A MONMOUTH author is celebrating after beating off competition from bestselling writers to scoop a national literary award.

Julia Gregson, 61, has interviewed Mick Jagger, worked as a top model and a cowgirl in the Australian outback, and now she has won the title of Romantic Novel of the Year 2009.

East of the Sun, which made Richard and Judy’s 2008 summer read list, tells the story of three young girls who travel to India in the 1920s.

Speaking after the awards lunch at Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, yesterday, Mrs Gregson said: “I’m incredibly excited. It’s a lovely lovely honour.

"I didn’t even have a speech prepared because I didn’t expect it at all.”

Organised by the Romantic Novelist’s Association, the judges whittled a shortlist of six from a total of 156 entries. Other author’s on the list included Cecelia Ahern, Lesley Downer, Linda Gillard, Susanna Kearsley and Judith Lennox.

The judges, Alice O’Keeffe, Fanny Blake and Peter Crawshaw, said: “With three remarkable women at its centre, each with different flaws, strengths and voices, the novel engages the reader from the first page and never lets go, following their various fortunes until it reaches its truly satisfying ending.”

Before becoming an author Mrs Gregson had an eventful upbringing, following her father around the world in his job with RAF and taking a job as a jillaroo - an Australian cowgirl - while they lived in Canberra at the age of 16.

After a spell as a model working for Hardy Amies in London, Mrs Gregson returned to Australia in the 1970s to start work as a journalist. During her career, she interviewed Mick Jagger and Muhammed Ali.

She drew inspiration for East of the Sun from her trips to India, interviewing memsahibs and visiting orphanages.

Mrs Gregson is now hard at work on her next novel, Jasmine Nights, set in the Middle East during the 1940s. She is off to Cairo in the next couple of months to carry out research for the book.