Jo Thomas with her award
Jo Thomas has triumphed with her contemporary novel The Oyster Catcher, published by Accent Press, for which she has been awarded The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Jo was presented with her award and a cheque for £1,000 at the RNA’s Summer Party held at the Royal Over-Seas League in London.
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 award was judged by RNA Chair, Pia Fenton, and Vice Chair, Sue Moorcroft, together with adjudicator and former RNA Chair Anthea Kenyon. They found the final decision difficult to arrive at, as the standard of entries was very high, and this year there were a record seventeen contenders from all over the UK and abroad.
However, the judges agreed that the winning novel was outstanding, and said, “The sense of place in this charming tale is superb, and the reader really feels as though they are there in that godforsaken village with the constant rain. A truly wonderful read!”
Pia Fenton said, “All the contenders should be proud of their books, as it is a huge achievement to become a published author. The RNA committee and I are delighted to have such a bumper crop of graduates from our New Writers’ Scheme this year, and we congratulate them all.”
She continued, “We offer our special congratulations to Jo Thomas for her heart-warming and un-put-downable tale,”
Set in rain-soaked Galway in Ireland, the The Oyster Catcher features runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck. When she crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go. Embarrassed and humiliated, Fiona knows one thing for sure – she can’t go home. Finding a job on an oyster farm seems both a lifeline, and the answer to her prayers. But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss, the wild and unpredictable Sean Thornton.
As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in? According to a champion shell shucker, when learning how to shuck an oyster from its shell, first you have to understand what’s keeping it closed. But will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell and find love again?
To research this story, Jo had to eat a lot of oysters, watch an oyster seller shuck oysters, and go on a seafood cookery course at the Galway Seafood Centre while she lived in Ireland, but she found it wasn’t enough – she needed to get her feet wet, literally. After returning to live in Wales, she spent a dark, cold weekend in November at an oyster farm in Scotland. Dressed in wet weather gear, she experienced the real life of an oyster farmer – wet, cold and uncomfortable. But later that evening, eating the oysters she had picked from the sea herself, Jo felt that nothing had ever tasted quite so good – “it was perfection.”
Jo, who now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan, said of her inclusion in the shortlist, “I’m delighted to be a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award. Finally becoming a published writer is down to the friendship and support I have found in the RNA.”
The full shortlist for 2014 was:
- Celia J Anderson Sweet Proposal Piatkus Entice
- Elaine Everest Gracie’s War Pulse
- Helena Fairfax The Silk Romance MuseItUp
- Sue Fortin United States of Love Harper Impulse
- Kathryn Freeman Too Charming Choc Lit
- Jessica Gilmore The Return of Mrs Jones Harlequin Mills & Boon
- Laura E James Truth or Dare? Choc Lit
- Jennie Jones The House on Burra Burra Lane Harlequin Australia
- Alison May Sweet Nothing Choc Lit
- Teresa F. Morgan Plus One is a Lucky Number Harper Impulse
- Jane O’Reilly Once a Bad Girl Escape
- Helen Phifer The Ghost House Carina UK
- Jill Steeples Desperately Seeking Heaven Carina UK
- Jo Thomas The Oyster Catcher Accent Press
- Lin Treadgold Goodbye Henrietta Street Safkhet Publishing
- Susan Willis Yes Chef, No Chef Endeavour
- Jennifer Young Thank You For the Music Tirgearr Publishing