Monday, February 18, 2008

The Glamorous Life of an Author....

When we authors hear about the glamorous lives we lead, most of the time we laugh, because we know the truth...the true wonder of writing for a living means sitting in front of your computer in sleep pants or yoga pants with your hair in a sloppy ponytail and a huge cup of coffee (or some variation thereof). But now and then occasion warrants to dress up and be glam, and this week ROMANCE author Fiona Harper is here to give us her first-hand, super-glam report from the RNA Awards and the Mills and Boon Centenary Cocktail Party which happened earlier this month. Take it away Fi!

Well, I’ve had a wonderfully glamorous week. Most of my writing life is spent slumped over my keyboard in jogging bottoms or pyjamas and I can’t remember the last time I put make-up on, but this week I got to do the glitzy side of being a writer. Call her my alter-ego, if you will – Fiona Harper got to go out and party!
Here in the UK, Monday Feb 4 was the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual awards lunch. There are two prizes that are given out: The Romantic Novel of the Year and the Romance Prize. The former is for mainstream, single-title fiction and the latter for shorter romantic fiction, such as category romance and magazine serials. This year, Mills & Boon, the UK face of Harlequin, took all six places on the shortlist, and I was overwhelmed that two of my books had made the list!

The nominees were: Driving Him Wild – Julie Cohen (Modern Heat/Promotional Presents), The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella – Liz Fielding (M&B Romance/Harlequin Romance), Breakfast at Giovanni’s – Kate Hardy (Modern Heat/Promotional Presents), Her Parenthood Assignment – Fiona Harper (M&B Romance/Harlequin Romance), English Lord, Ordinary Lady – Fiona Harper (M&B Romance/Harlequin Romance), The Mediterranean Rebel’s Bride – Lucy Gordon (M&B Romance/Harlequin Romance). (The books made the centrepieces, aren't they lovely?)

Yes, that was four Romance titles on the shortlist, which just goes to show what a strong line we write for. I know most of the other authors on the shortlist personally, and they are all lovely, and all of them are on my ‘autobuy’ list, so I was incredibly honoured to have a spot amongst them.

As you can imagine, I arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington feeling a little nervous. But when I walked in on the red carpet (Why where there no waiting paparazzi to snap my photograph? Why?) and found a host of friendly faces gathering before the ceremony I forgot to be too jittery. I was just having too much fun catching up with old friends and fellow authors. Although it really should have been handbags at dawn, fellow shortlisted author Kate Hardy and I were far too busy sipping champagne and admiring each other’s Radley handbags to get the claws out. All the shortlisted authors were whisked away to have their photographs taken along with their editors and Harlequin Mills & Boon executives. As you can see, we were all having a pretty good time, even if we did have to put our champagne glasses down for a couple of minutes!

Lunch was small but perfectly formed: tomato and roasted cumin soup, guinea fowl in a port wine jus with fondant potatoes and confit cabbage cake (was much better than it sounds!) and mulled wine soufflĂ© with plum ice cream. Just as we were finishing our coffees, the award presentations started. My heart rate went from 0 to 60mph in a matter of seconds. Judge Trisha Ashley summed up the books and then they announced the winner was…Kate Hardy! The judges felt it had real warmth and a lovely realistic ending. Kate was completely flabbergasted, having convinced herself that the award was definitely going to go to either Liz Fielding or Lucy Gordon, and her heartfelt acceptance speech brought a lump to everyone’s throat. The Romantic Novel of the Year went to Freya North for her book ‘Pillow Talk’.
After all the tension, it was great to relax and chat with other authors and friends. Although I didn’t go home with the trophy, I did come away with a lovely red rose from the RNA to congratulate me on being shortlisted and the warm feeling from knowing I was the first person in the history of the award to have two books on the shortlist at the same time – I can’t be too upset about that now, can I?

I didn’t have much time to recover from all the excitement before it was time to get myself all dressed up again for the party to celebrate Mills & Boon’s 100th birthday. Mills & Boon was founded in 1908 by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon and in the early days they produced a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books, but the section that really took off was romantic fiction, which they are now famous for. Apparently, one book is sold every six seconds in the UK.

I arrived at the party with fellow Romance authors Trish Wylie and Natasha Oakley, instantly lost them in the crush and didn’t see them again for an hour or two! But there was plenty of socialising to do. All of the UK-based Romance authors had made it to the party and I managed to chat briefly to Liz Fielding (seen here bookended with butlers...oh my!) and Jessica Hart. I saw Lucy Gordon at a distance, but never quite managed to work my way into that corner of the room to say hello.

The party itself was fabulous. The venue was The Wallace Collection, a national museum containing works of art and furniture, housed in a large townhouse in the heart of London’s fashionable West End. We entered through a grand hallway and walked through a couple of the galleries before emerging into a large square courtyard which had been covered over with a glass roof. Waiters carrying trays of champagne cocktails appeared out of thin air and two ladies on stilts dressed as pink flamingos tottered above us. There was a stand serving candy floss in one corner and we were offered pink and white ice creams to eat.

The butlers for the occasion were hired from a company called Butlers in the Buff – although thankfully rather than wearing only a strategically-placed apron, they were fully dressed with their top buttons and bow-ties undone. One butler circled the room presenting deep pink roses tied with a bow to every woman. Any of these guys could have starred as a cover model on a romance book. I’m surprised there wasn’t more of a stampede, honestly. I saw a twinkle in more than one author’s eye (and even editors’ eyes) as they contemplated kidnapping one and taking him home. The party went by so fast. I wish it could have gone on for a couple more hours, just so I had a chance to catch up with more people that I only managed to wave to or exchange a few words with. But this is only the start of the celebrations here in the UK. Events planned for later in the year include an exhibition of M&B memorabilia that will be touring libraries, events at various literary festivals and publication of special edition books to mark the centenary. So, Happy Birthday, Mills & Boon! Let’s hope they are still publishing great feel-good books for another hundred years.

Thanks Fiona! And click on the following links for more photos and information!

Don't forget...if you haven't already, send an e-mail to with the subject line NICOLA to win a copy of Nicola Marsh's latest book, this month's special prize!

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