. . . not me!

You may have heard that my book Where the Story Starts was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Romantic Novelist Association’s Contemporary Romantic Novel of 2020 (RNA 2020). You could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard. I don’t really think of myself as a romantic novelist but my book does contains three love stories and so it seems that I am, or at least for that book.

So, on Monday this week I braved Coronavirus and headed down to the Awards Ceremony in London. Of course, there was a problem with the trains but I criss-crossed my way down the country with a bunch of other hardy travellers. We had quite a Dunkirk spirit going by the end, like we Brits do in times of adversity.

London was uncharacteristically quiet. There were fewer Londoners on the streets, I imagine, but more noticeable was the lack of tourists. Not at all good for London, but great for me as there were seats on the tube and everything.

Before the ceremony I went out for dinner with my editor and some other people from my publishers, Lake Union. You have to understand that being taken out for dinner (other than by my husband) is very new for me. Back in my lawyering days, it happened a lot and was even a bit of a nuisance, but since I’ve been a ‘stay at home’ mum such occurrences have been a bit thin on the ground. And it was dinner in a posh restaurant in Soho to boot! I tried not to be too giddy and to behave with appropriate decorum!

Anyway, from there it was a hop to the RNA 2020 Awards Ceremony itself. Copies of my books were displayed alongside those by Jojo Moyes, Sophie Kinsella and Anton du Beke. (I know – mad! He was there too!) We had a table with flowers and sparkling glassware, which was lovely, and pretty soon they were announcing my category, my name as a shortlisted author . . . and then Sue Moorcroft as the winner!

And I have to say, and this is really quite honest, the shadow of the merest flicker of disappointment crossed my heart for less than a second and then it was gone. I was absolutely totally fine about not winning and my congratulatory smile for Sue was broad and genuine.

On the way home I thought about this. I mean, you would expect to be a little disappointed, crushed even and I really wasn’t. Why was that? Well, the answer was simple – I had absolutely no expectations of winning.

Now, this is an odd thing to unpick. It wasn’t that I didn’t think my book was any good. I truly believe that it is and I have thousands of five stars reviews and ratings that back me up. There was also an element of thinking that I wouldn’t win because the book didn’t really fit with the rest. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t read it and would like to, but suffice it to say that some of the themes aren’t ones that you might expect to find in a romantic novel.

But I think the real reason that I didn’t expect to win my category at RNA 2020 is because I’ve been brought up with no such expectations.

Now, in no way is this a criticism of my parents, who have done an amazing job over my five decades of life, but having no expectations was just how it was when I was a girl. Back then, it wasn’t ‘nice’ to big your children up, to over-praise them either in public or at home. There was none of the modern tendency to tell a child they can do anything they put their mind to. We all knew our place and what could be reasonably expected of us within our own boundaries, and that was fine.

But I suspect that this playing down of ambition and expectation has resulted in a generation of people, and particularly women, who perhaps lack an element of self-belief and confidence. How often have I heard the phrase ‘That’s great, Imogen but don’t get your hopes up’? I have even said it to my own children. And it’s a thin line, isn’t it, between being realistic about results and pouring icy cold water on dreams and ambition? I wonder how much my own inability to celebrate achievement and expect great things is a product of a pragmatic personality or because of the way I was raised. Most probably it contains a healthy dose of both.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about this. If you never have any expectations then you’re never going to be disappointed. But it also means that life has a very steady feel to it without any of the highs and lows that hope and disappointment can bring. And I’m not sure that’s such a great thing either. . .

RNA 2020