A RATHER unusual setting has inspired an Oxford love story that is now up for the romantic novel of the year award.

Author Jo Cotterill, 37, has been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s top award for her book Model Behaviour.

The tale, which is the last in her Sweet Hearts series about teen romance, tells the story of a spoilt girl who meets a mysterious boy after reluctantly doing work experience at an animal sanctuary.

The story is based on Mrs Cotterill’s visit to the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary in Stadhampton and is set in a city inspired by Oxford.

Mrs Cotterill, who has two young children and lives in Kidlington, has 21 books to her name. She said: “Oxford is where I know.

“It is my background, it is my childhood and it is the place I feel most comfortable.

“And because of the years and years of tradition and history and because of the lives that have been lived here and the stories that have been told here, I think Oxford is a very romantic place.

“You could say it is the English Paris, and it is very inspiring for a writer of romantic books.”

Mrs Cotterill visited the sanctuary for research after she and her publisher, Red Fox, decided to write a book about animals.

She has previously tackled acting, dancing and ice skating in the Sweet Hearts series.

The sanctuary currently cares for 110 dogs, more than 150 cats, rabbits, goats, sheep and a horse. In 2011, it rehomed 500 abandoned animals.

Model Behaviour was published last year, and Mrs Cotterill has now found herself shortlisted in the young adult category of the Romantic Novelists’ Association awards.

The organisation was set up in 1960 to encourage good writing. The category winners will be announced by TV hosts Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley in London on February 26 and will go through to the novel of the year award on May 16.

Mrs Cotterill, who used to work as an English teacher at Wychwood School in Oxford, said she had plenty of ideas for more books in the future. But she said: “It is just finding the time to write them all.

“I have got two young children and I am trying to fit it around them.

“I have a book coming out next year which is completely different and is about refugees, which I am really excited about.”

LOVE STORIES SET LOCALLY ROMANTIC novels set in Oxford include: * Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s idealised account of student life and the aristocratic Marchmains * The Oxford Chronicles, by Melanie Jeschke – set around literary group The Inklings, including JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis *A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness – a long-lost Bodleian manuscript summons a fantastical underworld *Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy – the parallel stories of working class Jude and the rebellious Sue Brideshead * The Game, by A S Byatt – an Oxford don and her best-selling novelist sister * Jill, by Philip Larkin – a naive northerner, his reckless college roommate and an imaginary sister