Category Archives: Awards

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.

and also

If there were to be more books for 2020 mentioned, these two would be the ones:

Michael Rosen, The Missing, and Tom Palmer, After the War. They both made me cry.

Michael’s book is definitely not fiction, though, as it’s about his search to find out what happened to a couple of his father’s uncles in WWII. It is the most touching of tales.

And Tom, well, maybe his book is fiction, but being based on the real stories of children rescued after WWII and brought to Britain, his book reads more like non-fiction as well.

As you can see, they have the war in common, as does Elizabeth Wein’s The Enigma Game. So that’s three out of four. The war really does continue to have much influence over what we read.

Books of the Year, 2020

How do you know that your favourite author will remain your favourite? And I don’t mean that they will suddenly become a really bad author, but what if you want to/need to replace them, or add to your – potentially growing – collection of favourites?

Relax. That hasn’t happened. But it was a thought that struck me some years ago. Meg Rosoff stepped up on that pedestal (?) in 2004. And about eight years later she was joined in close second place by Elizabeth Wein.

There is, of course, a difference between the author and their books. But let’s not delve too deeply into this.

What I’m really waffling about is the best of 2020. What a year.

When the time came to decide, I ‘discovered’ I had read rather fewer books this year, and many of them did not qualify, being adult or published before 2020. But before I had time to sink into depths of despair over my reading, I quickly came to the happy conclusion that there was no contest at all about the best books.

The authors of my first and second favourite novels have both had new books this year. If they were horses, they’d have arrived at the finishing line in the same split second. Although, I suppose they don’t have to be horses to do that…

So, anyway, here they are, the Bookwitch winners of 2020:

The Great Godden, by Meg Rosoff and The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein. If you haven’t read them, may I respectfully suggest you now know what to do over Christmas? It’s not as if you’ll be seeing Grandma, is it?

Nobel, at home

Do you feel cheated? Or is the honour, and the money, enough? Might it even be a relief staying at home?

I sometimes feel that the handing over of the Nobel Prize is what matters. The hanging out with the Royal family, enjoying the dinner, meeting the other prize winners, and generally having a rather special few days in Stockholm as the crowning glory of a long life of work. But then I’m a Swede. I would think that.

Although, the money must be nice. And the honour of having been awarded a Nobel for your work is clearly not negligible. Except some people don’t much care for it. I forget who it was that had to be dragged out of the shower to speak to the Nobel committee this year.

I’m relieved that the Swedish Academy continued their work by awarding the literature prize to someone I’d never heard of. It’s tradition.

But I understand that poet Louise Glück is good, and she seems pleasant enough.

While today is the day, or would have been if things had been normal, and the big ceremony would have taken place in Stockholm, Louise received her prize on Sunday, from the hands of the Swedish general consul. In her own garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with only a couple of neighbours present, and the consul and her husband and a photographer. All masked and distant. Not to mention cold, in the minus 10 degrees.

At least it makes for a different experience. At least I hope it does. Let’s wish for normal for 2021. Unless lots of winners actually really do prefer awards at home. Many will do their best work at home, and alone.

(Photo by Daniel Ebersole.)

Bookwitch bites #149

The other day I discovered a lone book on the coffee table. That is unusual. Mostly I have a pile of three or four, that are either queueing or are emergency spares if things take a turn for the worse. But there I was, with just the one book. It’s Philip Caveney’s latest, which he’s about to launch this week. I now stand a small chance of reading the book by then. The Sins of Allie Lawrence. I’m scared already.

The Costa shortlist, by which I obviously mean the children’s Costa shortlist, turned up in the paper this past week. I’d like to think it’s because newspapers always feel this is important stuff, and not that they are keen to fill pages easily. I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books, Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden. But as I looked at the five author photos, I could count meeting three of the writers. Should I get a hobby?

I’ve got On the Cover of The Rolling Stone whirring around in my head. At the time – like in the early 1970s ? – I didn’t really know The Rolling Stone. But as Dr Hook sang so wistfully about it, I got that it was a big deal. Not sure what authors dream of, but I imagine that ending up on the cover of The Bookseller can’t be a totally bad thing to happen. Very happy for Liz Kessler whose new book, When the World Was Ours – out in January – is covering the latest Bookseller.

Winningly Irish

Last night I attended the Irish Book Awards – presented by Evelyn O’Rourke – for the first time. As you can no doubt understand, that’s because it was all online and anyone could go. It seems quite a few people did, so that’s all good. For the first time for some years I hadn’t voted. That’s not due to any lack of interest. Just that I’ve not had a single one of the books come my way.

I sharpened my ears when the children’s award was mentioned, and then I reflected that the shortlisted books were all rather young. This became clearer when there was an older children’s book award too. Not to mention that they then offered a YA prize.

So, there were three lucky winners, and since the winning books all had two people involved, the night had six children’s books winners in all.

The presenter had mentioned that there were very many hopeful authors waiting to hear if they had won. Well, the odd thing was that every winner already had their decorative bit of glass that is to go on the mantelpiece… Either they did know (perish the thought), or, well, this is Ireland. Perhaps one of those fairies we hear of, instantaneously magicked the glass contraption to the winners? Yes, that will be it.

The ‘youngest’ winner was The Great Irish Farm Book, written by Darragh McCullough, and illustrated by Sally Caulwell.

Next came the senior children’s winner, Break the Mould by Sinéad Burke, with illustrations by Natalie Byrne.

And finally the YA book, which was Deirdre Sullivan’s Savage Her Reply, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. I have, at least, seen Deirdre live, so feel I know a little about her, even if this was not the book she talked about in Edinburgh last year. And, her Christmas tree is already up!

It was nice to hear people talk about their books, and good to be able to attend. But let’s hope for a physical event next year!

Bookwitch bites #148

The trip to Spain might have been fake – fake Spain with rain, not so much fake trip – but this week Kirkland Ciccone went to Sweden. Only in cyberspace, but it’s hard to travel these days, so it will have to do. I’ve been itching to have a photo published on Boktugg, and when Kirkie ended up on my television screen last Thursday, I decided to send in my picture of the occasion, and they’ve printed not only the photo, but my words about him, including the murderous porridge.

I must think before I press send…

This week gave us the long nominations lists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals for 2021, and as always, they are good lists. They give pleasure and hope to those on them, and I feel considerable guilt for having read only a few. But those few were Very Good. I’m sure they will make the longlists and maybe the shortlists too. Even if only one – in each category – can win.

Somewhere you can win a bit more easily is when it comes to pay. Equal pay. I had kept a link to something from absolutely ages ago, but ended up never getting to it to comment, so deleted it. Now in The Bokseller I see that the gender pay gap at PRH – Penguin Random House – has widened. That’s what I would call going in the wrong direction. If you really, really want to improve pay equality, you do. More money to the women, and not necessarily less to the men, but not increasing their salaries disproportionately. Pay is something you can determine in an office. No need to wait for pandemics to end or for politicians to grow sensible.

And the same goes for reviews of children’s books. Last year The Bookseller reports only 4.9% of book reviews were for children’s books, and a year later this had managed to slide down to 4.3%. 50% is too much to hope for, I suppose, but maybe a little more than barely 5%? I forget who said this in the last few days, but children’s books matter more, because they shape their readers into the kind of people they will grow up to be. I do my best, but as you well know, that is not a lot, and my viral reading has plummeted.

My local newspaper has launched this year’s charitable collection for Christmas presents for children who might not get any. I am gearing up to give them books again. Especially with the above in mind, but also with that in mind, I fear that plastic toys in primary colours will be more welcome. At least by the adults sorting the gifts. Except I know there are children who don’t actually own any books, and who would be happy to be given one.

And finally, thirty years on, we are looking at the last book by Jacqueline Wilson to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Not that we have been wanting this to end, but as they say, the time has come for Nick to concentrate on his own work. Here at Bookwitch Towers we will be forever grateful for the way he has captured Jacqueline’s characters and made so many children want to read her books. I have on occasion wanted to simply sit there and stroke the gorgeous covers, especially that pink one over fifteen years ago. And who can beat Tracy Beaker?

2021 ALMA hopefuls

The nominations for next year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award have ‘arrived’. Many are the same as in previous years, some are probably new. The list is long.

I was most pleased with recognising the Palestinian name, seeing as Palestine isn’t as big as it perhaps should be in the Bookwitch mind. Sonia Nimr. I have even heard her talk live!

There are some worthy names from, say, Sweden and Norway, but in most cases I feel these authors need a few more years to be ready. For the burden, if nothing else. Maybe excepting Jakob Wegelius. And then there is Maria Turtschaninoff from Finland.

I am mostly interested in the English language writers I read a lot by, and the contrast between those who have been around for a long time, and those who are really quite new, is interesting.

Beverley Naidoo comes under South Africa, and from Ireland we have Siobhán Parkinson and Sheena Wilkinson.

The UK contingent have Quentin Blake and Shirley Hughes on the one hand, and Juno Dawson and Katherine Rundell on the opposite hand, with Theresa Breslin and Aidan Chambers somewhere in the middle. As well as many others, I hasten to add.

Among US authors are Elizabeth Acevedo, Kate DiCamillo and Laurie Halse Anderson, to mention a few.

So, may the best unknown win?

[T]OBE or not [T]OBE

Sorry about that. I was trying to think of some sort of heading, but as you can see, I failed.

Translator, and general facilitator of all things literary, Daniel Hahn has been awarded an OBE in the [rather late] Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Many of us are very happy about this, and we’re hoping Danny is too, and that he didn’t accept his OBE just to please the rest of us. Although that would be a perfectly good reason, too.

Children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is another new OBE.

It’s rather lovely to be a little bit involved in a trade like children’s books, where some participants go on to be recognised in this way. Last year it was Theresa Breslin, and I’m very proud of her efforts too, especially considering how purply she dressed.

To return to this year, I’m also happy for the new Dame Mary Berry. I’m not into baking in any great way, but she has a nice crinkly smile.

The book’s Böll, Heinrich Böll

Guardian reader Wendy, on the paper’s letters page, pointed me in the direction of Adrian Chiles and his column on bookshelves last week, which I had missed. Because we mostly don’t buy a paper on a Thursday. But that’s what the internet is for, discovering what I missed.

It’s yet another article/post/column on how some of us have too many books, and we don’t mind displaying our groaning shelves to the world via Zoom. Adrian now claims he’s going to get rid of, or actually read, some of his ignored volumes.

Easy for him to say. He’s probably not got a book blog to feed.

But, yeah, it seems his books are not even ones he doesn’t like the look of. And this is true of mine as well. I can comfortably ignore books I really wanted, maybe even bought. In fact, just the other day I was congratulating myself for having a more attractive tbr pile right now, basing it on having bought books, rather than it being only review copies of books soon to be published.

Then there are the books you acquire because someone recommended them, or worse, shamed you into feeling you should read them. That’s where Heinrich Böll comes in. Back in 1972, in my German class at school, one of the boys (we only had three, so they kind of stood out) said he’d had an inkling Böll would get the Nobel Prize, so he’d got a few of the man’s books out from the library to read in preparation.

So, of course, I did the same, only for me it was after the award was made public. But still. I dutifully read quite a few of Böll’s novels, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t enjoy any of them.

I have none of them here. Possibly one or two got left on the shelves belonging to Mother-of-Witch, but again, maybe not. Perhaps I borrowed from the library.

There will have been a few other Nobel laureates whose books I’ve read, but not many. I am cured of needing to keep up with boys in classrooms. And let’s face it, I can prune heavily and still have a most respectable looking set of shelves behind me on Zoom.