WINNER ANNOUCNED – 2021 Branford Boase Award

I’m delighted to share the news that Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen of Puffin have won the 2021 BRANFORD BOASE AWARD for the author and editor of an outstanding debut novel for children.

Last year I was honoured to participate on the judging panel for the Branford Boase Award so I can well imagine the challenge faced by the 2021 judges as they read through the impressive shortlist to pick a winner!

Founded in 2000, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It has long been my favourite award for children’s books and is regarded as one of the most important, with an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick, M.G. Leonard and Frances Hardinge. Winning editors include J K Rowling’s editor Barry Cunningham, Philip Pullman’s editor David Fickling and Fiona Kennedy, publisher of Michelle Paver, Marcus Sedgwick and Sally Gardner.

Struan Murray is the winner of the 2021 Branford Boase Award for the year’s outstanding debut novel for children for his ambitious, beautifully written fantasy adventure Orphans of the Tide, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac. Set in the last city of a drowned world, the book opens with a dead whale washing in with the tide, only for a living boy to climb out. The City’s religious authorities believe his body to house The Enemy, the god they hold responsible for putting the world in its watery grave but Ellie, a young inventor, is convinced he’s innocent. The award is shared with Murray’s editor, Ben Horslen, of Puffin.

The 2021 shortlist was particularly strong. Described as ‘a showcase for all that children’s literature can be’ it featured powerful contemporary stories, a wildly energetic comedy adventure, an ‘own voices’ novel starring a young girl with autism, a dark story of witches and witchcraft in the 17th century, and the first verse novel to feature in the award’s history. 

Orphans of the Tide was the only fantasy adventure on the list and impressed all the judges with its originality, Murray’s control of the story and the beauty of his writing. Judge Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth and winner of the 2020 Branford Boase Award winner says of Orphans of the Tide, ‘This book utterly stole my heart. Exquisitely written, it’s a phenomenal page-turner with characters that leap off the page and straight into your imagination. Orphans of the Tide explores lots of big themes – environmental issues, friendship and xenophobia to name but a few – all wrapped up in an utterly compelling tale told by a master storyteller. Struan is an exceptional talent and I can’t wait to read everything else he ever writes.’

Struan Murray says, ‘I am so honoured and thrilled to have won. This award is extremely special as it celebrates not only the author but the editor too, and understands and recognises that writing is a collaborative process that wouldn’t be possible without the commitment, imagination and skill of the editor. Working with Ben has stretched me as a writer and his insight contributed so much to the world of Orphans of the Tide that I couldn’t imagine it without him.’

Ben Horslen said: ‘… The author-editor relationship lies at the very heart of our industry, and to have an award that celebrates and showcases that relationship is a very special thing indeed. To be nominated is a career highlight that every editor hopes for. To win is simply a dream come true.’

Children’s literature expert and chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare says, ‘The Branford Boase Award has always celebrated the special role new writers play in expanding the scope of what children read. New voices telling new stories add to the already rich seam of children’s books: in the hands of skillful storytellers they are vital in giving a fictional commentary on current emotional, social and political issues. This year’s shortlist includes books that show just how exciting, diverse and fresh storytelling for all ages of children can be. The level of talent among the new writers is extraordinary as is their determination to ensure all children can find themselves in a story. Congratulations to Struan and Ben and to all the authors and editors on the shortlist.’

The 2021 winners of the Branford Boase Award were announced by Liz Hyder on this evening as part of a public event presented by the LoveReading LitFest. The event featured contributions from all the shortlisted authors plus previous winners and culminated in a discussion with Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen.  Struan Murray receives a cheque for £1,000 and Struan and Ben both receive engraved trophies. Find out more at www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk.

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