The RoNAs 2018…. by Dani Atkins
There are some people who seem to be lucky at winning things. They buy the right scratch card and win a tenner; they bag the top prize in the raffle; or correctly guess the weight of the cake at the village fête.
I’m not one of those people. I’ve scored only a handful of ‘wins’ over the last five decades. In chronological order they are: a youth club beauty contest when I was thirteen (nothing to get conceited about – it was a very small field!); a blue and white striped custard jug in a local newspaper competition – can’t remember how; and finally (my big win) in 1986 I was runner-up in a Woman magazine poetry competition to celebrate Prince Andrew’s marriage to Sarah Ferguson (I’d written a teeth-gnashing ‘It should have been me’ kind of poem).
But then last Monday night, all that changed when I scored the very best and most exciting win of my life, when my book This Love was chosen as The Romantic Novel of the Year by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Goldsboro Books. Even now, as I type that sentence, it’s hard to believe I haven’t just been having an incredibly long and extremely vivid dream.
To be honest I hadn’t even known my publishers had put my book forward for consideration until last November when I received an email from my editor Jo which began ‘This is top secret…’ She really was taking a huge risk, as I’m quite possibly the world’s worst secret keeper, and having to keep the news under my hat was a real challenge. But I did it, and for several months only my immediate family knew that This Love had been shortlisted in the Epic Romantic Novel Category of the RoNA Awards 2018.
The awards are a sparkling night of celebration organised by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and I had no idea what to expect, so was very happy to discover that books by three other Simon & Schuster authors Holly Hepburn, Milly Johnson and Heidi Swain had also been nominated in the Contemporary Romantic Novel category. I was going to be in great company. Clearly a fancy new dress was in order, and I spent much of the week before the event trying to re-learn how to walk in high heels (after a very long time of wearing nothing higher than slippers or my wellies!).
In the world of romantic novelists this event is probably as close as it gets to The Oscars – and just being a part of that excitement and buzz was a real thrill, which escalated considerably once we learnt that Jilly Cooper would be in attendance to receive a lifetime achievement award. We took our seats in a magnificent reception room (think of the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and you’re on the right track). Everyone was in high spirits – and that wasn’t just due to the numerous bottles of champagne on every table.
I’ve made many discoveries over the past five years since my first book was published, but one of the most remarkable and delightful of all is the unique support, friendship and camaraderie that exists among authors. There truly wasn’t a whiff of competitiveness in the air, and one of my favourite memories of the evening came just before the winner of the Contemporary Romantic Novel was announced. I looked up to see Holly, Heidi and Milly holding hands as they waited to hear who had won. It was such a lovely moment of pure friendship that it didn’t even seem to matter who won the award (it actually went to Julie Cohen, a very worthy winner).
I feel extremely fortunate to have made so many lovely new friendships with fellow authors and people in the publishing industry over the last five years. It has been and remains a very unexpected and heart-warming bonus to this new career, which I certainly don’t take for granted. To have so many of those friends around me on Monday evening made the night even more special. When my name was called for the second time that evening, I can remember getting to my feet, hugging my agent Kate (who’d left her sick bed to be there) and then hugging Jo my editor. On my way to the stage I passed Jilly Cooper, who grabbed my hand and whispered ‘well done’. Could it get any better than that?
As I stood in front of the applauding audience, I couldn’t help thinking for a moment ‘This is so incredible; I really wish my family were here to share in this moment.’ But before I began to speak I glanced across the room at the table who were cheering, whooping and clapping more loudly than any other in the room. There sat the Simon & Schuster and Books and the City teams, and I smiled as I realised that actually some very important members of my ‘family’ were right there with me after all.