Normally I would be brushing the cobwebs off the posh frock, polishing the tiara and heading for an evening of fizz, friendship and books to add to the TBR pile in some Big Hall somewhere in central London.
Or I might start with lunch and/or tea with out-of-town friends and rock up to the awards with a good deal of the f and f already under the belt.
This year there were ten awards, nine for books in various categories and one Outstanding Achievement Award for a body of work, many supported by various bookish sponsors, including Libertà. So all of the hive, and friends, were sitting at our computers ready to party.
Well, no pre-awards cream teas and gossip for us this year. But, for a couple of hours beforehand, short listed authors were posting their bridesmaid-before-the-wedding photos on social media. It really did feel as if the usual party excitement was building. Different from normal but just as fascinating and equally festive.
Like these three, a nice illustration of the general gorgeousness as well as the variety of your modern romantic novelist – from sultry and dangerous to warm and laughing and very practical.
An hour or so before kick off, Nicola Cornick (short listed, Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award) tweeted:
Well that’s definitely a hack I wouldn’t have thought of. Adding it to the memory palace right now.
Joanna, pre-party and practical as always, mused: Really intrigued to see how this will pan out. I know that the RNA’s IT team have worked really hard to make the evening as slick as possible. I was surprised and intrigued to learn it would be transmitted live—sounded like a recipe for potential disasters—and yet I do understand that, if everyone watching wants the joy and the vibe of seeing the winners’ real reactions, it has to be done that way. So with 10 minutes to go till curtain up, my fingers are very much crossed that the potential disasters don’t happen.
Getting the Party Started
Spot on, that historical novelist! The RNA might be heroic but the Internet was not in the giving vein. “Too much love” said the organisers.
So much love indeed that we virtual participants crashed the RNA website entirely before the time it was due to start – couldn’t even get on to see what we were supposed to be doing. The RNA Facebook page had a blank screen for twenty minutes; and a “Be with you in 5” for another twentyish.
I assume that hairs were being torn out in the Ops Room.
We, however, moved from anguish – AAARGH, what did I do wrong? – to a sort of rollicking fellow feeling. On Facebook people exchanged jolly comments with complete strangers or waved to friends, who couldn’t reply fast enough. Bit like queuing for the Proms.
There were a lot of us. I mean, on the screen the numbers clicked up. At 19:44, I noted it down, there were 356.
Presenting the Awards
Labouring mightily to stagger through the Internet Jungle, Guest of Honour Larry Lamb and Master of Ceremonies Jane Wenham Jones, came on screen but not on audio. They were very charming but you needed to lip-read and I don’t.
(Again, some amiable and very funny comments.) It got better, though, and Jane and Larry even managed to chat a bit later on.
And – Ta Dà – the Romantic Novel Award for A Debut and …
Even better, Clare Pooley, winning author of the first (The Debut Romantic Novel Award, sponsored by Katie Fforde) was actually live and audible. Many congratulations on The Authenticity Project
Next up was Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel winner Kate Hardy for A Will, A Wish and a Wedding. Joanna again: and she was so delightful—and so choked up—in her acceptance speech. Probably made most of the watchers choke up, too. Having commented in the afternoon on which outfit she should wear, I have to admit that she was so close to the screen I couldn’t see which she’d chosen. Didn’t matter. She’s a lovely writer and it’s a delightful book. Much recommended.
The Saga Award went to Shirley Mann, whose touching acceptance speech paid tribute to her parents who inspired her first book and the women pilots who inspired this, her award-winning second book, Bobby’s War.
On International Women’s Day, as she said, it couldn’t have been more fitting.
Ta Dà – the Romantic Novel Award for consistent wit and humour plus…
Fourth was the Romantic Comedy Award and we had audio for all parties concerned now, though, in the immortal words of Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. “Have I won something?” asked Carole Matthews, responding gamely, to the call. Much chortling as we raised a glass to her Sunny Days and Sea Breezes. Noted Joanna: With a sparkly mannequin of the queen in the background. Looked lifesize, too! Great set dressing, Carole.
Louise Douglas’s The House by the Sea, won the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award. Joanna notes: Louise was totally unable to speak (nothing techy there, just unable to produce a sound) when she won. Definitely worth doing the Awards live for a moment like that. “I’m all a-tremble,” Louise said, when she could speak. Think we all had a lump in our throat.
Then Christina Courtenay won the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award for Echoes of the Runes. She said the book took her to places she never thought she could go. On Twitter in the afternoon she couldn’t make up her mind whether to wear the Viking boots or the sexy boots.
We’re still wondering…
Authors’ Green Room
One of the innovations that is probably only doable virtually, was giving the short-listed authors of each award their own green room. They’d been called for half an hour before the (intended) start time and had clearly been getting on like a house on fire. Pretty much every author said what fun it was and how much they valued it.
Ta Dà – hic – the Romantic Novel Award set in the present day and…
The 7th Award was for the Goldsboro Contemporary Romantic Novel and the winner was My One True North by Milly Johnson, whose truly spectacular Startled Author response words were great justification for pouring another drink. Says Joanna: Totally Milly. “Worst year we’ve ever had, but books give comfort to so many.” Gobsmacked? Her word not mine. And she looked it, too. But she was lovely with it. And promising champagne to her fellow shortlisted authors …
Then came the Historical Novel award, won by Catherine Tinley for Rags-to-Riches Wife. All the Libertà hivies were cheering – since we’d kind of got used to thinking than M&Bs were never short-listed for any category except the Shorter Romantic Novel.
Joanna says: Wonderful to see M&B Historicals listed in one of the main categories and to win, against such strong competition, is a triumph. Catherine was clearly amazed to have won. She offered kudos to the Irish chapter of the RNA. And a delightful smile.
The ninth Award was The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award and went to Julie Houston for Sing Me a Secret. This recognises the most commercially successful and popular romantic novel of 2020 as voted for by book bloggers, librarians and booksellers. So it reflects sales and borrowing, as perceived by some of the industry’s experts. Joanna sighed: most gorgeous office cum library. Waves of envy from here. And SO tidy, too. Tidy enough to keep a glass of wine to hand without fear of sending it flying, was what I thought. Definitely One of Us.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Joanna: This Award was introduced by Immi Howson in extra-long earrings. Agree with Immi’s conclusion that romantic fiction has made the last year “slightly less horrible”.
Immi reminded us that Mike wrote his first and best-selling novel, My Legendary Girlfriend, after a career in journalism, included a stint as an agony uncle. He became a full time novelist in 1997, since when he has written fifteen novels, including The Man I Think I Know, selected as a World Book Night title, and Half A World Away, selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.
In his acceptance, Mike congratulated all the Romantic Novel short listed writers and said, “It’s great to be recognised by my peers because it’s so often a genre that’s overlooked – though not by readers.” He also pointed out that Lockdown had been good for reading – Waterstone’s had made the biggest sales ever in March 2020.
He made me hoot when he said he’d been with the same publishers all his writing life, and thanked them for not getting rid of him. I reckon that would definitely have got a cheer in a real-world party.
Joanna: Mike Gayle said he plans to show Immi’s intro to his Mum to prove to her that he does “a proper job”. Loved that.
[Later note from Joanna: The Guardian did a thoughtful profile on Mike Gayle which perhaps surprisingly 😉 made positive comments about the RNA as well. Definitely worth a read.]
Well, there’s always an after-the-party-party. Libertà is no different. We had a lovely gossip and discussion about which award winning book we were going to read first.
We all agreed that huge congratulations were due to to the RNA for tackling such a complicated presentation, designing it effectively and bringing it on time in just about an hour. We especially congratulated lovely Janet Gover, who’s done so much to improve RNA technological awareness over the years. By afterparty time she still had all her blue hair, despite the stormy techie seas she had been through!
We did all agree, though, that the professionals that the RNA had brought in to run the live presentation had proved less than stellar. Everyone at Libertà winced over the 40 minute late start, the dodgy audio, and some embarrassing badly-timed cut aways that left a speaker uncertain whether to carry on or not.
It was a great treat for me to see a friend I’ve known for many years in the industry bring off a double. I caught sight of her briefly contributing to the Facebook comments as we were waiting for the Awards to start. I did wave. But those comments pass so fast, maybe she didn’t see me.
Anyway, many, many congratulations to Julia Williams, Editor with Harlequin Mills & Boon, who edited both the Libertà Shorter Novel Award winner by Kate Hardy and the Goldsboro Historical Award winner by Catherine Tinley.
Seen here raising a celebratory tincture. Count on me for something fizzy the next time we meet in person, Julia!