Last year, I took over from Hazel Townson, who had been involved with this award for 21 years, as the (not sure what the word is!)enabler, I suppose, or chairperson, or something like that of the Award. My job is to help the young people who are the only judges to come to their conclusions.
The young people are pupils from 12 Lancashire schools. The schools start in September, reading what has been sent in by the publishers. Librarians distribute the books to the schools; teachers have various methods of getting the books read by as many people as possible and everyone votes on their favourites and we arrive at a shortlist.
That's when I first meet the young judges. The shortlist is announced at a meeting held in the Lancashire County Council offices (we're allowed to use their very impressive cabinet chamber!) and I discuss with the judges some of the things they ought to be bearing in mind as they read the shortlisted books. This meeting is in March. In May, we come together again to fight over the shortlist and a winner and two runners-up are chosen. This is decided by voting on a secret ballot, after much fast and furious debate.
This year's winner is Sophie McKenzie for Blood Ties. The runners-up are Just Henry by Michelle Magorian and The Trap by Sarah Wray.
In June, the shortlisted authors or as many of them as can make it, come and do an afternoon with the children from the local schools who've been part of the judging process. As many Year 9 children as possible from across the county come to this event. Then, in the evening, the University of Central Lancashire hosts a fabulous dinner and the next day, the prizes are given and this takes place in the Council Chamber with attendant dignitaries swelling the ranks of children, teachers, librarians, shortlisted authors and me.
It's the best-organized series of events I've ever been involved in, thanks largely to Jake Hope and Jean Wolstenholme and the best thing about it is: it lays to rest the view that reading is dying out among the young and that they'd rather be doing almost anything else. The twenty-four children I met last year and the ones I've met this year are passionate and devoted readers with their own ideas and opinions and a very forthright way of putting these across. As long as there are children like these around (and I'm sure you could find the same in every county in the land) the future of reading is in good hands and we need not fear for our books.
I've had a really good time being part of the fun and I hope I can continue to be involved, as Hazel was, for many years to come.