Romantic fiction often gets a bad press – and it’s not fair. “People think it’s Barbara Cartland swooning on a chaise longue dictating to her pug,” says writer Lucy Dillon, who last week scooped the 2010 Romantic Novel of the Year award. “But it covers so many aspects of people’s lives. Heartbreak and the struggles of making relationships work are pretty universal, whether they’re set in Regency London or modern-day Cairo.”
Her prize was one of a clutch of awards handed out by the Romantic Novelists’ Association at London’s Royal Garden Hotel last week. Film critic Barry Norman presented the awards (including lifetime achievement gongs to Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope) and couldn’t help declaring “Ooh, good” when he opened the Romantic Film of the Year envelope and saw that An Education had won.
Lucy’s Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts was one of the six finalists vying for the Romantic Novel award. The shortlisted books were certainly an eclectic bunch, with heroines ranging from a Manhattan florist who’s hiding years of heartbreak to an Oxford history professor turned Bond-style action girl.
Lucy’s captivating story must be one of the few romantic novels to be set in a rescue kennels. It stars PR Rachel Fielding, whose aunt bequeaths her a dogs’ home, complete with an assortment of abandoned mutts. Rachel isn’t a “dog person” at all but as she battles to match the pets with new owners she learns important lessons about loyalty, second chances and unconditional love.
Lucy, a glamorous redhead in sky-high heels, made a wonderfully gracious acceptance speech. Along the way she name-checked her two dogs, Violet and Bonham, who were being looked after by friends back home in Herefordshire.
She got the idea for her book after she and her boyfriend, photographer Dillon Brydon, adopted Violet, a re-homed basset hound. “Violet and I took one look at each other across a crowded room,” says 36-year-old Lucy, who used to work in publishing. “Our eyes met and I decided I didn’t want a puppy any more. So Violet came to live with us and while I was walking her I suddenly became aware of this whole other world where you see the same people and the same dogs every day.”
Lucy’s third book is out at the end of the year – and this time the heroine will be a pet sitter.
“It’s about a young widow who shuts herself away from the world when her husband dies,” Lucy reveals. “Her only company is the terrier she and her husband bought to get through his illness. Because she is at home all day with the dog a friend starts saying ‘I don’t suppose you could look after Raffles while I go off skiing for the week’ – and gradually she comes back to life with this little army of dogs and cats.”
Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon is published by Hodder at £6.99.