All of Melissa Nathan’s novels are both heart-warmingly romantic and very, very funny.
THE NANNY and THE WAITRESS were also in the Top Ten bestseller lists. So it’s highly appropriate that, following her death from cancer at the age of just 37 in April 2006, a new literary award is being established in her memory.
The Melissa Nathan Award For Comedy Romance has been set up by Melissa’s husband, Andrew Saffron – honouring the criteria that Melissa drew up herself very shortly before she died. She wanted to encourage and reward writers who can combine in a novel the magical, life-enhancing elements of humour and love.
The Award Committee were delighted that the following agreed to be judges of the very first award: Comedian Jo Brand, author Joanna Trollope, actress Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson), author Sophie Kinsella and Gaynor Allen, Head Book Buyer for Tesco. For the 2008 awards the judging team grew to include actor and comedian Alan Davies. In 2011 the judges were Jo Brand, Joanna Trollope, Sophie Kinsella, actress Mowenna Banks and actress and television presenter Liza Tarbuck, Andrew Cleaves, Managing Director National Express Coaches, the sponsors of the 2011 and 2012 award, and Freya Wright Book Buyer for Waitrose.
Melissa herself wrote the criteria for the award. These are her own words:
“This award starts off as two separate, distinct sections, which, as in all good romances, create something near to perfection when they are joined together properly.
Sharing a sense of humour with someone, laughing out loud at a joke in a book – these are moments of pure connection.
Comedy is the most underrated genre of novels I can think of. In fact, it isn’t even seen as a genre. Critics don’t seem to know how to judge them; many’s the time I’ve bought a book because I was reliably informed that it was full of laugh-out-loud moments, only to find when I finished that although there may be been a gentle underlying irony, there was not a single genuinely witty, funny moment in the whole thing.
The first part of this award is for a book that is suffused with humour, where the jokes are not an added extra, but where the writer’s voice and the comedy are interdependent.
The writer may have been a sitcom writer in another life, or a stand-up, possibly just someone who has always made their friends laugh without really trying. There are no restrictions on age or gender. But there is on sense of humour.
We live in a world of increasing alienation, where meeting the right person for life grows harder and harder. Why would we want to spend our free time reading about this grim reality?
I have spent many happy months escaping into the writing of my feel-good world of Happy Ever Afters. And what is wrong with that? It makes people feel good. I don’t feel I’m selling anyone a lie. And, as it happens, I believe that writing good romance – a bit like comedy – is one of the hardest genres.
While it may be easy to create characters that don’t gel, to create believable, sympathetic characters whom your readers desperately want to fall in love with, is no easy feat.
And so, the second part of this award – and equally important – is that the romance is utterly believable and so important to the reader that the romance is a page-turner.
Of course, there should also be no stinting on believable characterisation, dialogue, plot or voice.
Together, the melding of these two great connectors should create a book that is witty, romantic and full of warmth.
The 2007 award, announced on June 13th, went to Marian Keyes for ‘Anybody Out There’.
The 2008 award, announced on June 18th, went to Lisa Jewell for ’31 Dream Street’.
The 2009 award announced on June 10th went to Farahad Zama for ‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’.
The 2010 award announced on June 15th went to Janet Skeslien Charles for ‘Moon Light in Odessa’.
The 2011 award announced on June 21st went to Helen Simonson for ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’
This Year’s Award
The winner of the 2012 award will be announced on 12th June 2012, at a gala in London.