I recently attended my very first award event and was bowled over, not by just how well the whole event was organised, but also with the enthusiasm and commitment of everybody involved. It was a real eye-opener for me, someone who tends to hibernate most of the year round with either a laptop or a notebook and pen, either will do. I've met kids who have read my book before, and it is always wonderful to meet your readers. But I have never met so many in one go, and when they whooped when I entered the room it almost made me cry. I was stunned. I have enthusiastic readers, fans even!
The kids recognised me from my website – a website a friend had set up for me because everyone kept saying that now you’re published you must have a website. Of course, I never looked at it again. The kids, however, had checked it out. I have since added redoing the website to my increasing list of must-dos. (It's now almost done) I also vow never again to hibernate all year long and deprive myself of the pleasure my readers gave me that day.
So how did I end up in Tooting at nine o’clock one morning? Well, my novel for teens, The Long Weekend, was nominated for the Fabulous Book Award – a high honour as it was kids across south London who voted their favourite books on to the short list. The librarian organising the main event sent me an inquiry email, using the contact page on my website, and asked if I would like to attend.
What was amazing about the award was the kids’ desire to set up a new award which reflected the books they wanted to see on the short-list. Over the years they had shadowed the Carnegie Award, but had become frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t vote in it and they felt their voices should be heard.
Their desire was turned into reality with the help and support of the Librarians of Wandsworth – the school librarians of the schools involved, and the local librarians. It took a lot of hard work to co-ordinate the event across such a large number of schools, but somehow they managed it, and managed it very well. A logo competition was set up, which kids entered and a winning entry selected, which you can see here.
The kids met every week either during school or after school and discussed all the books on the long list. They then read them all – some of the kids even coming in early to school to read. That shows you how keen and committed they were!
The kids then voted the short-list. Each school picked a book or two to champion and the kids began work on their presentations, which included reviews and Powerpoint presentations for each book on the short-list, and their views on why they thought their book should win. On the day, they would be presenting, not just to their peers and to the librarians and teachers, but also to three of the authors of those books. So a daunting task.
The librarians co-ordinated the whole event which included discussion groups, to which the authors were invited to partake, and proved to be not only fun, but also very enlightening. Some probing questions were asked by the kids and I did my best to answer them as best, and honestly as I could.
Having never shared a platform with other children’s authors until then, it was great to meet Rachel Ward and Alexander Gordon Smith. The final item of the morning before the announcement of the winner, was the authors’ talks, for me a forbidding prospect and a first to address so many people, but the kids were a real inspiration and I wanted to give them the best of me. Rachel Ward and Alexander Gordon were experienced and dynamic, and I wish I hadn’t hibernated for as long as I had as that old adage is true: practice does make perfect.
I came in third behind Rachel, the winner, and Alexander, but I learnt a lot that day. An author has certain responsibilities, certain things are expected of them. It’s not enough to just write the book. Kids demand more than that and they deserve more than that, and the rewards are incredibly satisfying.
So thank you Fabulous Book Award kids, librarians and teachers, for opening my eyes, and opening more doors. Special thanks to the fab kids of St. Cecelia's School, who did an amazing job of championing The Long Weekend.
(Photographs kindly provided by Susan Morgan Jones from Ashcroft Academy school, which was one of the secondary schools taking part in the Fab Award)