‘What kept you?’ said Daughter when we found each other at Preston’s very grand County Hall on Saturday morning. Well, it was Tabitha Suzuma, who sort of got mislaid for ten or fifteen minutes as we were setting off. I was busy composing a story about a lost author, when Tabitha appeared, and all was well. So, nothing to do with me. I had simply enjoyed breakfast with Adèle Geras and ‘the shortlist’. (Now, that could be the name of a rock group!) I could really get used to chatting to interesting people at breakfast. I missed the Weetabix, but one day without won’t be harmful.
We mingled. And Tabitha’s Mum had a go at Adèle with a hairbrush. It was with the best intentions, but the fluff wouldn’t go away. No harm done, as I felt everyone looked stunning, with or without fluff. Post-mingling, we filed into the Council Chamber, which is much more impressive than Chester Crown Court, and the seats were so comfortable. I’ll be a councillor in my next life. I sat on the Labour side and Daughter accidentally turned into a Conservative…
The important people were sitting in front, facing us, and they were eight children from the judging panel. The award winner Sophie McKenzie and facilitator Adèle and three grown men sat alongside them. Lots of beautiful speeches, especially from the young people, and before long the awaited hanky moment arrived. One charming young man said how Sophie McKenzie was a ‘worthy winner, even if Sarah Wray’s The Trap is better’. How can you beat our future adults telling it as it is?
The judges have discovered reading, or they have discovered new ways of looking at books and reading, and they all seem to have changed – for the better, I hope – while on the job. Boys have discovered it’s possible to read books with pink covers and survive. Girls similarly found they could read a book featuring an exploding plane, and still enjoy it. One young lady pointed out that as someone who loves books and has lots of opinions on things, this was the perfect task.
The schedule did extremely well until Sophie got up to talk about her writing. I suspect it was the live story telling about banana-eating gorillas that did for the time table, but it was fun. There were flowers for Adèle, a large check – in more ways than one – for Sophie, and masses of books for the judges. As an extra bonus local author Joseph Delaney had been called in to hand out even more books. His own, I believe. But at least there was no need for the intricate red and green light system the county councillors have to adhere to. No speech longer than five minutes!
More mingling followed, and then there was the usual book signing and some good photo opportunities. Craig Simpson is still thinking about what he’d like to look like, so we’ll have to get back to that subject. I stuck my nose into the bags the authors had been given.
After so much fun the lovely Lancastrians could have been forgiven for turfing us all out, but instead there followed the most delicious lunch in the County Mess. It looked fine to me; no mess at all. Lancashire specialities like Bhajias, spring rolls and Pavlovas all tasted great. Words fail me when it comes to the Lancashire Lancashire cheese. I usually love it. This time it was way beyond my wildest dreams. I’ll be back. If you’ll have me.
I can’t go without mentioning Alison and Jean and Jake. Thank you! (I do realise there are more people who should be listed, but I just don’t know everyone’s names. You know who you are, I hope.)
(Photos H Giles)