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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Love in the air at book awards
Maureen Lee
Maureen Lee won the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year prize with her gritty novel Dancing In The Dark
By BBC News Online's Joe Goodden

Her heart pounded as he tore open the golden envelope. He could have torn her heart apart with his words.

His soft but commanding voice spoke from the stage. Her heart raced, and her mind with it.

Suddenly the spotlight was on her. She couldn't believe it. It was as though her dreams had come true. She rose from her seat and glided gracefully to the stage. Her eyes filled as she took the award.

She, Maureen Lee, the girl from Bootle. It was all she could have wanted. Her book was the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award.

Beat established authors

Lee's book, Dancing In The Dark, was chosen from a shortlist of seven novels.

The shortlisted authors included established bestsellers, some of whom have film or TV dramatisations under their belts.

I felt alien from his family. If I loved him, I would have taken them on and done my best, but I didn't love him and never would.

A passage from Dancing In The Dark

The result was announced on Thursday at London's Savoy hotel.

Dancing In The Dark, published by Orion, beat off competition from best-selling writers Erica James and Cathy Kelly to scoop the award.

Lee, who now lives in Colchester, Essex, with her husband Richard, was presented with a 5,000 cheque and a set of Parker Duofold pens from the event's sponsor.

The book tells the story of 29-year-old Millie Cameron. As Millie sorts through her late aunt's belongings, she finds that Aunt Flo was not the dull spinster she had appeared to be.

As Millie delves deeper she discovers a secret affair and a lost child. Her investigation helps Millie come to terms with her own past.

Far cry from tradition

The novel, which contains references to abuse and incest, is a far cry from traditional novels.

I think it's important to write what you feel

Maureen Lee
Lee, 57, said: "I really didn't think I stood a chance.

"I think it's important to write what you feel."

She said young writers need to have plenty of commitment and be prepared to work hard.

Maureen Lee has had several novels published, including Stepping Stones, Lights Out Liverpool and Annie. She has written more than 150 short stories.

The judges were impressed by passages like: "James's eyes were glassy, his face was swollen, red.

"I didn't know this man. Falling in love with me had changed him for the worse. 'It can't be over,' he insisted doggedly."

New image

Mike Gayle, author of the best-sellers Mr Commitment and My Legendary Girlfriend, was the guest speaker at the 40-year-old event run by the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA).

The traditional image of the romance reader as a bored housewife or airhead secretary looking for a knight in shining armour is outdated and inaccurate

Romantic Novelists Association chair Norma Curtis
The RNA was formed to raise the prestige of romantic authorship, and has been holding the awards for 40 years. They have been sponsored by Parker Pens since 1998.

Maureen Lee, with odds of five to one to win the award, beat the bookies' favourite, Erica James' Act Of Faith, which had odds of 3-1.

RNA chairperson Norma Curtis feels romantic fiction has modernised in recent years.

"Romantic fiction remains incredibly popular because it is constantly changing to reflect society," she said.

"There are a surprising number of men writing romantic fiction."

She says romantic fiction has a broader appeal than many people think.

"The traditional image of the romance reader as a bored housewife or airhead secretary looking for a knight in shining armour is outdated and inaccurate," she said.

"With plot lines offering humour, horticulture, murder, racial hatred, home-wreckers as well as passion, romantic fiction offers something for all ages and interests."

See also:

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