“I’m as excited as if I’d found a haul of pieces of eight,“ says St Albans author Jenny Barden, who has just learnt that her debut novel, Mistress of the Sea, about a woman who stows away on Sir Francis Drake’s expedition ship, has been nominated for a Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) award for new writers.

“I had an inkling because there’d been a bit of whispering,“ she laughs, “and I’m absolutely thrilled, really delighted.“

Jenny’s book, which was released last summer with the paperback due out this summer, is one of eight to have made the shortlist of the RNA’s prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, which has been running since 1962 to encourage fresh talent in the writing of romantic novels.

This isn’t Mistress of the Sea’s first accolade – in October, it was shortlisted for the Festival of Romance Best Historical Read.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind ever since I got the three-book contract from Ebury Press,“ says Jenny, a former solicitor. “You’re a new writer, beavering away on your own, not knowing if what you’re writing is ever going to see the light of day, and then you go through the heart-rending process of sending it out and having it rejected, so it’s wonderful that it’s all now taking off.“

Jenny will find out if she has won at the RNA summer party in London on May 16, but the Verulam Writers’ Circle member isn’t resting on her laurels until then – she’s already well into the book’s follow-up, The Lost Duchess, which picks up the story of one of Mistress of the Sea’s characters and is due out in November.

“I wanted it to be called Traces on the Timeless Shore, which I thought was very nice, but my editor said that was much too long,“ says Jenny. “It’s very much ‘head down, close the curtains, get on with it’!“

  • Jenny will be giving a reading and signing her book Mistress of the Sea at Hemel Hempstead Central Library, Combe Street, Hemel Hempstead on Wednesday, March 13. Details: www.jennybarden.co.uk