Category Archives: Awards

That’s Noble, that is

‘Who on Earth is the Princess Sofia?’ I asked myself a week or two ago. Odd, as the Resident IT Consultant and I, prompted by a viewing of The Crown, had just a day or two earlier discussed how big the Swedish royal family is. And by that we meant how many of them actively go out cutting ribbons and the like. I guessed an answer, but exile doesn’t help with names of new royals.

I follow Kungahuset on Facebook – yes, really – so should be better at names. Anyway, I read that Prinsessan Sofia had opened a primary school. Or was it a secondary school? It was one she has attended as a child, now rebuilt or enlarged or improved. She’s the ‘ordinary’ girl who married Prins Carl Philip, son of the King. A few days later I learned it was her 35th birthday.

And then, after a few mutterings from Daughter on Tuesday night, I cyber stalked a bit more and discovered Sofia was the one who was escorted into the Nobel dinner that evening by none other than Didier Queloz, who you all know shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Hence the mutterings all the way from Berlin.

Prins Carl Philip med Esther Duflo, Nobelpristagare i ekonomi, Prinsessan Madeleine med William G. Kaelin Jr, Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin och Prinsessan Sofia med Didier Queloz, Nobelpristagare i fysik. Foto: Pelle T Nilsson/SPA

His former PhD supervisor Michel Mayor was also in Stockholm, at the same dinner, since they shared the prize. He, in turn, got to share Crown Princess Victoria at dinner with the third, but first, Nobel laureate in physics, James Peebles.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are Daughter’s former colleagues from Geneva, and they have – more or less – done research on the same kind of thing. The other two have a head start on her, so we’ll have to wait.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my Cousin GP was there, pouring the wine.

The Ruth Rendell Award

I first met Tom Palmer eight years ago, at Media City in Salford, where he arranged games of rugby in his book event for the Manchester Literature Festival. I have to admit I only went because it was one of fairly few children’s books events on offer. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t join in with the ball playing. (It was on the fifth floor..!)

Tom Palmer

A year later he was back, and so was I. This time it was football in Manchester Town Hall.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tom writes sporty books featuring both team sports and running. Things he likes. Things that many boys like, and because of that they read his books. This is the man who didn’t read as a boy, unless maybe it had to do with sport. Tom knows what it is not to read.

Many of us well meaning book experts don’t actually understand enough about this. Which is why I’m so terribly pleased, and not in the least surprised, that Tom has been awarded the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the UK. I didn’t know there was such an award, and it couldn’t have been given to anyone more deserving.

I haven’t read quite all Tom’s books, but I have read more than my share of these energetic tales, and they are all extremely good. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep telling others to do the same.

Last week when the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed abridged and adapted classics for children, and I listed examples of books that the little Bookwitch had enjoyed, he said ‘but they all sound like books for girls.’ And he was right. I pointed out that what we need for boys are books like Tom’s.

The next day I learned of his award. Very well deserved!

Sara Danius, and two new Nobel laureates

I was saddened to learn Sara Danius has died. The news, coming as it did just after we’d heard who the two new winners of the Nobel Prize for literature were (Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke), seemed almost unreal.

It had been good to have a woman at the helm of the Swedish Academy, and it would have been better still if Sara could have remained at her post when the waters got choppy last year. It seemed as if the men were all right, in the way men often are, while the – seemingly – fault-free woman did the honourable thing and resigned.

With hindsight, maybe Sara knew she was ill. I hope it wasn’t the trouble with the academy that caused her illness.

I wrote about Sara – and had the temerity to compare her with me – a couple of years ago. It was good to discover someone who was so [almost] normal, doing a job like that of permanent secretary. And then I railed against her departure. Maybe it was a blessing Sara didn’t have to die on her chair, though, as you’re supposed to.

But let’s be happy for the two new winners of the prize, Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke. Both are names I know, and I recognise their faces, too. Haven’t read their books, but at least they don’t seem as strange as some earlier choices.

Writing Rhythm

It’s odd. First, I don’t read that much poetry, or go to poetry events. And then in quick succession I found myself in the Spark theatre for poetry, two events running. Also, out of five poets, three are American. But they explained that poetry is big in the US, in a way it’s not in the UK.

Jason Reynolds and Amy McKay

Chaired by Amy McKay, whose flamingo skirt I couldn’t help noticing at the first event (about flamingos), she’d moved on to an equally stunning daisy skirt. And as she said in her introduction of Sarah Crossan, Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds; ‘we are really spoiling you this afternoon.’ They really were. She also knew not to waste time on listing all the great stuff the three have done.

Kwame Alexander

For some reason I’d not realised Kwame wasn’t British, but he’d just moved to London six days earlier, so I was almost right. Brixton has changed in 28 years, apparently. He read his new ‘picture book’ The Undefeated to us, showing the audience the illustrations while he recited his own poems by heart.

This impressed Sarah Crossan, the current Irish Laureate na nÓg, because she can’t remember hers. Maybe it depends on which side of the Atlantic you’re from. She chose to read about Marla and Toffee, the young and the old, and no one listens to either.

Sarah Crossan

And I finally got to ‘meet’ Jason Reynolds, whom I’d not heard of two years ago when I met someone who enthused about him a great deal. At first he gave a fair impression of a sullen teenager while the other two spoke, but once it was his turn,  he sprang to life and you could see why people admire him so much. He mentioned the weather [in the tent], before moving on to gun violence, and talking about how we ‘strap monikers to children so we won’t have to call them children.’

Jason Reynolds

So, anyway, poems are cool in America. Sarah was in luck, writing her first novel while living in the US. According to Kwame poetry is big, but he reckons the publishers don’t know much. He mentioned the impact of Walter Dean Myers, the hero in Love That Dog. Verse novels is quite a new thing, but ‘the kids were already there.’

Sarah is ‘impressed by myself’ and keeps anything she’s written, but edited out, in case she can slot poems in where they are needed. Kwame had many nice poems, but they didn’t go together, so he rewrote.

Jason said ‘it’s my job to keep the rhythm,’ and according to Kwame ‘when it works, the reader forgets it is poetry.’ And he told Sarah that she needs to learn to ‘own her own work.’ She felt that sounded like therapy, and very American.

Sarah Crossan

Kwame went on to mention the American ‘call and response’ to poetry, which is clearly what Elizabeth Acevedo was busy doing a couple of days before, when Dean Atta read from his book. Sarah doesn’t want to manipulate the readers, but Kwame is ‘totally into manipulating’ them… You need to make the world better, and it’s his responsibility to make you feel something. Jason said he’s somewhere between the other two, and manipulation is a dangerous word. ‘I just wanna bear witness.’

Someone in the audience mentioned that with verse novels you don’t have to write the boring bits, which made Kwame quote a secondary school pupil who had described it as ‘the right words in the right order.’

Jason Reynolds

Jason pointed out that writing poetry is like painting with only half a palette, which is harder; ‘really difficult.’ Sarah feels that writing is very democratic, and you only need pen and paper. And it helps if you don’t go to the cinema, don’t have any friends and if you work hard.

Kwame, ‘I steal a lot. Mature writers steal.’

And that was it. The main problem with the event was that it was too short. We could have done with at least another hour. Maybe two. It’s all that poetry, with so few words.

Speaking Up

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

Dean Atta loved ‘Elizabeth Acevedo’s brother,’ and she in turn loved ‘his uncle.’ That’s their fictional family members. I reckon these two could easily have chatted to/interviewed each other in the Speaking Up event on Thursday. As Elizabeth said when her awards were listed, ‘this isn’t awkward at all!’

They are both debut authors, writing in verse. Elizabeth won the Carnegie Medal this year for Poet X, while Dean’s first book has only been in the shops a week. I’d like to think that’s why I’d not heard of it, or him.

I like the sound of it, though, and The Black Flamingo looks fantastic in pink. It features a black, gay character, who never got that Barbie he wanted at six. And when he’s an adult he starts doing drag, just like Dean. The idea behind the black flamingo is that colour doesn’t matter. Dean read short extracts from the book, covering several age stages of his character. Elizabeth kept nodding and murmuring her approval throughout, which proves how differently a novel in verse comes across.

Elizabeth Acevedo

In Elizabeth’s reading she gave her character Xiomara a rather different accent than I’d been expecting. Done like this it would make for a great audiobook. She said she’d had no choice about writing poetry, having been ‘forced to sing to plants’ at the age of five, and realising the following day that she didn’t remember what she’d made up, because she couldn’t write. ‘Poetry is being aware of your thoughts.’

She said she used to be so nervous reading in front of people that her hands shook and she couldn’t see what was on the paper, which led her to learning the words by heart. This made her confidence grow. Elizabeth pointed out that you can look at global leaders and see if they read poetry. Or read at all. Empathy makes us human.

Dean Atta

Dean said it was important for him to have a gay main character. He had read books featuring black characters before, but felt that Poet X was special. His next books are two picture books, written for his nieces. And he’s been inspired by his mother, and by Maya Angelou. Teachers can help with confidence boosting by sharing their own problems, such as dyslexia.

Elizabeth’s inspiration comes from hiphop; people who don’t conform. Her next book will actually be in prose, as it was written before Poet X. ‘Big prose,’ she calls it. Reading a lot could help make boys softer [in a good way].

The final question from someone in the audience was a request for Dean to come to her school and do a workshop. Let’s hope he does!

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The 2019 Carnegie and Greenaway medalists

Carnegie/Greenaway 2019

Congratulations to Elizabeth Acevedo and Jackie Morris for their new medals! Much deserved.

Jackie Morris and Elizabeth Acevedo

OBE

Yay! Theresa Breslin gets an OBE for her services to literature. This is well deserved on many counts, as Theresa is a hard-working author and defender of libraries, and all sorts of other things. Here she is with Mr B in Charlotte Square, which is how we like to think of her. Them.

Theresa Breslin with Mr B

Theresa is much admired by so many, and at Bookwitch Towers I am occasionally chastised for not having read one of her books. Usually it’s me doing the same to Daughter, but she’s a fanatic fan of Theresa’s. (I bet it was that bribe of – I mean kind invitation to – tea and scones ten years ago!)

(Photo Helen Giles)