Romantic Novelists' Association

Meet The 2020 Joan Hessayon Contenders

27 July 2020

We have twenty one amazing debut authors this year who are all contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award  Over the next few days we will be sharing with you a little about the authors and their books. It’s a fantastic achievement and the winner will be announced on the 5th September.

Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe, Annette Hannah, Orion Dash

When Lucy Woods moves to Bramblewood with her eight- year- old son, she’s delighted to reunite with best friend Abbie, but didn’t expect Abbie’s older brother to have grown into such a hunk. Bitter divorce lawyer Dominic Cavendish doesn’t believe in Happy Ever Afters and isn’t impressed to find out Lucy is a wedding planner, but when Lucy’s Grandad falls in love with Dominic’s Gran, the sparks begin to fly!

The Romantic Novelists’ Association and in particular, the New Writer’s Scheme, have been amazingly supportive on my writing journey. It’s an honour to be graduating from the scheme with so many talented authors, many of whom are friends. It feels wonderful to finally achieve my lifelong dream to become a published author and being a contender for the Joan Hessayon award feels like a rite of passage.

Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe is based on the old signal box at the end of my road. Since it became automated about fifteen years ago, I’ve always thought it a shame that the building was lying empty. Every time I passed it, I thought it would be the perfect place for a cafe and that’s where the story came from. I live in a beautiful town right near a river which is the inspiration for the fictional town of Bramblewood. Being from Liverpool originally, I like to have a nod to my roots in my book as well.




Risking It All, Stephanie Harte, Aria Fiction

Gemma has always been there for Nathan. He’s the love of her life and she made a commitment to him, one she’d never consider breaking … until smooth-talking gangster Alfie Watson comes into their lives and changes everything.

Alfie doesn’t care about true love – he wants Gemma, and the gangster always gets what he wants. When Nathan ends up owing him money, Alfie gets payback by recruiting Gemma to carry out a jewellery heist. To everyone’s surprise, she’s a natural. Until Alfie forgives Nathan’s debt, she has no choice but to accompany the gangster on more and more daring heists – even though one slip-up could cost her everything.


Nathan might have fallen under Alfie’s spell, but it doesn’t take long for him to realise that he needs to save Gemma from his own mistakes if their marriage is to have any chance of surviving. But when that means taking on the East End’s most notorious gangster at his own game, will he find himself up to the challenge?




Sun, Stars and Limoncello, Stefania Hartley, Totally Bound Publishing

Sonia believes that men equal heartache and disaster. After a tragedy shredded his heart to bits, Brad has sworn never to love a woman again. It’s a pity they’re so irresistibly attracted to one another and they’re forced to travel to one of the most romantic places in the world.

“I’m delighted for Sonia and Brad’s story to have been shortlisted, and so are Sonia and Brad. They didn’t have the faintest idea that other people were watching them.




A friend told me that Sicily is almost like another character in this book, and I’m not surprised: I was born and grew up in Palermo and, for many years, Sicily was everything I knew. When I came here to learn English, in my twenties, I couldn’t have imagined that, one day, I’d see a book of mine published!”




Another Us, Kirsten Hesketh, Canelo

What if Emma isn’t the person she thought she was?
Her younger son has just been diagnosed with autism.
She’s accidentally quit her job.
The marriage she was dedicated to suddenly seems like a sham.
She’s pretty sure that she is going to have an affair with a hot new dad at the school.
The only thing that stays the same is everyone else. Emma realises it’s not them – it’s her. But if she’s not who she thought she was, can her old life fit in with the new Emma?


“I love the New Writers’ Scheme. The feedback and encouragement I received from my readers really helped to spur me on to finish Another Us and am absolutely thrilled to be a contender for this year’s Joan Hessayon award.”

Another Us is inspired by my son who was diagnosed with mild Asperger Syndrome when he was ten. A few years later, I stumbled across a statistic which claimed that 8 out of 10 marriages with children on the spectrum end before that child was 16. It didn’t reflect our experience or that of friends in the same situation but it did make me ask ‘what if’? How might I have reacted if I’d known about the statistic from the start? And so the idea behind Another Us was born. My son thinks there should be more people on the spectrum in literature as they represent – apparently  – 1 in 85  of the population. ‘Don’t feel you have to make them the hero or the victim, though Mum,’ he said. ‘They can just be a person.’ I hope I’ve achieved that


The Marked Lord, Sharon Ibbotson, Choc Lit

It’s 1803 and widowed aristocrat Sophy De Browarec must flee France after being exposed as an undercover British agent. Fearing for her life, she returns to Cornwall to seek help from the only living link to her past, noted botanist Fitz Ravensbourne. Lord Ravensbourne has suffered his own share of misfortune. He has become a near recluse, but still reluctantly accepts Sophy into his home. Sophy and Fitz’s relationship is strained and her return could bring danger to Ravensbourne – but there is something that prevents Fitz from casting her out, something almost forbidden …



“As a lifelong fan of the romance genre, and in particular the work of Netta Muskett, to be eligible for this award from the Romantic Novelist’s Association is a dream come true. The RNA and their New Writer’s scheme was a lifeline for me at a point in my writing career where I felt myself floundering, and the direction they provided was invaluable. I can’t thank them enough, and to be eligible now for this award – the best graduation ceremony a new writer could imagine – only reinforces my belief in the work they do for new writers. I am very grateful for this association.”

A library book I borrowed when I was fifteen led to a twenty year search for a book and my career as an author.

I grew up in small-town Australia, in a place where there wasn’t much of anything.  But there was a library, and I visited it frequently. One day I borrowed a romance novel – my first – and read the first three-quarters before a recall from the library meant I had to return it without finishing it. I assumed I would get to reborrow it and finish it, but I never got the chance. My parents moved me to the UK before I could, and over time, I forgot the title and author of the book (I remembered what colour the cover was though) but never forgot the story.

That book haunted me. I couldn’t sleep at night sometimes, wondering how it turned out. Every second-hand bookshop I saw I would step into, hoping to find that book. I tried library searches in four different countries, hoping to find it. I tried internet searches, using the outline of the story and the character names, but to no avail. I even hired a book detective, but without an author name or publication date, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Eventually, I started writing my own endings to the book, and then, after time, my own romance novels.

Twenty years after first reading that book, I mentioned to a librarian in London the book I was looking for. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘That sounds like a Nina Lambert book I once read.’

It was Nina Lambert. A quick search brought up her back catalogue, and there it was, the book I had been searching for, for over two decades. ‘Sophy’s story,’ with the vibrant yellow cover I remembered from my teenage years.

The book was out of print, but available on ebay for £90. I bought it immediately, and when it arrived, nearly cried. I finally read the end of that book, and it was one of the most joyful moments of my life.

Amazingly, Nina Lambert had been a member of the RNA, and one day, when I was writing books myself and while speaking to a friend from the association, I mentioned her name and was met with complete recognition. ‘You mean Lucy Floyd? She was a member of the Berkshire chapter, but she lives in France now.’

This author knew Nina Lambert. She gave me her details, and I was able to make contact with her and tell her this story in detail, while praising her writing to the sky. Nina/Lucy was so kind. She sent me her address so I could forward my copy of her book to her for signing, and now it sits, pride of place, on the top of my bookshelf (with the rest of Nina’s books; I bought her entire published collection).

This is why I keep writing, and always encourage others to do so too. Because you just never know … your book could be the reason a fifteen-year-old girl from a nowhere town in Australia begins her own journey on the path to becoming an author. “