Next Thursday a whole host of the great and the good from the world of children’s books will gather to hear the announcement of this year’s winner of the Branford Boase Award. This year is the 20th anniversary of the award which is given annually to a first-time writer of an outstanding book for young people and also their editor, recognising the important contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent. Running alongside it is the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition which encourages writing talent in 19 year olds and under.
I’m delighted to welcome past award winner M. G Leonard to the blog today for a bookchat about the Branford Boase Award. M.G Leonard won the Branford Boase in 2017 for her brilliant debut Beetle Boy, along with her editors from Chicken House, Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon. Beetle Boy was the first in a trilogy, and M.G Leonard has since gone on to have huge success (read my review of Beetle Boy here.) Today she shares her thoughts on winning the award, the important relationship between author and editor and also her current projects!
Can you tell us what makes the Branford Boase Award so special? A debut novel is a rough diamond, and requires more input from an editor than any other book an author will write. It is a powerful collaboration, and this award is the only one to recognise this work. The Branford Boase Award has an amazing history of awarding writers who go on to be some of the most exciting authors out there telling stories for young people. It is the award that all writers want to win.
How did it feel to win the award and what difference has it made to you two years on? I am very proud to be a Branford Boase Award winner. It was the first major award that I won, and it is hugely encouraging to be told that you did a good job when you are floundering in a new industry. It was particularly lovely to have Rachel and Barry’s work celebrated, because Chicken House believed in Beetle Boy right from the start. Winning the award increased my confidence and creativity, and it’s ever so lovely when people announce you before your event and tell everyone that you won it. The Branford Boase Award is a hallmark of quality, a standard to live up to, and the finest club I’ve ever been in.
Barry Cunningham described the relationship between author and editor “like your first girlfriend or boyfriend in how it shapes you”. How do you think working with both Barry and Rachel Leyshon has shaped you as an author? I think the relationship depends on the people in it. My work as an author is considerably shaped by my working for fifteen years in the theatre, however what Barry and Rachel taught me was the importance of keeping the action, the power and the decision making firmly in the hands of the children. This is an invaluable lesson, because it’s so easy to be in love with your creation, when really you need to be in love with your characters.
What advice would you have for aspiring authors working on their debut novel about developing a good relationship with their editor(s)? To the aspiring writer I would say, the editing process is painful and infuriating. You will doubt yourself and lose all objectivity, so you must trust your editor. They know the world of books far better than you, if this is your first. Read your edits. Step away from your manuscript and vent all your frustrations and anger at a wall, or a friend. And you will be angry, or upset, because we are all defensive about our creations and the role of the editor is to question and poke and cut. Your debut is an epic voyage and your editor has the map; you must journey alone, but you won’t get to the end without your editor’s help. Once the quest is complete you will feel an enormous debt of gratitude to your editor, because you will see your book is a far superior vessel for your story than when you first set out.
Can you share with us what you’re working on at the moment? I am writing a new series of books for Macmillan, called Adventures on Trains. The first book, The Highland Falcon Thief will be published in March 2020, and swiftly followed by a second in September. Harrison Beck, the protagonist, is an eleven-year-old from Crewe with a talent for drawing. When his uncle, a travel writer, takes him on the last journey of the royal steam train around the British Isles, he draws what he sees. When a priceless diamond necklace goes missing, Harrison realised there are clues in his pictures, and sets out to catch the thief. The books are a joyous celebration of trains, rail travel and landscape, as well as a damn good adventure. Each book in the series features Harrison and his Uncle having a new adventure on a different train in a different country. The second book is set in America, on the California Zephyr.
I have also written a picture book for Walker Books, illustrated by Daniel Rieley, that will be published in January 2020 called The Tale of a Toothbrush – a story of plastic in our oceans, which I’m very excited about, because the subject is very important to me.
With thanks to M.G Leonard for participating in this blog today!
You can find out more about M.G Leonard on her website www.mgleonard.com. Read all about Chicken House here www.chickenhousebooks.com and for more information about the award visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk