Category Archives: Awards

Bookwitch bites #123

C J Flood has won the Branford Boase for her first novel Infinite Sky. Congratulations!

I had so wanted to be there. But in the end common sense prevailed and I didn’t travel to London. It would have been a good time for it, apart from my moving into a new house handicap. For once it wasn’t the only thing happening, and I could have combined events. Adrian McKinty’s publisher was offering beer and sausage rolls with Adrian at their office yesterday afternoon. Not even teetotal veggie witches should be able to say no to that. Except I did.

And then I discovered Adrian was appearing at Waterstones Piccadilly the night before, in the illustrious company of Barry Forshaw, Mallock and Pete Ayrton. But in a way it was lucky I wasn’t there for that event, seeing as it started a mere 30 minutes after another event in the very same bookshop, featuring *Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick. I mean, how could a witch choose?

Trying to count myself lucky I didn’t have to.

Found this interview with Terry Pratchett about his next new book, Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If he has a favourite book, it seems to be the Tiffany Aching books, because she just gets on with things. So does Terry, of course. He might have had to cancel his Discworld appearance in Manchester, but the man is still writing, and Tiffany fans are looking forward to book number five.

Despite the shocking figures on author incomes that emerged this week, many authors do like Terry and his Tiffany, and just get on with things. Despite not earning a living wage. Despite other stuff too, no doubt. Terry obviously has no money worries, but he has another concern instead; how much time, and how many more books?

There was the news last week that food bank parcels now contain children’s books. It’s wonderful that more children will have a book to call their own, but pretty dismal that they have to rely on charity for it, not to mention that anyone in Britain should need food parcels.

*So pleased someone saw the similarities between Meg’s Picture Me Gone and Marcus’s latest YA book; American road trips involving British teenagers. Both books are fabulous, and She Is Not Invisible has just come out as a paperback. I have to admit to having handed over my copy of the latter to a teenager, because I felt the need to share this wonderful journey. Not in a food parcel as such, although there was food involved. And much talk of money.

How dark?

When Kevin Brooks won the Carnegie Medal this week, war broke out over how dark you can have your children’s books. Kevin’s The Bunker Diary is apparently very dark indeed (and I think that’s why I chose not to read it), and some people love it and others don’t, at all.

I seem to be in agreement with Amanda Craig in The Independent, who prefers her Carnegie winners to be for younger readers, and she wants the books to have hope. Not necessarily a happy ending, but there needs to be some reward for all that gloom. But then there are many who actively like dismal realism, and say that children can take it.

I agree with the last statement. Children don’t need protecting from gritty and realistic literature. Whatever they encounter in their own lives, they will welcome in fiction. You want to read about people like yourself. But I suspect that a little bit of something positive would be welcome. Not an unrealistic sugary ending, but something. Something you could add to your own life, even when you have no power.

But we are all different, which is why Kevin was awarded the Carnegie Medal, and why so many feel it was the right thing. I’m happy for him (although if this was fiction, I suppose for Kevin never to win would be suitably dark realism) and I’m convinced it’s an excellent book. Just not a happy one.

I’m a little surprised at Amanda’s outspokenness, but as one of our leading critics she can get away with it. The press have been more than keen this week for articles on the subject. I believe there is more coming. It’s good that children’s literature can stir up feelings.

Barbro Lindgren’s prize

It’s no use. I couldn’t make sense of what I might find on the press pages for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. And after all these years when I’ve cracked irreverent comments about what fun you can have on Swedish television, I have been proven wrong.

Not saying it wasn’t good. I’m sure it was. Just not on television. At all. I mean, what do you have a perfectly good Crown Princess for, if not to televise her telling us yet again that Astrid Lindgren was her favourite author?

I tried the links, but I can’t find anything I can use, apart from this lovely photo of Barbro from last week. She looks like she’s having a good time, and I hope she did last night, too.

Barbro Lindgren by Stefan Tell

They did invite me, but it was the wrong part of the country for me. (Not to mention an unexpected train strike striking me rather unexpectedly.) I was cool about it, expecting to watch on television. And then I couldn’t. I thought the email said I could watch online afterwards. Fearing my dodgy internet wouldn’t allow this, I wasn’t even contemplating not being able to find a link that would refuse to play.

She has written nice books. And so did Astrid. I imagine the Crown Princess read and loved Barbro’s books, as well.

Bookwitch bites #120

Bah, rubbish! And I mean google and unresponsive websites. I went looking for the link to Peter Dickinson’s essay A Defence of Rubbish and found nothing. I understand the origin is a talk from 1970, but I read about it not long ago. Unfortunately, as this rubbish stands, I can offer no link.* Sorry.

I was reminded of this when I came across another – not quite so old – piece on reading rubbish, by Clémentine Beauvais on ABBA. I don’t know how I missed it, seeing as it stirred lots of feathers, and quite rightly so. Clémentine is against, but a lot of people believe in rubbish.

So do I, although there is good rubbish and bad rubbish. I’m probably most in favour of the better stuff.

John Connolly Edgar award by David Brown

Not rubbish at all is what I can say about John Connolly’s recent Edgar Award for Best Short Story for The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository. (I’ve not read it, but I very much doubt he’d win anything if it was bad. Or that John would write bad stuff.) The photo of John and Edgar is pretty appalling, however. Could almost have been taken by me, but wasn’t.

More Irish excellence with the news that Eoin Colfer is the new Laureate na nOg, which I believe means he’s their Malorie Blackman. Congratulations to Eoin, and here’s to the great work he’s bound to do, for books and reading!

Someone who definitely gets young people reading is Liz Kessler, who recently reported that there is now a fantastic screenplay of her Emily Windsnap, written by a Hollywood-based producer and an amazing scriptwriter. As Liz points out, that’s still a long way from it becoming a film, but it’s a start. We’ll be waiting!

You don’t have to wait quite as long, and there’s more certainty, for the Borders Book Festival. The programme is out now, and the festival itself will happen in five weeks’ time. Who knows, I might even make it there this year. Bring on the famous Scottish sunshine!

*Below are two screen caps of parts of what Peter said:

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

The Big Empty

I had intended that to mean the much emptier than usual four weeks I am looking ahead to. But there is that empty feeling you get when you realise – halfway up the M6 – that you have no clothes hangers. What you do have is five suitcases filled with clothes, which know nothing better than to hang.

And, when you have cameras and camera chargers, not to mention an iron you won’t need for a while and a hammer and a drill and you had to jettison the mop bucket and the feather dusters, it seems silly (some would say careless) not to have the little camera lead that would enable photos to jump from camera to laptop.

‘Not to worry,’ I thought, ‘I’ll borrow the Resident IT Consultant’s little camera.’ Except he is also missing the magic lead which allows pictures to jump across.

Oh, well.

This moving business offered nice symmetry, as usual. On moving to Stockport the Resident IT Consultant had cause to stay in the hotel later used by the Stockport Schools Book Award winners. On moving away, we ended up staying there again. So before leaving town I actually stayed where all these real live authors have slept!

Our many, many years in Stockport involved Roger Whittaker during the first few weeks. The last few weeks involved other Whittakers.

Sugar. It’s almost as easy to forget as clothes hangers and camera leads. I got the requisite mugs and kettle and milk and teabags and biscuits together for the removal men. I almost forgot the sugar. That was no first, either. For our wedding lunch I cooked food for a week and brought everything to the place where it was to be eaten. Just not the sugar for people’s coffee afterwards. (Weren’t our guests sweet enough, already?)

Speaking of food; we had some of that divine spinach and red lentil soup combo on moving day. By that I mean the spinach soup, and the lentil soup leftovers from the recently thawed freezer, which I threw together into pan and heated up, which we had for lunch, along with a piece of nan with melted cheese all over. I suspect I’ve not eaten anything as lovely since that cheese and tomato sandwich I had at Liverpool Street station in 1966.

Once we had limped along the M6 and the various M74s and 73s and whatever else they have up here, we were met by the Grandmother – whose spare room has temporarily replaced the full Bookwitch Towers – and a pile of post. Her postman doesn’t yet realise the force that has been unleashed on him.

One picture book arrived by other means, all on its own in an enormous cardboard box, which the Grandmother had to wait in specially to receive. Being surrounded by all these superfluous items desperately wanting to be re-housed, at least we we were able to find good use for the box, which is empty no more.

Barbro Lindgren

Is any author/illustrator worth an award of five million Swedish kronor (approximately £500,000)? It seems like a lot of money, and if one author is worth it, why not most of them? Except very few people stand the chance of winning the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. And when you think about it, what can you hope to buy with that sort of money? In my neighbourhood you can – possibly – purchase a house. It’s not going to allow you to leave lots of money to your children when you die.

And is a well known author a more worthy winner than the one neither you nor I had ever heard of before the award announcement? As you see I have lots of questions, and they tend to surface at this time of year when the new ALMA winner has been chosen. Also, is it OK to give the award to one of your own? Swedes like their authors, so will probably say yes. How often can you award that sort of money to a homegrown author? Why does it seem better to give the prize to a foreigner? As long as we have heard of him or her.

I gather that this year’s lucky author is actually the first Swede to win the ALMA, so I suppose it’s all right. She is one whose name I can never quite remember, and seeing as Barbro Lindgren shares her surname with Astrid herself, that’s rather stupid of me. I’ll blame my shortcomings on the fact that her first book appeared in 1965, when I was too old to be her target audience.

Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson, The Wild Baby

Although, some of her more recent books are ones I have bought specifically for myself, despite them being picture books. Not for Offspring, but for me. I allowed Offspring to read them – a little – but they are mine. (Unfortunately, at this very moment they are safely packed inside some box or other, and I can’t get at them.)

The thing is, I got them for the pictures, by Eva Eriksson. I like the stories, but it’s the illustrations I adore. And I am guessing Eva doesn’t get any of the five million.

The Wild Baby’s Dog is a very sweet little story, and so are the other Wild Baby books. It’d be very hard to dislike the Wild Baby, and you feel for his poor mother.

Then there is Max, and his potty or his teddy or ball or bowl, or whatever. Short, basic picture books for the toddler beginner. Absolutely adorable.

Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson, Max Nalle

I just don’t know if they are worth five million. Well, they are. Of course they are. But then so are many other books.

Do the people in the jury realise quite how much money they are handing over, in one fell swoop?

They came for dinner

I started leaning on them a week ago. At various points most of them could either come or not come and it kept changing until the last minute, and I moved venue two days before, but finally they were here.

Dinner table

On Thursday evening it was time for my annual tradition (three times is tradition, yes?) of asking the shortlisted authors coming to the Salford Children’s Book Award to meet for dinner on the night before the ceremony. Not all of them managed to come up with a convincing enough excuse for not joining me – and Daughter – so three authors and one very cool aunt actually made it to Carluccio’s at Piccadilly.

Gill Lewis

Sally Nicholls

Gill Lewis arrived nice and early, and we decided to string out the dining experience by having starters we strictly speaking didn’t need. Olives, crispy pasta. That sort of thing. Sally Nicholls, accompanied by her Cool Aunt, got there at the end of our main course, and Cliff McNish wasn’t too far behind.

This year the award is a Top Ten kind of arrangement, so the authors had all won their year, and this morning they have to fight it out between them (including Michael Morpurgo who even has to fight himself), to see who is the overall winner of the last ten years. (Daughter pointed out it was like The Hunger Games, except they’d had dinner, and hopefully they will all be alive at the end.)

We talked about being a vet, about big animals and small animals and disobedient dog sled dogs. There was some general writing world gossip, and just as it got really exciting I was asked to sign the official secrets act, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything. Deadlines. Editors. Killing the wrong character. Who’s been buried in the garden. Mmmphh… (OK, I will be quiet now.)

Cliff McNish

Cliff had questions on everything, including why I arranged the dinner. (Stupid question. I want to hang out with the cool kids. Obviously.) Sally waved her minestrone about and talked, making the table shake. Cool Aunt makes puppets (films and television), and she has a brand new grandchild, as well as the sense to bring photos of the baby. Adorable!

At some point the latecomers caught up with the menu, and Cool Aunt was seen finishing the large and rather green olives which were still around. Just before we were chucked out, we managed to work out how much money we needed to find, before going in search of taxis to Salford Quays and last trains for Cool Aunt and Daughter and me.

It was lucky no one was hoping for an early night, except MC Alan Gibbons who had flown in from Hong Kong in the small hours, and who came to the belated conclusion he actually needed some sleep. Which is why he didn’t join us.

The other hopefuls this morning are Paul Adam, Georgia Byng, Angie Sage and the sisters of Siobhan Dowd. Robert Muchamore and Michael Morpurgo won’t be there, but might still win. I’ll update this when I know.

(Michael Morpurgo won with Shadow.)

Raising the Titanic

The Titanic might not be the first thing you’d consider if you wanted to sink (sorry) your money into something worthwhile. But this is a children’s book, and I’m hoping it will float more than it will get dreadfully wet.

When I first met Colin Bateman, he was shortlisted for the Bolton Children’s Book Award with his Titanic 2020. It was the book back then that I never got round to reading. I’m hoping I can mend my ways now, but obviously only if people cough up a little bit of cash.

Colin has set off on another Kickstarter campaign, and needs £2000 to put the Titanic back on the shelves in bookshops. You can pay as little as £1 and you have until April 7th, which I estimate to be three weeks from now.

There are various sweeteners involved, and you can look at the menu on Colin’s page for this. At the time of writing, ten people have pledged £340. The urge to hand over some money, just to see the numbers change, is almost irrestistible.

But I will have to. Resist, I mean. My job here is to make you want to fail the resistance test. Go on, be a patron of the arts, for a few quid.

Best in Scotland 2013

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

Thank god it’s finally three o’clock and I can speak! Being embargoed is not always comfortable. It pinches and rumbles and is generally awkward.

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

I couldn’t be there – roll on next year – but I can at least tell you that the winner of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards Bookbug Readers category is Chae Strathie for his picture book Jumblebum, illustrated by Ben Cort. (Bookbugs are aged 3 to 7.) Chae is just excited to be in the same group as Julia Donaldson and Debi Gliori, and he’s ‘happier than Larry’ about winning. (Who’s Larry?)

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

Janis Mackay won the Younger Readers Category (age 8-11) for The Accidental Time Traveller, which unsurprisingly has made her feel ‘completely thrilled’ and chuffed, and she has written the sequel already.

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

Debut author Claire McFall, has won the Older Readers Category (ages 12-16) for Ferryman, and she ‘was beyond delighted simply to be shortlisted … so to win is an incredible surprise.’ She’s feeling ‘awesomeness!’ even if that isn’t a real word.

Congratulations to all three!!

And in case you know as little as I do about these winners:

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

Jumblebum by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Ben Cort – Johnny thinks that his room has its own special style. But Mum thinks his room is a MESS! Johnny doesn’t care… until the chaos attracts the terrible Jumblebum Beast. Is Johnny about to end up in the Jumblebum’s TUM – or can his secret plan save the day?

Scottish Book Trust Awards..

The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay – One ordinary day, Saul is on his way to the corner shop when a girl appears suddenly in the middle of the road. She doesn’t understand traffic, or the things in shops, and she’s wearing a long dress with ruffled sleeves. Her name is Agatha Black. Agatha Black is from 1812, and Saul needs to find a way to get her back there. With help from his mates Will and Robbie, he tries to work out how to make time travel happen. Full of funny misunderstandings and gripping action.

Ferryman by Claire McFall Life – Death, love – which would you choose? When teenager Dylan emerges from the wreckage of a train crash onto a bleak Scottish hillside, she meets a strange boy who seems to be waiting for her. But Tristan is no ordinary teenage boy, and the journey across the wraith-infested wasteland is no ordinary journey. A moving, epic love story that’s exciting, scary, funny, thought-provoking and truly original.

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.