Dani Atkins has won the Romantic Novelists' Association's highest accolade, The Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year, for her novel This Love (Simon & Schuster). At the same ceremony, Jilly Cooper was presented with an Outstanding Achievement Award.
The Reverend Richard Coles presented Atkins with her trophies and a cheque for £5,000 at an event compèred by author and broadcaster Jane Wenham-Jones.
Atkins was also the winner of the Epic Novel of the Year category. Her book then went forward, along with those of the six other category winners - Contemporary, Historical Romantic Novel, Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel, Romantic Comedy, RoNA Rose and Young Adult Romantic Novel - to contest the Romantic Novelists' Association's (RNA) "most coveted" award, the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year.
Prior to announcing the overall award winner, Coles revealed the winners of the individual categories and presented them with star-shaped crystal trophies.
Julie Cohen was announced as the winner of Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year for Together (Orion), Marius Gabriel claimed the Historical Romantic Novel of the Year prize for The Designer (Lake Union Publishing) and Fiona Harper was awarded the Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel gong for The Other Us (HQ). Jenny Colgan's The Summer Seaside Kitchen (Sphere/Little, Brown) took Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year title, Jane Lovering's Christmas at the Little Village School (Choc Lit) scooped the RoNA Rose Award and Kerry Wilkinson's Ten Birthdays (Bookouture) was given the Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year.
Reverend Richard Coles (centre) with some of the night's winners
The judging panel included Matt Bates, fiction buyer for W H Smith Travel; freelance editor Alex Hammond; writer Elizabeth Buchan; and Liz Robinson, book reviewer for Lovereading.co.uk.
Atkins' This Love (S&S) was a unanimous choice among the judges, who called the novel "vibrant and captivating". They felt the story was "beautifully written, intensely emotive and that the characters lingered long after the book was finished".
Nicola Cornick, chairman of the RNA, said: "This was a hard fought contest with a shortlist of the highest calibre. This Love is a deeply satisfying love story in the true tradition of romantic fiction."
At the ceremony, Atkins revealed the first draft of the manuscript that went on to become This Love had been "awful", and she had initially lost her confidence over the book. But with encouragement she persevered, and she told fellow writers at the awards evening to have faith they can find a way to write their story the way it needs to be written.
David Headley, managing director of Goldsboro Books, said: "It's a tribute to the genre that the category winners and the overall winner represent the full spectrum of the publishing industry, as well as demonstrating the broad church that is romantic fiction."
Meanwhile, Jilly Cooper was presented with the RNA's Outstanding Achievement Award, an accolade she dubbed "heavenly, heavenly!" as she collected it on the night. Cooper is the author of six romances, a collection of short stories, a 10-volume series of longer novels beginning with Riders,which are known as The Rutshire Chronicles, and many works of non-fiction. Her latest book, Mount! was published by Bantam Press in 2016.
Cooper was appointed OBE in 2004 for services to literature, and CBE in 2018 for services to literature and charity.
Dani Atkins and Jilly Cooper