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Joan Hessayon Award - Jo Thomas triumphs with debut novel The Oyster Catcher

Jo Thomas has been awarded The Romantic Novelists' Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Jo Thomas with her award

Jo Thomas has triumphed with her contemporary novel The Oyster Catcher, published by Accent Press, for which she has been awarded The Romantic Novelists' Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Jo was presented with her award and a cheque for £1,000 at the RNA’s Summer Party held at the Royal Over-Seas League in London.

The Joan Hessayon Award is generously sponsored by gardening expert Dr David Hessayon OBE, in honour of his late wife Joan, who was a longstanding member of the RNA and a great supporter of its New Writers' Scheme.

The award was judged by RNA Chair, Pia Fenton, and Vice Chair, Sue Moorcroft, together with adjudicator and former RNA Chair Anthea Kenyon.  They found the final decision difficult to arrive at, as the standard of entries was very high, and this year there were a record seventeen contenders from all over the UK and abroad.

However, the judges agreed that the winning novel was outstanding, and said, “The sense of place in this charming tale is superb, and the reader really feels as though they are there in that godforsaken village with the constant rain. A truly wonderful read!”

Pia Fenton said, “All the contenders should be proud of their books, as it is a huge achievement to become a published author. The RNA committee and I are delighted to have such a bumper crop of graduates from our New Writers’ Scheme this year, and we congratulate them all.”

She continued, “We offer our special congratulations to Jo Thomas for her heart-warming and un-put-downable tale,”

Set in rain-soaked Galway in Ireland, the The Oyster Catcher features runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck. When she crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go. Embarrassed and humiliated, Fiona knows one thing for sure – she can’t go home. Finding a job on an oyster farm seems both a lifeline, and the answer to her prayers. But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss, the wild and unpredictable Sean Thornton.

As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?  According to a champion shell shucker, when learning how to shuck an oyster from its shell, first you have to understand what’s keeping it closed. But will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell and find love again?

To research this story, Jo had to eat a lot of oysters, watch an oyster seller shuck oysters, and go on a seafood cookery course at the Galway Seafood Centre while she lived in Ireland, but she found it wasn’t enough – she needed to get her feet wet, literally. After returning to live in Wales, she spent a dark, cold weekend in November at an oyster farm in Scotland. Dressed in wet weather gear, she experienced the real life of an oyster farmer – wet, cold and uncomfortable. But later that evening, eating the oysters she had picked from the sea herself, Jo felt that nothing had ever tasted quite so good – “it was perfection.”

Jo, who now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan, said of her inclusion in the shortlist, "I’m delighted to be a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award. Finally becoming a published writer is down to the friendship and support I have found in the RNA.”

The full shortlist for 2014 was:

  • Celia J Anderson     Sweet Proposal                            Piatkus Entice
  • Elaine Everest         Gracie's War                                Pulse
  • Helena Fairfax         The Silk Romance                        MuseItUp
  • Sue Fortin               United States of Love                   Harper Impulse
  • Kathryn Freeman     Too Charming                              Choc Lit
  • Jessica Gilmore       The Return of Mrs Jones              Harlequin Mills & Boon
  • Laura E James         Truth or Dare?                            Choc Lit
  • Jennie Jones            The House on Burra Burra Lane   Harlequin Australia
  • Alison May               Sweet Nothing                           Choc Lit
  • Teresa F. Morgan      Plus One is a Lucky Number      Harper Impulse
  • Jane O’Reilly            Once a Bad Girl                         Escape
  • Helen Phifer             The Ghost House                      Carina UK
  • Jill Steeples             Desperately Seeking Heaven      Carina UK
  • Jo Thomas               The Oyster Catcher                   Accent Press
  • Lin Treadgold            Goodbye Henrietta Street          Safkhet Publishing
  • Susan Willis             Yes Chef, No Chef                    Endeavour
  • Jennifer Young          Thank You For the Music           Tirgearr Publishing

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It's a fact

Barbara Cartland is regarded as the world’s most prolific author with over 700 titles. She wrote 550 + of those after leaving the Romantic Novelists’ Association in 1965 – in protest against the word ‘Romantic' in its title.