What an amazing evening! I was incredibly pleased to have been involved with the Branford Boase Book Awards , so attending the ceremony was the icing on the cake! With my super supportive husband in tow, we arrived at Walker Books in Vauxhall, London a little early, but a warm welcome greeted us. I was delighted to meet Andrea Reece, the Award’s Publicist with whom I have been liaising over the last few months. She immediately introduced me to Ross Welford, author of ‘Time Travelling with a Hamster’. He was very kind, considering he was being accosted so early in the evening (!) and spent time talking with me about his writing, his characters and also how his editor had supported him with suggestions and advice. I think that was one of the most heart-warming aspects of the evening – the celebration of the relationship between editor and author. As was the fond remembrance with which Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase were recalled during the various speeches by the hosts, judges and participating authors.
So on a Book Activist mission, I set about introducing myself to as many of the shortlisted authors as possible– it was a great opportunity to share with them the wonderful responses from the children I have been running Branford Boase book groups with. Will Mabbit, author of ‘The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones’, was very humble about his success. We had a great chat about his author experience so far, and he gave some real insight into working with an illustrator (who interestingly turned out to be David Solomons brother in law! It’s a small world!) and the very clever lady who does all the font artwork in his books. Lisa Williamson was lovely and delighted with the positive response from students about ‘The Art of Being Normal’. I had a very amusing chat with David Hofmeyr about dystopian fiction – not my favourite genre as I don’t like too much death and destruction but I did enjoy ‘Stone Rider’– ‘death is great’ he replied!! Which sounds awful but what I imagine he meant was the thrilling nature of dystopian fiction even with the death parts!
We had been expecting Dame Jacqueline Wilson to be there but sadly she was unable to attend – however, imagine the excitement on discovering Chris Riddell the current Children’s Laureate had stepped into the breach! I have to say when I heard this I was almost first in line at the ‘bookshop’, Newham Books, to buy something by Mr Riddell and have it signed. Book groupie alert! The bookshop was a story in itself having been in existence for over 35 years, and much celebrated by many writers, authors and illustrators. There were lovely books on sale including some by Beverly Naidoo who was there to present the Finalists of the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition with their prizes – her praise and encouragement must have been amazing for them to hear! I discovered Beverly in my early days as a school librarian, and remember being utterly blown away by her books. The writing competition was open to anyone under 19 – I met one of the winners who had travelled all the way from Yorkshire! Entrants had to complete a story begun by last year’s winner, Rosie Rowell. In keeping with tradition, Rosie was one of this year’s judges and was there to give a brief overview of the Shortlisted Branford Boase Books and shared her own feelings about winning last year, including what a defining moment it was in her career. Julia Eccleshare, chair of the judges, spoke of the importance of the award, now in its 16th year, and its ability to recognise amazingly talented authors, not least Meg Rosof (this year’s recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award) and Frances Hardinge (winner of the Costa Book of the Year). Julia congratulated the authors and the immense talent they had shown.
Finally Chris Riddell announced the winner – ‘Aubrey & the Terrible Yoot’ by Horatio Clare and his Editor from Firefly Press, Penny Thomas. A well-deserved winner, Horatio made a lovely speech, saying how grateful he was to his editor, the illustrator Jane Matthews and noted that the job of an author is ‘ not to tell children what to be but show them the possibilities of being.’ Penny Thomas was delighted and spoke of the work she had put into Firefly Press since starting it three years ago – what an amazing achievement for her and Firefly.
Anne Marley, the administrator for the Award thanked all those involved – including the catering team at Walker Books who’d produced lovely canapes (I had a few but generally avoid them in case of those moments where you have a mouth full when someone asks you something!).
I’ve been to awards ceremonies in the past, but not in the book industry and it was such a lovely experience, cementing my desire to support & encourage reading and sharing with children the wonder of the stories these amazing people create. And I even was able to speak to the lovely Chris Riddell, who just seems like a really nice person. Very kindly he signed my books before being whisked away for photographs! I do have a photograph of this moment – however you’ll have to take my word for it because I was clearly so excited to meet him, I am making the most ridiculous face. Henceforth this photo will be consigned to the ‘never to be seen in public’ file!!!