Category Archives: Awards

The 2021 ALMA winner

Not only had I never heard of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Jean-Claude Mourlevat, but the people I know who generally know so much more than I do, hadn’t either. So, all in all, a worthy Swedish-picked winner.

‘Jean-Claude Mourlevat is one of France’s leading children and young adult authors. Since his publishing debut in 1997, he has written more than 30 books which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. With a particular love for fairy tale, fable and fantasy, he draws on literary traditions to create worlds that resemble no other. He writes for young children, teens and adults alike.

Citation of the Jury:
“Jean-Claude Mourlevat is a brilliant renewer of fairy tale traditions, open to both hardship and beauty. Time and space are suspended in his fictional worlds, and eternal themes of love and longing, vulnerability and war are portrayed in precise and dreamlike prose. Mourlevat’s ever-surprising work pins the fabric of ancient epic onto a contemporary reality.”‘

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Among his books is this one, which I personally like the look of. In fact, both Jean-Claude and his hedgehog Jefferson look very nice.

The 2021 shortlists

It’s shortlist time. Here are the Kate Greenaway Medal hopefuls:

And the Carnegie Medal shortlisted books:

There are eight in each category, so it will still be a difficult choice to make. I’ve only read one, but can already tell that I would have wanted to have read many more than that.

Kazuo Ishiguro – wanting to go electric and get booed, just like Dylan

He’s got his grey world of hitchhikers, possibly stuck off the M5, on a roundabout in Cumbria. But there is no plot. Yet.

I suspect that geographically the above doesn’t make any sense, but who cares? This is Kazuo Ishiguro who made up his own Japan as a child, based on what his mother told him, the comics his grandparents sent, and sheer speculation. It had little bearing on the real place, which he left at the age of five.

This makes a lot of sense to someone who knows what it’s like to belong in two places where you don’t necessarily belong. He was 20 when he realised this Japan perhaps didn’t exist, and by leaving it alone, it has faded away. It gave him a sense of liberation when by his third novel there was no Japan in it.

Tuesday evening’s Guardian event with Kazuo talking to Alex Clark, and with thousands of us listening in, was the first in a virtual book tour to launch Klara and the Sun, his new book. He promised to give us all the best stuff.

Although, there wasn’t as much about the new novel, about AI friends for lonely teenagers, as you might expect. There was so much else to talk about. Kazuo’s daughter Naomi had prevented him from making this a children’s book, saying they’d be traumatised. It is now a much more optimistic novel for adults…

Kazuo likes testing new genres, a bit like we might try some new food. He also reckons he could easily move the plots of his books into other settings, should he be legally required to do so.

Alex Clark called him bonkers, then apologised, but Kazuo said ‘bonkers is good’ and ‘I am not a professional writer, but quite limited in what I do’. He meant he can only write what he can write. And with a Nobel prize behind him, that writing isn’t all that bad.

The organisers had planted famous people, like Bernardine Evaristo, to ask particularly good questions. His pal David Mitchell wondered about the frequent mentions of Worcestershire, which appear to be some kind of cameos, coming from a hotel stay in Minneapolis.

Emma Thompson wanted to know whether films of books can reach the depths the books do, and it seems that if she writes the script, they can. She sported pandemic hair, and had also had time to paint her walls the same colour as her jumper. Kazuo did point out, though, that an actor only ever has to learn to be one character in a book, whereas the author needs to know everything.

Kazuo always knows the endings of his books; he knows where he has to land. ‘You can say a huge amount by what you don’t say’.

He refused to commit to an opinion of how the pandemic might influence his writing. It is too early and too many people have died. It would feel wrong to escape into his world, ‘where my work sits in the word’. He has many great worlds with no story, and great titles without a story to go with it. The worlds and settings in his head wait for ‘the play’ to come.

You will not be surprised to learn that the event overran. But that’s what you get from an author who dares to presume he knows about butlers, giving his readers an ultra-English novel, even mishandling the port. Foreigners, eh?

The Carnegie longlist

It’s longlist time.

This is the Carnegie one:

And here is the Kate Greenaway list:

I’m pleased with both. I believe I have only read four and a half of them, but I am still pleased. I’ll leave them here for four weeks and then we’ll have a peep at the shortlists.

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!