Love is in the air as writing pals vie for top book award

First published in News by

TWO Oxfordshire novelists have been shortlisted for a Romantic Novel of the Year award.

Friends Liz Harris from Watlington and Carol McGrath from Launton have both been shortlisted in the Historical Romantic Novel category and will find out if they have won on Monday March 17.

Mrs Harris, 61, who wrote A Bargain Struck, a novel based on mail order brides in 1880s Wyoming, was inspired to write her book on a holiday to the American state with her husband Richard in 2012.

Mrs Harris said: “There was so little written about the people, so in the end my husband and I decided to go to Wyoming. We started at a ranch and rode horses. The ranch was built in 1890 and I was able to visit the area where I wanted to set my book.”

The novel tells the story of mail order bride Ellen O’Sullivan and her husband Connor Maguire.

Mrs Harris has been writing for seven years and said: “I’ve always loved reading and writing and used to work in a library. When my children Luke and Jake were little, I used to write really long letters to keep in touch with people in America. One of my friends said to me, ‘why don’t you write a book?’ “People often say writing is a lonely life. But I wouldn’t say that. You are able to live with your characters in the study.”

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When Mrs Harris found out about the nomination, she said: “I looked at my husband and I burst into tears. I’m so pleased the readers took the book to their hearts.”

Ms McGrath has been shortlisted in the same category for her novel, The Handfasted Wife. A former history teacher at The Cooper School in Bicester, Ms McGrath is originally from Belfast but has lived in Oxfordshire for 25 years.

A visit to the Bayeux Tapestry in France 10 years ago inspired Ms McGrath’s first published novel set in 1066. The novel is part of a trilogy based on the lives of royal women in the days of Norman Britain.

Ms McGrath said: “The tapestry contained one of the little snippets of information that existed about Edith the Fair.”

The writer and her children Tara and Tyrone, are delighted about the prospect of winning the award.

Ms McGrath said: “It is an acknowledgement of everything you work for and I’m thrilled the readers like my book. I think the success of Hillary Mantel's book Wolf Hall has brought historical fiction to the fore and shown that the genre can be exciting.”

More than 100 novels are submitted annually by publishers to be in with a chance of winning a Romantic Novel of the Year award. The shortlisted novels are then read by members of the public who give each one a score. The winner will receive a cheque for £5,000 in addition to a trophy.



Carol McGrath recommends a selection of her favourite historical romance novels:

  • Katherine by Anya Seton
  • The Far Pavilions by M.M.Kaye
  • Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore
  • The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick
  • Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Liz Harris recommends her all-time favourite romance novels:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Arabella by Georgette Heyer
  • Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon


  • Before starting to write, make sure you know what kind of book you’re writing, and for what sort of reader.
  • Read as many books in the same genre as you can.
  • Give yourself some mental space in which to write. You can’t lose yourself in your writing if you are continually checking Twitter, Facebook, emails, or  thinking about what’s for dinner.
  • Try to write every day, even if you only write a little. You need to keep your writing muscles supple and this is best done if a time to write is included in your daily routine, no matter how short.
  • Be careful who you show your unfinished work to. It must be to someone you trust, who will be honest with you.

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