My Week: Hugh C Rae, Romantic Novelist, who writes as Jessica Stirling

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The Independent Culture

I'm desperate to finish editing part one of my new novel, the third part of The Strawberry Season trilogy. In the afternoon I play tennis at my local club in Killearn but have to quit owing to bad knees. I'm 63 but my knees feel a lot older. I come home and worry about my nomination for the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year award. I get a couple of phone calls from reporters and go to bed early, at 1.30am.


Decide, with nothing on the calendar, to make a flying start on part two of the book. Just about rolling when the phone rings. It's BBC TV Scotland - they want to come and photograph a writer in his lair. Nobody ever comes to this scruffy bile hazard. I'm a heavy smoker; no other human has been in my study for 20 years. But they duly arrive and insist on coming in. It obviously appals them; the reporter conducts the interview from behind his hand to avoid the smell. The item is for the end of the Scottish News. I phone all surviving relatives so they don't miss my moment of glory.

I continue to worry about the awards. I don't sleep well, but blame my knees not my nervous system.


Catch the train from Glasgow to London. I am staying at a hotel in Euston. Go to see An Ideal Husband with a friend; it is quite relaxing. Talking to another writer helps me calm down. We go for an Italian in Leicester Square. I return to my hotel and call my dearly beloved wife, Liz. After a chat I worry about not getting enough sleep. I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More. He's lucky not to have been nominated for the award. Martyrdom looks easy by comparison.


Get up, have breakfast and put on the dreaded blue suit worn only for other people's funerals. I'm doing an interview for Radio 5 Live; John Humphrys is the presenter. I've done quite a lot of radio in Scotland and feel confident. Although in Scotland the BBC stick you in a closet, here the mere cleanliness of the studio makes me feel important.

I'm taken to meet the seven other short-listed writers for a photo shoot. I am the only man - the token doddery male grump. Someone produces a red rose and wants me to put it between my teeth, the height of banality and a line I decide not to cross.

More photos in front of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. I manage to smoke about six fags undetected. Passers-by regard us with mild curiosity: obviously too old for models, maybe a terrorist group?

At the lunch, Derek Parker announces the winner, a young girl called Claire. It's only her third novel. I feel a sense of relief. My only disappointment is not winning the five grand. I've never been interested in fame and glory.

I have a couple of glasses of red wine and chew the fat with some friends. I call my wife to check she has recorded ER. She is mildly disappointed by the results. She enjoyed my crime novels more and is quite sorry that I gave them up. Unfortunately, romantic novels make more money and Jessica has remained steady for years.


Buy two bags of Thorntons chocolates, a romantic gesture of a practical nature, and the papers. None carries any news of the awards. Thank God I'm back to work tomorrow. I read the papers, drink coffee and smoke several packets of cigarettes on the train. At home I check no one has stolen the squirrels from the garden. Unfortunately not. I watch ER and unplug the phone.


Look at part two of my novel. I am feeling rather optimistic as I pick up the 1899 copy of The Forester for my research. It's been a hectic, worrying week. I have enjoyed myself, though I would probably have had more fun if I hadn't been nominated.