Category Archives: Awards

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.

A good little publisher

So, this cutting from the Guardian has been sitting on my desk for over a month and I was worried it might become stale. And then it turns out it fits right in with what I’ve been saying this week.

I was so charmed by this small publisher – Oneworld – who apparently have managed to pick two recent Man Booker prize winners. (I know. I said ‘bad’ stuff about the Booker only yesterday…) I loved the way they were interviewed and how they work. In fact, they are the kind of publisher I would obviously be if I wasn’t a) so lazy, and b) not in the slightest talented that way.

They mainly seem to like the kind of books I don’t go for, but that’s all right. They do seem to know what makes a good book, though, and then they give that book all it deserves. None of this ‘he/she is a comedian so I can hear the tills rattling and I will be rich’ syndrome. (I obviously don’t know where they stand on trade unions, but I’m hopeful they do the decent thing for all 23 staff.)

Oneworld likes foreign books. This is far too unusual. And in general it would appear that they are talented at sourcing new books and authors that might not be the new Harry Potters or J K Rowlings, but that do really very well. Winning awards and that. I could be wrong, but I understand they do this simply by reading books, and buying them if they like them. Not this celebrity thing, or ‘will the buyer from Waterstones like it?’ that is far too common.

When the Resident IT Consultant and I bought our Amstrad 30 years ago, we didn’t do what Oneworld’s Juliet Mabey and Novin Doostdar did; starting a publishing firm. Maybe we should have.

And I like the way they have no wish to be bought or merged or anything.

Crongton Knights

Gritty always scares me, and I’m never a fan of diving in to read the second book about a group of characters, and in the case of Alex Wheatle, whose award winning novel Crongton Knights is the subject of this review, I’d never heard of him until this summer. I felt left out.

But a Bookwitch can face all of the above if necessary, and I am so glad I did. Crongton Knights is a masterpiece. I’m not in the slightest surprised Alex won the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize for this book. And it may be the second book set in South Crongton, but it’s easy to jump right in and you will get it. You don’t actually need to know about Liccle Bit from the book by the same name, as this one is about Bit’s friend McKay, and Bit plays only a, well, Bit part…

And what a great pleasure to find a slightly chubby hero who likes to cook. A black chubby hero, living on a council estate, in a book featuring gangs and riots, which nevertheless ends with a few recipes for some of the food McKay enjoys.

Alex Wheatle, Crongton Knights

Bit is in love with V, and she needs help. Bit gets McKay and Jonah to assist him, and Saira, the girl they both fancy, comes along as does someone who is the odd one out, the boy no one wants for a friend. They are only fourteen years old, so are bound to get things wrong, and they do. But what matters is friendship and carrying through your promises.

This is a funny story, and a sad one. They have known grief in their short lives and there is plenty of violence on an everyday basis. Money is short. Parents are unemployed. Outsiders are viewed with deep suspicion. McKay’s brother is up to something, but McKay is always kept in the dark.

I loved this!

Treasure your library

It’s not new, this idea of saving libraries. People are working hard to prevent closures, or this idea of ‘merely’ giving the school librarian the sack, leaving the books to look after themselves. Lots of authors, and others, were out marching a couple of weeks ago in London. I wish I could have been there.

And then there was this open letter during the week from Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman and all the other former laureates, to save our libraries. I don’t feel that this should even have to be on the to-do list for children’s laureates, past or present. The threat should not be there.

Yesterday I mentioned the effect of libraries on a couple of authors, one of whom won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize this week. Alex Wheatle’s obvious joy on winning, and his totally unrehearsed speech on how the library [in Brixton] made him who he is, was very moving.

Whether we blame national government who really could shift spending money from weapons to libraries, or the local councils who are financially squeezed everywhere and ‘must’ save, is a matter of opinion.

Halmstad Library

Melvin Burgess BH library

But it shouldn’t be like in my former home town in Sweden, which has a lovely, newly built library, where clearly no expense was spared, which now has problems with vandalism. Mindless teen gangs come in – maybe because they are bored – and they are rowdy and they break things [toilets, for instance] and generally disturb the users of the library, forcing staff to call in security.

It seems they are now trying ‘youth leaders’ and they will hopefully have a positive effect. Or, they could try putting books by Melvin Burgess [see yesterday’s post] in their hands and making them read.

Let’s hope it’s not too late. I don’t have much hope, but let’s hope anyway.

The effect of jail, and stealing a book

Or how good comes from bad.

Very pleased for Alex Wheatle who won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize last night, with his book Crongton Knights. Congratulations!

I know very little about Alex, who’s not been on my horizon long. But I like the sound of him. The one fact that seems to stand out when people write about him, is that Alex discovered books and reading while in jail over thirty years ago. So something good resulted from a fairly negative event; both the starting to read, and eventually writing books himself. And I believe there’s an MBE in Alex’s past as well.

Another vaguely criminal background story was given some attention this week when Chris Riddell illustrated a story by Jenn Ashworth about how she discovered YA books in her library as a child. In her case it was finding Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie and reading it in one morning in the library, before stealing it.

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 1

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 2

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 3

Yes, that’s not to be recommended, but to find yourself in a book to such an extent, and to be guided by this new reading experience into becoming an author feels right.

Sometimes bad leads to good.

(And I seem to have done my normal thing and borrowed very freely from Chris. And I can’t claim never to have taken something that wasn’t mine.)

More of Kathryn!

Kathryn Evans

Somehow I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Kathryn Evans has won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award for her debut book, More of Me.

As they say in the press release, it’s the first time a YA book has won. It’s high time this happened, and I don’t feel anyone should have to point this out. It’s almost as if the quality of YA is lower, so there is less expectation of it doing well in comparison with ‘real’ books. It’s like having a children’s book win the overall Costa award. It’s natural. Any book can be good.

So, maybe it was my witchiness at work, because I really did think Kathryn stood a good chance of winning. And then she did. Proves she’s all right, and so is her book.

(And Kathryn won’t have to skewer anyone with that sword of hers…)

😊

Keep those books coming. And here’s to many more YA books winning things.