Well, it's that time of year again! Yesterday Narinder Dhami accepted a cheque for £1000 and a cut-glass decanter from one of the young judges and became the winner of the Lancashire Children's Book of the Year award for 2010 for her novel Bang Bang You're Dead.
The Council Chamber at Preston was as impressive as ever, with its green marble columns and its fearsomely throne-like chairs up on the stage. I was sitting at the top table, so to speak, and in front of us, the ranks of parents, children, librarians, teachers and short-listed authors were ranged in a kind of semi-circle. Some of the young judges spoke about their experiences and the shortlistees came up and told us what it had meant to them to be shortlisted. Then after the ceremony, the authors signed copies of their books in an adjoining cabinet room and then we all went off to have a splendid buffet lunch.The sun was shining throughout, which added to the sparkliness of the occasion.
I'd been there since the night before. UCLAN, who sponsor the prize, hosted a wonderful dinner at the University and it was good to meet Anna Perera, Cathy McPhail, and Vat Rutt, and to see Lesley Wilson and her husband and Joseph Delaney who is regular on this shortlist. The sticky toffee pudding was marvellous! Narinder Dhami and her husband arrived early on Saturday morning, and it was good to meet them, too.
Many thanks to Jean Wolstenholme and Jake Hope for being such a fantastic organizational force. With a cohort of terrific librarians to help them, and good teachers to oversee the reading in the schools, they manage, year after year, to create a buzz and excitement around this prize that makes it truly special. The young judges are amazing and argue for the books they love best with passion and great intelligence and good humour; a reminder, if any were needed, that teenagers are not the dumbed-down, spoiled and ignorant creatures of some of the worst tabloid headlines, but lively and interesting and altogether delightful.
I won't be living in Manchester next year, but I'm going to make the trip three times a year from Cambridge, (where I hope very much I will be living) to be the chair of the judges again in 2011. Please, all you writers of teenage books out there, do urge your publishers to send your book in for consideration by the the most discerning Year 9s in the county.
And if you're shortlisted, I'll see you at the dinner. I will lobby for a repeat of the sticky toffee pudding!