Today we are delighted to welcome Dani Atkins to the RNA Blog, winner of the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the year 2018. Dani was the winner of the Epic Novel of the Year category. The judges described her novel as “vibrant and captivating”. They felt the story was beautifully written, intensely emotive and that the characters lingered long after the book was finished. Nicola Cornick, Chair of the RNA, said, “This was a hard-fought contest with a shortlist of the highest calibre. This Love is a deeply satisfying love story in the true tradition of romantic fiction.”
So, firstly, Dani, welcome to the blog and many, many congratulations in winning one of the highest accolades in Romantic Publishing. You beat off some strong competition including Jane Bailey, Rita Bradshaw, Leah Mercer and Tracy Rees – how does it feel to be a RONA Winner?
Thank you very much for having me. I know it sounds like a total cliché, but I honestly don’t think my win has sunk in yet. It was a totally unexpected and wonderful surprise. I was delighted just to be nominated, and incredibly proud to have been in the Epic Romantic Novel category with such incredibly talented authors.
Dani won with her novel This Love:
Sophie Winter lives in a self-imposed cocoon – she’s a single, 31-year-old translator who works from home in her one-bedroom flat. This isn’t really the life she dreamed of, but then Sophie stopped believing in dreams when she was a teenager and tragedy struck her family.
So, to be safe, she keeps everyone at arm’s length. Sophie understands she has a problem, but recognising it and knowing how to fix it are two entirely different things.
One night a serious fire breaks out in the flat below hers. Sophie is trapped in the burning building until a passer-by, Ben, sees her and rescues her.
Suddenly her cocoon is shattered – what will be the consequences of this second life-changing event?
Looking through your readers’ reviews of This Love, many compliment your novel for being an intense and emotional read with believable characters. Where did your inspiration for the story come from?
For me the inspiration for many of my books often starts with a simple question. In the case of This Love the question was: What would happen if you fell in love with the very last person you should ever become involved with?
The twists and turns don’t always reveal themselves straight away. One of the major twists in the book actually occurred to me several days after the initial idea.
The character of Sophie was inspired by every person I know who has faced adversity or the loss of a loved one and eventually found the courage to claw their way back up again.
Sophie could be any one of us.
How long have you been writing and who are your favourite authors which inspired you?
I actually can’t think of a time when I haven’t wanted to be a writer. It just took me a little longer to achieve than I had anticipated. Even as a child I would always be scribbling away at short stories and poems. However it was only five years ago when my first novel was published. That was an amazing feeling.
Although he writes in a completely different genre, the writer whose skill I most admire and who has both influenced and inspired me is Stephen King. I’m not even a big fan of horror, but Stephen King is without doubt a master of suspense and storytelling and has a unique and insightful way of bringing his characters to life with such honesty and realism. He is a true observer of human nature. Every time I read one of his books, he makes me want to be a better writer.
Your debut novel, Fractured, was an instant success. Another emotional read, may I ask how you keep the emotion between your characters authentic without it becoming over-emotional and potentially unbelievable to the reader?
I think it is all about balance. Many of the situations I write about are incredibly emotional and I put my characters through an awful lot. However I always try to inject a shot of humour here and there, usually in the dialogue, which I hope adds to the authenticity. Humans are both fragile and incredibly resilient and I would be doing a disservice to my characters if I had them wallowing in the depths of despair throughout the novel. When life is at its hardest we find the strength to keep on going and that is what I try to ensure my characters embrace.
As a RONA winner, what advice would you give to writers wanting to stand out from the rest?
My first piece of advice would be to read. A lot. And not just in the genre you write yourself. They say observing is one of the best ways of learning. So reading, and seeing how another author has tackled a story, how they handled the pace, the dialogue and the plot can be very inspiring (and sometimes even a little intimidating). It motivates you to bring all you have to the table the next time you begin to write. So many times I have finished reading a book and have found myself thinking longingly ‘I wish I’d written that.’ The thought that one day someone might say that after finishing one of my own books is both humbling and a little surreal.
The next important advice is to just write. Don’t tell yourself that ‘one day I am going to write a book’. Do it. Do it now. It’s all too easy to think that you don’t have time to write, but you just need to be disciplined and determined. I know of authors who write on the commute to work, or during their one-hour lunch break at their desk. Don’t set yourself impossible goals, start with just 1000 words a day (it takes a surprisingly short amount of time to achieve that). If you do that for just one hundred days, that’s only three months, you’ll have a novel.
And lastly you should write the book that is in your heart. I think it is far more important to be aware of current literary trends than it is to follow them. At the end of the day you must write the book you want to write and tell the story you have to tell. Perhaps it isn’t the same one that everyone is reading right then; perhaps you are bucking the trend . . . but then again, it’s just possible that you’re starting a new one.
So, what’s next for you? What are you currently working on and when can we expect to read it?
My next book While I was Sleeping will be available in the UK in July 2018 and I am incredibly excited to share it with everyone. It is another emotional drama with some really strong characters who I hope people will fall in love with every bit as much as I did. In addition I’ve recently begun work on my next project. It already has its hooks in me, and the characters and story are starting to keep me up at night. That’s always a good sign. It will be published in 2019.
Thanks, Dani, for coming on the blog and many congratulations again on winning such a prestigious award.
Dani Atkins was born in London in 1958, and grew up in the suburb of Cockfosters. She moved to rural Hertfordshire in 1985, where she has lived in a small village ever since with her husband, two (now grown-up) children, one Siamese cat and a very soppy Border Collie.
Dani has been writing for fun all her life, but following the publication of her novels FRACTURED (published as THEN AND ALWAYS in the US) and THE STORY OF US in 2014, now writes for work. Her third novel, OUR SONG, was published in January 2016.