On Friday last to the UK Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) lunch at the Savoy Hotel, London.
Every year, at about this time, the RNA hosts a lunch to announce the winners of their two principal annual awards: the Romantic Novel of the Year, which dates from 1960; and the more recently established Romance Prize, for short, category romances.
The reception and lunch which precede the announcement of the winners of these two awards have long been recognised as one of the book-trade's outstanding social occasions of the year, and that is a judgement with which I would not disagree.
Earlier this year, I was invited by the RNA to be one of the three judges for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, a role which I was very happy to accept. Fortunately, there is an elaborate preliminary procedure to reduce the original 200 entries for the award to a shortlist of six. Thus the task of the three judges is one of manageable proportions.
In a day or two (if I'm spared), I shall be writing brief reviews of all six of the shortlisted books. It will suffice here to say that I enjoyed all of them. The six books covered a substantial part of the full range of romantic fiction, including two family sagas, two books which moved backwards and forwards in time, and two romantic comedies aimed at the younger generation of readers. Not surprisingly, all these books were outstanding examples of their kind.
Perhaps unusually, the judges for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award were able to reach a unanimous decision, and we chose Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. More of that when I write the reviews.
The winner of the Romance Prize, by the way, was Nell Dixon, for Marrying Max. There was a separate set of judges for that award.
All in all, the RNA lunch was an impressive occasion. As one of the judges, I was invited, together with my wife, to sit on the top table -- and this, mark you, in one of the Savoy's impressive banqueting halls. This very flattering part of the proceedings was particularly appreciated by Mrs GOB, who thereby gained a whole new insight into what I actually do on my computer and what it occasionally leads to.
My wife and I owe particular thanks to Jenny Haddon, the Chairman of the RNA, and Diane Pearson, the President; but thanks are also due to all the other RNA officers and members who made us feel so welcome.
The chairing of the judges' panel was undertaken by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who was also the principal speaker.
Tanni will be well known to the UK readers of this blog. Born with spina bifida, she is a wheelchair user, and is one of the UK's most successful disabled athletes. If I've counted them correctly, she has won 11 gold medals, 4 silver medals, and 1 bronze, in Paralympic Games. She also told me that she had competed in 60 marathons, winning 6 times in London alone. (She did not, by the way, take part in the most recent London marathon, which was, she said, much more fun to watch than to participate in.)
Tanni has recently announced her retirement from athletics, at the age of 37, and the official retirement date is in a couple of weeks' time. Nevertheless, after the Savoy lunch was over, Tanni was going to travel to Aylesbury, where she would put in two hours of training, as usual.
All in all, Tanni is one of the most impressive human beings I have ever met, and it was a privilege to be on her panel. She is also, by the way, the author of a couple of books, details of which, with much other info, can be found on her own web site.