Staying in with RNA Joan Hessayon Contender Laura R Leeson

Having been a recipient of a Romantic Novelists Association Media Star award in the past, I’m delighted to feature contenders for this year’s Joan Hessayon Award here on Linda’s Book Bag. Today I’m delighted to welcome Laura R. Leeson to stay in with me to chat about The Valentine Retreat which has been shortlisted for the award.

First, let’s find out more about The Joan Hessayon Award:

The Joan Hessayon Award

Sponsored by Dr. David Hessayon OBE in honour of his late wife, Joan, who was a novelist, RNA member and supporter of its New Writers’ Scheme, the award showcases a variety of debut novels within the romantic fiction genre. The novels are judged by a panel of published authors from the RNA and publishing industry professionals. Previous winners include Jo Thomas, Charlotte Betts, Lorna Cook and Caroline Day.

The New Writers’ Scheme provides support to unpublished writers of romantic fiction. Manuscripts can be submitted for assessment and are critiqued by published authors. In addition, the members of the scheme can attend RNA events and participate in members-only activities and networking opportunities.

The ceremony to announce the winner will be held at 6.30pm on Saturday 16th July 2022 at Harper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire, as part of the RNA’s annual conference.


Salisbury author, Laura R. Leeson, is a contender for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) annual Joan Hessayon Award for 2022 with her novel, The Valentine Retreat. The award is for authors whose debut novels have gone through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and are subsequently accepted for publication. Let’s find out what she has to tell us:

Staying in with Laura R Leeson

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Laura and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thank you for inviting me. I love a night in – slippers and a good book superseded heels and a dubiously-titled cocktail a while ago. Not that I don’t love a good cocktail every now and again, but these days I need a really good reason to exhume the heels!

Oh I’m with you on those heels – though I do like a good cocktail! I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought along my debut novel – The Valentine Retreat. I recently learned my novel is a contender for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Debut Novel Award, which is breath-taking – but added to the excitement is the news that my book has also recently become available in paperback. A life-long dream was realised when I opened my author copies and flicked through the pages!

Huge congratulations Laura. You must be so excited. 

What can we expect from an evening in with The Valentine Retreat?

My readers tell me it’s exciting and fast-paced, so you might want to make sure you have everything at hand before you settle down. One lady told me she couldn’t stop and was reading into the wee small hours because she had to know what happened, another reader told me I’d made her late for work! For me that’s the ultimate accolade and I’m so pleased people are enjoying a story which started out as a ‘what if…’ thought I had while perusing the breakfast cereal aisle in the supermarket. (Breakfast cereal doesn’t play any role in the plot, btw!)

I’m intrigued now. Tell me more.

The Valentine Retreat is published by an e-first American press – Champagne Book Group – and falls into their romantic suspense category. Not necessarily a genre the UK market is overly familiar with, but at its centre is the story of a couple who fall for one another while they’re both juggling secrets, some of which could be life-threatening. The setting is a fictional hotel in Los Angeles – The Valentine Retreat – which is also not at all what it purports to be. In fact, the whole environment is a tinderbox of covert motivations, dangerous intentions, and hidden realities. Are the feelings Megan and Jim begin to have for one another the only solid ground in an ever-shifting reality – or is that just another lie?

I think that sounds fabulous. Is The Valentine Retreat a one off book?

The Valentine Retreat is the first of a trilogy – the second instalment is due for publication later this year and is currently with my editor. I’m eagerly/anxiously awaiting her first raft of edits…

Many authors tell me that the wait for edits is the worst part of writing!

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

My main character, Megan, has a penchant for eighties pop music. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, because so do I. But then, who doesn’t? It was clearly the best decade for music. Ever.

My era completely!

So, I’ve brought along a mini playlist of my favourite banging tunes – equally wonderful to leave playing in the background whilst reading or writing…

Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind

Soft Cell – Tainted Love

Genesis – Tonight, Tonight, Tonight

Housemartins – Five Get Overexcited

Prince (way before he became a squiggle) – When Doves Cry

Alison Moyet – All Cried Out

Yazoo – Nobody’s Diary

Kate Bush – The Man with the Child in his Eyes (a bit of a cheat – released in 1978)

Erasure – The Circus

A-Ha – The Sun Always Shines on TV

Robert Palmer – Addicted to Love

Abba – Head over Heels

George Michael – Kissing a Fool (actually, scrap that – anything by GM is good by me)

The Police – anything they ever did (I met Sting once – he’s lovely)

Witney Houston, Queen, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, The Bangles, U2 – do I have to stop? I could keep going for days!

That’s a fabulous selection of music Laura. Thank you so much for staying in to chat about The Valentine Retreat and all the very best with the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Whatever happens, you’ve done brilliantly to get this far. I look forward to Reading The Valentine Retreat for myself and I’ll just give readers a few more details: 

The Valentine Retreat

The Valentine Retreat should be the perfect place for Megan to take a mini break from her broken life. She’s determined to hide her imperfections and secrets, to allow herself to soak up the opulence and glamour of the hotel for a few days. But she’s not the only one at The Valentine Retreat with something to hide.

Jim is struggling with his new job. Working at The Valentine Retreat wasn’t even close to what he had in mind as his next career move, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He needs to keep his head down and make this a success. No one can find out the truth about his life.

Anthony Valentine believes he has everything under control. The Valentine Retreat is running smoothly and he’s sure the authorities think his illicit activities are hidden in plain sight at his hotel. They are dead wrong about that.

Megan’s arrival at the hotel reveals Valentine’s hidden agenda. And the flames of attraction that flicker between Megan and Jim ignite more than their mutual passion as the velvet curtain of deceit that hides Valentine’s deepest secrets catches a spark. As it begins to burn, their innermost fears are laid bare, and the fire threatens to destroy them all.

The Valentine Retreat is the first in Valentine’s Vendetta trilogy.

Published by Champagne Book Group on 22nd May, The Valentine Retreat is available for purchase here.

About Laura R. Leeson

Laura lives in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside, and loves walking her Labrador, Murray, even when he totally ignores her and runs off. Repeatedly. She writes contemporary women’s fiction and loves to explore the messy bits of life – and if there’s a way to add in some danger for her characters, that’s even better. She enjoys weekends away with friends (preferably by the sea) and has a large collection of artisan gins. She says it’s purely because of the beautiful bottles, but nobody believes her.

For more information, visit Laura’s website, follow her on Twitter @Laura_R_Leeson or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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