Then to St Martin's Street, where I met up with Michelle Styles outside Brown's: the venue for the authors' lunch.
Met lots of others in the bar - this is really going to sound like namedropping, but these people are my colleagues as well as my friends... Sara Craven, Sophie Weston, Trish Morey, Jennie Lucas (who has the most stunning hair and had sadly lost her voice), Fiona Harper, Joanna Maitland, Liz Bailey, Sharon Kendrick, Sarah Morgan, Nicola Cornick, Louise Allen, Heidi Rice, Natalie Anderson, brand-new author Nina Harrington, India Grey, Abby Green, Michelle Reid, Kate Walker... And lots more!
Some of the pics before lunch: me with Michelle Styles
Me with Trish Morey (who writes fabulous Moderns - and yep, she's another lovely person who's exchanged chocolate with me across the world. Caramello Koalas are fabulous). In the background you can see Abby Green (possibly hungover, in which case you can blame India Grey).
With Fiona Harper (don't worry, Fiona, THAT pic is coming later *g*), my fellow Radley aficionado. (Actually, Fiona has gorgeous hair, too. I'm nicking that for my heroine.)
Sophie Weston and Jennie Lucas (see what I mean about her gorgeous hair? And I love Sophie's lipstick, too).
Lovely food - warm goat's cheese and this gorgeous chutney for starters, followed by chicken and a very nice tomato sauce, and then a choc pudding (a little rich for me - yeah, yeah, Kate Chocoholic actually refusing chocolate - oddly enough, for someone who loves puddings and loves ice cream, I'm not so keen on chocolate puddings and I loathe chocolate ice cream. Just call me weird).
Didn't have time for the planned ice cream parlour trip to talk about sexy men, so we had a long cool drink in the bar instead (and you can guess what we talked about). I thought I had more pics than this (Nina Harrington, how did you escape when you were sitting RIGHT NEXT TO ME?).
Here we have some of the Modern Heat girls: Julie Cohen (and yes, Julie, I did know you were doing the bunny ears - and Julie was wearing these amazing silver shoes), Natalie Anderson, me, and Heidi Rice.
As for the conversation... When Fiona saw this pic on my camera, she said, 'Oh, no, you're going to run a caption competition, aren't you?'
Great idea. (Fiona, I might add, is a lovely, lovely woman with a great sense of humour. As well as being an utter star whose book is preloaded on the posh new Sony e-book readers: now that's cool.)
So, to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded (aka my sexy archaeologist book), caption this pic:
(I'll pick the winner on Monday evening UK time.)
After much laughter in the bar, it was time to go back upstairs for the champagne toast. As part of it, Karin Stoecker read out the huge list of M&B award nominees and winners this year - we've all done so well. The RNA award, Rita nominations, the Booksellers' Best (yay for Donna Alward), the Aussie Romantic Book of the Year (yay for Anne Oliver), the National Readers Choice (yay for Janice Lynn).
Then we celebrated milestones. Because of the low lighting (and I had the camera on the wrong flash setting), unfortunately my pictures here didn't come out. But Nicola Cornick and Louise Allen celebrated their 25th books; lovely Liz Fielding and Jessica Hart weren't there but we celebrated their 50th; and Caroline Anderson celebrated her 75th! (You can't see it in this pic, but she was wearing a lovely red top beneath her posh black cardi. And fabulous shoes, which I am going to have to borrow for one of my heroines.)
And then it just got really noisy. Forty-odd authors and lots of editors in a small room equals... a lot of talking. (Also quite hard for me to hear in the hubbub - had to resort to lipreading.) Was lovely to see my ed, Sheila, and head of Modern Heat, Jo Carr: and it was great to get the chance to talk over my new idea. Couple of modifications (keep it glamorous and lose the reindeer, and it's fine, so I'm pleased. (NB, anyone pitching to Modern Heat - you do NOT need unusual occupations: this is purely a Kate Hardy thing!)
Afterwards, went to meet my oldest friends for dinner (blimey, they've known me since I was a teenager); lovely Natasha Oakley walked to the station with me. We had to wait for ages at Leicester Square, as there had been a problem on the Piccadilly Line and the trains were absolutely crammed. I'd hate to have to do the rush hour every day. We said goodbye at Russell Square, and I headed off to meet Fi and Liz.
The food at Strada was excellent - salmon with lentils, green beans and pancetta, and the most wonderful warm lemon tart. (I resisted the panna cotta. Just.) And then it was home with Fi for a natter. Also had the chance to check one little thing which probably does impact on certain book scenes for me - there was a hunter's moon, which was really visible, but I could see very few stars.
Friday, had a leisurely trip home. OK, so I worked on the train and fine-tuned my new outline. But it's so nice to have my enthusiasm back.
Fabulous time away; and fabulous to be home again, as I'd really missed DH and the kids.