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 September 18th, so in the run up to the big day we’re shining a spotlight on some of this year’s brilliant debut novels in the running for the award. Here’s the second group of contenders.

Clare Marchant, The Secrets of Saffron Hall (Avon)

Norfolk, 1538. New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars, but fortune comes at a price, and the King’s favour won’t last forever.

And in 2019 when Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined.

The inspiration for The Secrets of Saffron Hall came to Clare whilst helping her son with his history homework at Binham Priory. Many Norfolk locations and buildings feature in the book – from Oxburgh Hall to Castle Acre and of course, Binham. She was especially delighted when an ancient prayer book was discovered in the attic at Oxburgh Hall just as it does at Saffron Hall not long after The Secrets of Saffron Hall was published!

Clare said, “Without the New Writers Scheme I wouldn’t now be published. I’m absolutely delighted to be a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award.”

Kate G. Smith, You’ve Got Mail (Orion Dash)

When Grace Wharton is dumped by email from a relationship she isn’t even in, she adds it to the list of ways her life hasn’t quite panned out: twenty-five, single, and working a dead-end job she doesn’t enjoy. She fires off an angry response to Mr Obnoxious – how dare he try to dump someone over email?! – knowing that telling off a random stranger online means she has reached an all-time low.

Everything changes when her boss asks her to go to a big sales conference to secure an important client. Her partner is Jack Lockett, company Casanova and Grace’s long-time crush. What’s more, he seems very interested. But Mr Obnoxious keeps sending her emails and Grace keeps replying. Only to make sure he doesn’t send any more heart-breaking emails, obviously.

Grace’s life has suddenly gone from stagnant to brimming with possibilities. But is it all too good to be true?

Kate said, “I am absolutely honoured to be up for the Joan Hessayon Award with my debut You’ve Got Mail. The Romantic Novelists Association has been pivotal in my transition from writer to author and I wouldn’t be here without them. To be a contender for this celebration of debut authors has been a long-time wish, and so to be here amongst so many amazing writers is a dream come true.”

Victoria Springfield, The Italian Holiday (Orion Dash)

Bluebell is heading to Italy, her dream destination, although taking her granny’s place on the Loving and Knitting magazine competition holiday she’d won wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind. For one thing she didn’t knit and for the other – well, being single probably discounted her from the love category too. But a free holiday is a free holiday and it would be the perfect escape from her lacklustre life.

Michela didn’t think she’d be returning home to Italy so soon, a new job at her cousin’s restaurant on the harbour of Positano was a dream gig, miles away from the grey London clouds. This time though, she vowed not to fall into old habits, Stefano was the past and now her future in her old hometown beckoned.

But under the Italian skies a whole host of possibilities await and maybe happy-ever-after is just a plane-ride away!

When Victoria visited the charming town of Minori on Italy’s Amalfi Coast she loved it so much that two years later she ‘eloped’ there to get married. Whilst on honeymoon she spotted a coach party of mature ladies touring the area and wondered what would happen if someone in their twenties joined them. Then she remembered the tale of a friend’s luggage mix-up and realised she had the perfect ingredients for a contemporary seaside romance.

Victoria said, “I’m thrilled to be a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award which consistently showcases new romance writing talent and has produced some wonderful past winners.”

Caroline Day, Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life (Bonnier, Zaffre)

Hope Nicely hasn’t had an easy life.

But she’s happy enough living at 23 Station Close with her mum, Jenny Nicely, and loves her job, walking other people’s dogs. She’s a bit different, but as Jenny always tells her, she’s a rainbow person, a special drop of light.

It’s just – there’s something she needs to know. Why did her birth mother abandon her in a cardboard box on a church step twenty-five years ago? And did she know that drinking while pregnant could lead to Hope being born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

In a bid to find her birth mother and the answers to these questions, Hope decides to write a book. Despite having been bullied throughout school, she bravely joins an evening class where Hope will not only learn the lessons of writing (including the number one golden rule of ‘show don’t tell’) but may also begin to discover more about the world around her, about herself, and even make some (human) friends.

But when Jenny suddenly falls ill, Hope realises there are many more lessons to come.

Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life is a heart-warming, coming-of-age novel about loneliness, friendship, acceptance, and, above all, hope.

As a journalist for national magazines and newspapers, with a particular focus on the human side of health and family issues, Caroline had written about the neurodevelopment condition FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) but she didn’t start her book with any particular agenda – just with a name, Hope Nicely. Everything grew from there. She has been helped and supported by the fantastic organisation FASD Awareness, and in particular by its co-founder, Tracy Allen, who has been incredibly generous with her time, expertise, and encouragement. Writing the book taught Caroline a great deal – not just about the condition itself, but about dedication, acceptance, and friendship.

Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life was Goldsboro Books’ Book of the Month for July and was a Sunday Times bestseller in its week of publication.

Caroline said, “I feel immensely lucky to be one of the authors eligible for this unique award. The RNA is such a nurturing organisation and its New Writers’ Scheme provides incredible support for unpublished writers. Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life has presented me with a few ‘pinch-yourself’ moments in its road to publication, but those wonderful words from my NWS reader were the first game-changer for me. I will be forever grateful.”

Good luck to all the award contenders. You can find out who wins by following us on Twitter Saturday afternoon, and check out our post about the first set of contenders. More to come later this week!

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