The Blagger's Guide To...The Romantic Novel Of The Year

A prize to set a maiden's heart a-flutter
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*The shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award has just been announced, after an arduous process beginning with 80 members of the public reading more than 100 submitted novels and marking them on criteria including romantic content, readability, characters, plot, dialogue, style and ending.

A longlist of 20 is then whittled down to a shortlist of six by members of the Romantic Novelists' Association.

*The only man on this year's shortlist is Tom Gamble, author of the 1940s Morrocan-set epic, Amazir. He has struggled to become a published writer for more than 20 years having been briefly homeless in London when he slept rough in cemeteries and phoneboxes. The other shortlisted authors are Elizabeth Chadwick, Rebecca Dean, Sarah Duncan, Kate Furnivall and the former Independent and IoS journalist Jojo Moyes.

*According to the RNA's criteria, the first romantic novel with a happy ending was Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740. Why? Because she marries the boss – eventually.

*Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romantic novels, with combined sales of more than a billion. Various stories emerged in her obituaries in 2000: that she talked about sex privately "with an explicitness verging on the bawdy"; that she broke off an early engagement, mortified after her mother told her about the facts of life; and that her jilted fiancé then threatened to shoot himself with his service revolver in Hyde Park. She was married twice: first to Alex-ander "Sachie" McCorquodale, then to his cousin Hugh, who was cited in the divorce proceedings of her first marriage.

*Romantic fiction sales tend to hold up in a recession. In 2007, British consumers bought 24 million romantic novels worth £118m – up 43 per cent on 2003. Many of those were by Penny Jordan, author of such titles as The Dutiful Wife, The Reluctant Surrender and The Sicilian Boss's Wife. She has sold more than 85 million.

*Only four men are RNA members. Hugh Rae writes as Jessica Sterling; former RAF pilot Bill Spence is Jessica Blair; rugby player Roger Sanderson is Gill Sanderson and Ian Blair is Emma Blair. Ms Sterling only came out as a man after 22 years of writing, when she was invited to collect an award in person.

*The Fisherman's Daughter, by "Molly Jackson", is actually written by the butch SAS man Chris Ryan (author of the Code Red and Alpha Force novels).

*During the Second World War, when paper was rationed, the Ministry of Supply made an exception for Mills & Boon, so important were their books considered for the morale of the women who were working for the war effort.

*When Book Marketing Limited was asked by the RNA to define what constitutes Romantic Fiction, it made a list including books by Ian McEwan, William Shakespeare, Ben Elton, Marian Keyes and Ken Follett.

*Mills & Boon was founded in 1908. The first mention of sex (within marriage, but not explicitly) was made in the 1960s. The first masturbation scene was in 1973 and oral sex appeared in 1982 (but didn't catch on).

*The Romantic Novel of the Year Award winner will be announced at the Pure Passion Awards on 7 March.