Friday, 24 February 2012

Book Awards Hat Trick

One of the reasons I’ve start blogging is so that I can share news as it happens, instead of months afterwards when my newsletter comes out. I had a terrific run of good news just before Christmas when three of my books won three different regional book awards — all in the space of a three weeks!

Mark and I receiving the Stockport Award
The first win was for Monsters: An Owner’s Guide, which won the Key Stage 1 category (ages 5-7 years) of the Stockport Schools Book Awards. The ceremony, at Stockport’s Plaza Theatre, was a very glam affair with the authors and illustrators requested to wear formal dress to pick up their awards. It’s been years since I’ve worn a suit and when I tried the one I still own on I was surprised to find that the waistline had mysteriously shrunk in the wardrobe, so I had to invest in a new one.

The award came in the
form of a framed picture.
The award was voted for by school children from the Stockport area, a few hundred of whom made up the enthusiastic audience. Both myself and the book’s illustrator Mark Oliver went on stage to pick up the award and Emily Ford, our editor from Macmillan, also came along to bask in the book's glory — and put up with a bit of ribbing on stage from Mark and myself. A lot of publishing is done by phone and email these days, so although Mark and I worked together on the book from the beginning, it was only the second time we’d met face to face and only the third time I’d met Emily — and it was the first time all three of us had got together.

As well as reading all the shortlisted books, the children from the participating schools had produced drawings and paintings inspired by their favourite books, a selection of which were on display in an exhibition at Stockport Art Gallery. The award itself took the form of one of these illustrations, which had been framed and was presented to me by the artist, Patsy Cooke of Cheadle Catholic Infant School.

My thanks to everyone at Stockport Schools Library Service for looking after me so well and putting on such a great event.

Here's me accepting the Sheffield Picture Book Award.
You'll have to take my word that I'm wearing the knickers.
Less than two weeks later, my wife and I were at the City Hall in Sheffield for the Sheffield Children’s Book AwardThe Pig’s Knickers had been nominated in the Picture Book category, but unfortunately the book’s Illustrator, Vanessa Cabban, was unable to attend.

With most children’s book awards, you’re told in advance whether or not your book has won and generally it’s only the authors and illustrators of the winning books that are invited to the ceremony. However the Sheffield Award is one of the few where everyone on the shortlist is invited and you don’t find out who the winners are until they’re announced on stage. Once again, the award was voted for by school children (this time it was over 6,000 from the Sheffield area) a few hundred of which were attending the ceremony. I could tell from the huge cheer that went up when The Pig’s Knickers was read from the shortlist that it was in with a good chance. Nevertheless I was still very surprised to find it had won!

Here I am after the ceremony in all my
polka-dotted glory.
I approached the stage with a mixture of delight and trepidation — delight because the book had won the award and trepidation because I’d promised myself that if it did I would do something memorable — and rather silly — to mark my acceptance and I wasn’t sure how well it would be received. The book is about a pig who’s feeling rather dejected until he finds a pair of red polka dot knickers that work wonders for his self-esteem. So on receiving the award I mumbled (apparently a little too incoherently) into the microphone about wishing I’d made more of an effort with my appearance, before taking out an identical pair of red polka dot knickers and putting them on on stage. Fortunately the kids thought it was hilarious (their mental age is about the same as mine) and I was able to leave the stage to warm applause rather than cold silence.

But it didn’t end there …

One of the nice things about being a picture book author is that picture book awards tend to be given out first at book award ceremonies, so once you’ve picked it up you can generally relax and enjoy the rest of the presentations without worrying about what you are going to say on stage. However this was not the case at Sheffield, where the book that receives the most votes across all the categories is given the overall book award. So I sat there pleased, but fretting slightly for the rest of the ceremony, wondering if I might have to go through it all again.

The winners in the older categories were Billionaire Boy by David Williams and Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. Terry Deary also picked up the Teachers’ Favourite Book Award for his second world war novel Put out the Light, which received the most votes from teachers in the 255 participating schools. Terry stunned the audience by telling us that although this was his 200th book it was the first time he had ever won a book award. Given the phenomenal popularity of Terry’s Horrible History books, I can only think this is because there are shamefully few awards that recognise excellence in children’s non-fiction.

I'd thought the Sheffield award might be cast in
Sheffield steel, but it turned out to be carved from wood. 
When The Pig’s Knickers was eventually announced as the overall winner I was stunned. I hadn’t given any thought to what to say in the event of a second acceptance (it felt presumptuous giving any thought to the first), but I managed to resist donning the knickers for a second time — much to the disappointment of the kids.

After the ceremony the organisers told me that The Pig’s Knickers had been a runaway winner, with far more votes than any of the other books. Apparently the only other time this has happened was with Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses in 2002.

Once again, my thanks to everyone at Sheffield Schools Library Service for organising such a wonderful event.

The Sheffield Award was in the last week of November and I didn’t think there was any possibility that one of my books would win another award that year as — as far as I knew — none of my books were shortlisted for any more awards. So it came as a total surprise when I discovered, two days after Sheffield, that not only had The Santa Trap been shortlisted for the Hampshire Illustrated Book Award, but that it had won! The award is for the best picture book for older readers and was voted for by over 5,000 year 5 children from 130 Hampshire schools. Apparently The Santa Trap was another runaway winner and got nearly half the total vote — that's almost as much as the other five shortlisted books combined!

It’s always lovely when one of my books receives an award but I am especially thrilled that The Santa Trap has won one for a number of reasons. If you’ve read the author’s note on my web site, you’ll know that it’s quite a personal book. It took three years to find a suitable illustrator and I think the illustrations that Poly Bernatene produced for it are stunning and among the finest from any of my books. Having been first published in 2009, I’d long given up on the book ever being shortlisted for a book award, let alone winning one!

Although the winner was announced last year, the Hampshire presentation ceremony is not until March, so I will try to do another post when I’ve received the award.

My first blog post!

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As well as books news and the other content I used to include in the newsletter, the blog will include more personal posts and will also flag up things I’ve found elsewhere on the web that I hope will be of interest.