Every year the RNA presents the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers to an author whose debut novel has been released after receiving a critique through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme.
This year’s award will be presented in York on 14th September, so in the run up to the big day we’re shining a spotlight on some of this year’s brilliant debut novels. Here are the first five contenders…
Angela Barton, Arlette’s Story (Ruby Fiction/Choc Lit)
Arlette Blaise lives on her family’s idyllic farm in France, but when German soldiers take over a nearby manor house, she realises her peaceful existence is lost. By navigating terrible obstacles, can Arlette find the courage to fight back against the enemy in order to protect the ones she loves?
What made you want to tell this story Angela?
I was inspired to write Arlette’s Story having visited the martyred village of Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. On 10th June 1944, over two hundred German soldiers drove into this once thriving community and left it shattered, with the majority of its townspeople dead. Charles de Gaulle ordered that it should never be touched, so the houses, schools, hotels, cafés and shops stand today as they were left that day, frozen in time. Oradour is now crumbling and rusting and I thought that by writing Arlette’s Story, I could in some small way, I could help keep the memory alive for future generations.
And how do you feel about the New Writers’ Scheme and being in contention for the Joan Hessayon Award?
I’m delighted and deeply honoured that Arlette’s Story has been shortlisted for the Joan Hessayan Award. Joan was a member of the RNA for many years and a great champion of its New Writers’ Scheme, a programme for which I’m extremely grateful because it helped polish my manuscript, leading to its eventual publication.
Francesca Capaldi, Danger for Daisy (My Weekly Pocket Novels)
Daisy’s swapped a traditional Christmas for an archaeological dig with an intriguing stranger. But she makes an alarming discovery that points to the island harbouring a dark secret. It’s not long before the team is under attack, and it looks like one of them might be responsible…
What was the inspiration for Danger for Daisy?
I’ve always loved visiting the various islands around the British coast and wondered what it must be like to live on the more remote ones. The story grew out of that, and a visit to Lindisfarne, part of the Farne Islands where my imaginary island is situated.
And what does it mean to you to be in contention for the Joan Hessayon Award Francesca?
After several years in the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme, it is lovely to graduate and stand alongside my fellow contenders.
Wendy Clarke, What She Saw (Bookouture)
Leona lives a quiet life in the Lake District but, haunted by images of Ria, finds the past is catching up with her. Meanwhile, daughter Beth is fighting her own demons. When she learns the devastating truth, her actions unleash a chain of events that puts them all in danger.
What was the inspiration for the setting for What She Saw Wendy?
What She Saw, although set in the fictional village of Church Langdon, might be recognised by locals and regular visitors to the Lake District as the village of Chapel Stile. The row of miners’ cottages, where Leona’s family live, are based on the ones at Lingmoor View where I’ve stayed several times whilst on holiday. Temple Quarry the disused slate quarry, which also plays an important role in the novel, is actually a mix of Cathedral Quarry and Rydal cave. It was as I was watching the sky darkening over the peaks from her cottage window, that the I knew it was the perfect place to set her novel.
And what does being in contention for the Joan Hessayon Award mean to you?
In previous years, at the Joan Hessayon award ceremony, I’ve looked on with envy as the contenders have stepped forward to a round of applause. It’s been my dream to be one of them. I’m delighted that now my RNA New Writers’ Scheme debut, What She Saw, has been published by Bookouture, that dream has come true.
Lorna Cook, The Forgotten Village (Avon)
1943: The world is at war, and the villagers of Tyneham are being asked to make one more sacrifice: to give their homes over to the British army. But on the eve of their departure, a terrible act will cause three of them to disappear forever.
What inspired The Forgotten Village?
The inspiration for the novel came when I found an article showing the abandoned Dorset village of Tyneham in a national newspaper. It was requisitioned in entirety and never handed back. Taken by the army in 1943 to use for D-Day training, it is still owned by the MOD and still remains unlived in and crumbling. What happened to those who lived there? Where did they go? I researched the village, became hooked on its history and around it, crafted a dual-timeline novel as secrets surrounding requisition day are discovered seventy five years later.
And how do you feel now about your time on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme?
I couldn’t have been in safer hands on the NWS. I’m so utterly chuffed to have ‘graduated’ and landed a wonderful agent and publisher. It’s all thanks to this wonderful scheme. I can’t recommend it enough.
Kiley Dunbar, One Summer’s Night (Hera Books)
Kelsey Anderson is stuck in a rut so big, she’ll need a 4-wheel drive to get out. She’s just been made redundant from her dead-end job, and boyfriend Fran is so busy climbing up the career ladder that he’s forgotten how to have fun. She needs to change her life – and fast.
So Kiley, tell us about the inspiration for One Summer’s Night…
In One Summer’s Night, my main character’s love story is based on my own summer whirlwind romance when I was a tour guide in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer of 1999, aged 20. We got engaged four days after we met which tells you I’m A) not exactly risk averse and B) a true romantic! This August is the 20th anniversary of that first (blind) date, and now we live in Cheshire with our two children.
And what does it mean to be published and in contention for the Joan Hessayon Award?
When Hera Books signed me I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d spent a decade teaching English Literature in a university and dreaming of telling my own stories. I was fortunate enough to get into The New Writers Scheme in January 2018 and the feedback from my manuscript reader was so insightful. I reworked my novel following their advice, and eight months later I signed with Keshini Naidoo at Hera. The NWS helped me achieve my dream, and I’ve had enormous support from the Romantic Novelists Association and made friends for life after attending RNA events. Being a Joan Hessayon Award contender is a huge honour. Past NWS graduates include some of my favourite writers and are staples of my reading diet! Joining their ranks makes me prouder than I can say.
Good luck to our first five contenders. Come back on Tueday to meet the next group of five.