Romantic Novelists' Association

Joan Hessayon Award Contenders 2018: Donna Ashcroft

27 April 2018

We are delighted to introduce you to the seventeen authors contending for the coveted Joan Hessayon Award in 2018. Before the winner is announced at the RNA’s Summer Party in Oxford in May, you can find out more about each of the authors here.


Welcome to the RNA blog, Donna, and congratulations on being one of the contenders for this year’s award. How long have you been writing? Is this your first published piece?

I’ve been writing on and off for my whole life, but I started again seriously ten years ago when I joined the Tring Writers’ Group and the RNA NWS and began to work on my first full novel.

Summer at the Castle Café will be my first published book.

How many years were you a member of the NWS and did you submit a manuscript each year?

In total (as I had a break) I was a member of the NWS for six years and I submitted every year except for one.

What came first, agent or publisher?

I signed with Bookouture and I don’t have an agent.

How did you find your publisher?

I met Natasha Harding from Bookouture at a 1:1 at the 2017 RNA Conference. She liked the work I presented and asked to see more.

Do you have a contract for one book or more?

I have a three-book deal.

When will your book be published?

My first book is due to be published on 11th May 2018.

Tell us something about your book.

Summer at the Castle Café mixes the perfect ingredients of delicious characters, scrumptious settings and a gorgeous dollop of humour to create the must-have recipe for a summer of new beginnings, adventure and romance…

When Alice Appleton takes up a job in the crumbling but beautiful Castle Café, it’s a million miles away from her workaholic London lifestyle. Surrounded by cream teas, chocolate cake and smiling faces, it’s the breath of fresh air she didn’t even realise she needed. Could the seaside town be the perfect place for Alice to embrace the summer, one adventure at a time? 

Mysterious and hunky Jay O’Donnell has lived in idyllic Castle Cove all his life. But, as a volunteer on the lifeboats, his life is far from predictable and cosy. Haunted by a tragedy from his past, he’s on a mission to save as many lives as possible. When Alice Appleton walks into his life – and turns his world upside down – he begins to realise that perhaps it might just be his turn to be rescued…

As Alice and Jay find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other, will they learn the importance of letting go to make way for second chances? 

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on my second book at the moment – Christmas at the Castle Café.

What piece of advice would you give current members of the NWS?

I’d say never give up, keep writing and most of all, try to enjoy it. Some days are harder than others, but every writer you meet experiences the same feelings. The main difference between a published and unpublished writer is the published writer pushed through and kept on going. You can do it too!

Find out more about Donna:





Congratulations, Donna, on graduating from the New Writers’ Scheme. Wishing you all the best in your career.