If you don’t, you can’t be sure of where literary history will lead. In this case it always comes back to Preston and Lancashire.
As you well know, Keren David won the Lancashire Book of the Year award, and yesterday we travelled to Preston to see her receive her prize and to hear her speech. It was a good one, and it features UMIST and non-iron fabric for the Royal family and several generations’ worth of romance in her family. And the banana.
With space at a premium I can’t tell you the whole story, but rest assured that coincidence is not dead and it really is a small world. And had Keren’s mother not been the type to share bananas, we might not have had When I Was Joe to read and enjoy and to reward with huge cheques (physical size, mostly) and art.
This was a good year, with nine out of ten shortlistees present; C J Skuse, Chris Higgins, Hilary Freeman, Jane Eagland, Jim Carrington, Joseph Delaney, Keris Stainton, Sam Mills and Keren. And as ever, Adèle Geras, overseeing the young members of the jury. Unfortunately, I have only read Keren’s and Keris’ books. Fortunately, those excellent child readers have read every single book on the longlist, and some of them have read and re-read their favourites on the shortlist several times.
When the witch and her photographer arrived, Adèle was busy drinking coffee but took us round to meet everyone. To my horror some people had heard of me, which makes you wonder what they had heard. It was lovely to meet super-publicist Nicky for the first time, and now she will be not simply a name at the end of my email line.
The place was heaving. The place being the plush home of Preston’s councillors. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel important, and those men wandering round with fancy necklaces add to the style. Pleased to see the efficient Sue and Elaine of the SilverDell Bookshop providing books for sale, at this oldest of book awards.
More than one speaker reminisced about 1987, when the award started, and whereas I can remember much further back than that, I suppose it was quite long ago. Especially if you weren’t born. Super-librarian Jake had dressed to impress, and he certainly did. It’s not just a jacket; it’s a whole suit. Note his ‘cheeky’ 25!
As always, the children spoke about everything to do with the award and the reading, and I’m glad the boys realised that some books might be pink, but the reading of them ‘has to be done’.
The authors, too, had to speak, and they pointed out how important it is to have reviews by children, and not just by us boring adults. Awards like these can also save authors’ careers, for which we have to be grateful.
Adèle spoke, and she mentioned her predecessor Hazel Townson, who died this year, and who had supervised the readers for 21 years. And finally it was Keren’s turn, and as I’ve mentioned, she spoke of bananas. If I’d been her, I’d have died of nerves by that time, so it’s to her credit that she was both alive and completely lucid. She was pleased to hear the other shortlisted books praised so often, since that made her win even more valuable. It also seems that Keren had always wanted to marry someone from Lancashire. (No need to propose. She’s already married.)
The cheque Keren received was beautiful, and so was the work of art by Hayley Welsh, which came in the shape of a defaced book. But it was beautifully done, and seeing as it even had a picture of me, I wholeheartedly approve.
Keren wasn’t the only one to receive prizes, with the children each getting a signed copy of When I Was Joe. And despite her dislike for attention, the hardworking librarian Jean, who is retiring was also on the receiving end of speeches and flowers and a hug from Keren. She admitted to always being bossy. Well, how else do you get something like this award to happen? So, thank you Jean for telling so many dignitaries how and when and where to sit, stand, do, or whatever. They need that kind of thing.
It’s funny how after my last and only presence at these awards two years ago, how many friendly faces I recognised, and who recognised me back. It was like coming home. Julie was another hardworking ‘face’, so it must have been the power of the Js. Jake. Jean. Julie.
And I talked quite a bit to author Jane (Eagland), so she was another J for the day. Also Joseph and Jim and C J. There was a signing afterwards, and even more afterwards there was that lovely lunch they do so well in Preston.
Then it was time for us to catch trains home in all directions. Luckily Preston offers through trains to my back garden, so there was no need for any broomsticks at all.
Of all the admirable books yesterday, the one that was praised the most, besides When I Was Joe, was Blackout by Sam Mills. I might have to try and read it.