Romantic Novelists' Association

Caroline Day Wins The Joan Hessayon Award

18 September 2021

18th September 2021: Author Caroline Day has triumphed with her debut novel Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life, published by Bonnier, Zaffre, for which she has been awarded The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Caroline, from London’s Crouch End, also received a cheque for £1,000.

The Joan Hessayon Award is generously sponsored by gardening expert Dr David Hessayon OBE, in honour of his late wife Joan, who was a longstanding member of the RNA and a great supporter of its New Writers’ Scheme.

The judges for the award, which include agent Laura Longrigg, from MBA Literary Agency, Rhoda Baxter, author 

of contemporary romance and Chair of Authors North, and Sara-Jade VirtueBrand Development Director (Fiction) for Simon & Schuster, were unanimous in their decision to crown Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life the winner. They praised the author, not just for a wonderful idea but for the care, respect and the research that gave such depth to the novel about a difficult subject.

They said that Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life was “a powerful novel, and incredibly accomplished for a debut. It is a challenging read, and although not a traditional romance, it is a book filled with love. Hope captured our hearts with her heart-warming, at times funny and always brilliantly clear, character voice.”

The book was selected from a list of 11 contenders, all authors whose debut novels had been accepted for publication after passing through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

Each year, unpublished authors are invited to join the scheme which allows them to take full advantage of everything the RNA offers, including conference sessions and opportunities to network and meet industry professionals and other authors. They are also invited to submit their work in progress for a critique by one of the Association’s published authors.

This year’s debuts show the wide range of stories encompassed by the romance genre, from the house just down the street to the sun-soaked beaches of Italy and that different world that is the past; these books deal with themes we all recognise and hold close to our hearts. In difficult times, these are the books that have comforted us and given us hope. They have made us laugh, cry and believe in a happy ever after.

RNA Acting Chair, Jean Fullerton, commented, “Funny in places and poignant throughout – I defy anyone not to be impressed by Caroline Day’s debut novel.”

Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life is the story of Hope, who hasn’t had an easy life.

But she’s happy enough living at 23 Station Close in Harpenden 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 25 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 she will not only learn the lessons of writing but 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 previously written about the neurodevelopment condition FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). She didn’t start her book with any particular agenda, just with a name, Hope Nicely, and everything grew from there. She is grateful for the help and support she received from the organisation FASD Awareness and its co-founder, Tracy Allen, who was generous with her time, expertise and encouragement. Caroline learnt a great deal from writing the book; not just about the condition itself, but about dedication, acceptance and friendship.

The full list of contenders for the RNA’s 2021 Joan Hessayon Award:

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

Penny Hampson, The Unquiet Spirit, Crooked Cat/Darkstroke

Helga Jensen, Twice in a Lifetime, Hera Books

Clare Marchant, The Secrets of Saffron Hall, Avon

Lucy Morris, The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance, Harlequin Historical

Nancy Peach, Love Life, One More Chapter

Zelah Roberts, Midsummer Man, Totally Entwined

Anni Rose, Recipe for Mr Right, Choc Lit Publishing

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

Suzanne Snow, The Cottage of New Beginnings, Canelo

Victoria Springfield, The Italian Holiday, Orion Dash


The New Writers’ Scheme has been run by the RNA since 1962 and is unique among professional writing associations. It aims to encourage fresh talent in the writing of romantic novels that reflect all aspects of love and life, contemporary or historical.