Wirksworth author wins national literary romance award for novel based on Second World War women

A Wirksworth author has landed a national literary award for her second novel on the lives of women in the Second World War.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 2:37 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 4:42 pm

Shirley Mann was named winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) romantic saga award for 2021, in recognition of her work on Bobby’s War.

When the winners were announced in an online ceremony on Monday, March 8, Shirley was gobsmacked.

She said: “I’m not often stuck for words. I can’t tell you what it means to me to win this award. Bobby’s War is my second novel and only started age of 60, so to anybody who is thinking they could have an alternative career out there, go for it.

Shirley Mann's novel Bobby's War has won a national literary award.

“I have to pay tribute to the women I interviewed for the book. In the time of Covid we’ve all found it really hard but they inspired me completely. On International Women’s Day, if I can put forward any part of their legacy then I am just thrilled to bits.”

A journalist who worked across newspapers, BBC radio and television, Shirley only turned to writing novels in her 60s, publishing her first book, Lily’s War, in early 2020.

That was inspired by the wartime romance of her parents. Her mum was part of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in Bomber Command and her dad was in the Eighth Army but after their deaths, Shirley realised she had not asked enough questions about their experience.

Instead, she decided to race around the country talking to women in their 80s and 90s who had been in the services during the war to find out their stories.

Bobby's War is due out in paperback this month.

It was during this time that she heard about the amazing work of women who trained as Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilots, flying everything from Spitfires to bombers.

Shirley managed to get to meet the last remaining ATA pilot, Mary Ellis just before her death last summer at the age of 101.

Mary shared her memories so that Shirley could authentically recreate the world of the female pilots whose ground-breaking achievements paved the way for young women today.

The result was Bobby’s War which was released as an ebook in October and is due out in paperback on March 18.

It tells the story of a fictionalised ATA pilot, Bobby Hollis, who has a frantic schedule delivering Spitfires and Wellingtons but finds that easier than controlling her own dysfunctional family.

The award judges described the book as “wonderfully written and obviously well researched. This took us on an emotional rollercoaster whilst reading it, with a satisfactory and uplifting ending.”

The RNA’s awards are the only national literary prizes that recognise excellence in the genre of romantic fiction.

Chair Imogen Howson said: “In a year when we have had to deal with anxiety, isolation, lockdowns, and some very surprising product shortages, romantic fiction has remained a source of escapism and comfort – an almost literal lifeline.

“The awards showcase some of the very best of romantic fiction, and I am delighted and proud to be part of an industry that gives so much happiness to so many people.”

Shirley is now working on her third novel, Hannah’s War. For more information, go to shirleymannauthor.home.blog.

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