Mills & Boon in the library at a time when I had just moved to my secondary school and was absolutely at sea in that new world. The joy of M&B was that the author made it clear what the rules were. And however scared the heroines were along the way, they got a happy ending. It was restful and comforting.
Fast forward to 2020. We are only allowed out for essential food purchases and no visitors are allowed. Oh that’s fine, I think. I am used to working on my own, with just a screen for company all day. I shall write squllions of words and not be bothered.
I was climbing the walls within a week.
Even reading old friends from the shelf didn’t help. I couldn’t concentrate. So I went, as I have so many times before, to short romantic fiction from reliable friends like Liz Fielding and totally new discoveries like Katherine Addison.
And yes, I could concentrate on those shorter books because it was generally one single story and it was very intense. My concentration lasted until I found out what happened.
Slowly, I got my equilibrium back. I also knew a lot more about elves in modern popular fiction, always a bonus.
And yes, back I went into the fray.
Eventually, I tied a scarf round my lower face (before we were told to wear masks, mind you) and hit the supermarket. It was quite bright outside, so I added sunglasses. “Is that you?” said a friend and neighbour, startled. “Wow, love the terrorist chic!”
I was coping again.
Many thanks to all our short listers, whose books I am now going to bundle into like nobody’s business.
Also to you, dear wonderful authors who, just sometimes, break us out of that cycle of despair. Here’s to you.