Between the covers: What’s really going on in the world of books

It’s good news for male writers in this year's Romantic Novel Awards

Saturday 21 February 2015 13:00 GMT
Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell and The Good Italian by Stephen Burke
Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell and The Good Italian by Stephen Burke

The shortlists have been announced for the Romantic Novel Awards 2015, and it’s good news for male writers, who have a record number of entries: three, out of 36.

Congratulations to Stephen Burke, who is shortlisted in the Historical Romantic Novel category for The Good Italian and to David Atkinson, for Love Byte, and Jimmy Rice and Laura Tait for The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me, shortlisted for Romantic Comedy Novel. This also makes the most men shortlisted in one category: two, out of six.

In 55 years of the awards, three men have been shortlisted for the overall Romantic Novel of the Year award, all with female pseudonyms: Iain Blair, writing as Emma Blair, for Flower of Scotland (1998); Hugh C Rae, as Jessica Stirling, for The Wind from the Hills (1999); and Bill Spence, as Jessica Blair, for The Road Beneath Me (2014).

Michael Arditti was shortlisted in the Epic Romantic Novel category for Jubilate in 2012. A man has even won the main prize once, but he – as they have all done until now – was hiding under a female pseudonym and remained masked until years later when he republished his backlist.

According to Fabulous at 50, Recollections of the Romantic Novelists’ Association 1960-2010: “Merlin’s Keep won in 1978. It was by Madeleine Brent, who had been shortlisted in 1974 ... she was said to be in Mexico on the date of the dinner, so her publisher picked up the award for her. The mystery deepened when her biographical details claimed that she had written for newspapers, magazines, films, and TV and that Merlin’s Keep was inspired by tales of a great uncle who served in Tibet. Members were invited to guess Brent’s identity – apparently without success. Many years later she turned out to be Peter O’Donnell, author of Modesty Blaise. Good luck to all – men, women and secret pseudonyms alike.

Good luck also to The Bookshop Band, who write songs inspired by books, and play them in bookshops. They want literature lovers to help them record 80 fully-written songs, by sponsoring a song or an album. One who already has is Damian Barr, author of Maggie & Me, which inspired the moving “Wednesday’s Walk”. “Every reader has a different experience of your book, and this is their unique interpretation,” he tells us. “I sat sobbing through the premiere.”

Find your song at

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