Thursday, 21 May 2009

All Shall Have Prizes Catherine Johnson

It is spring - actually it's probably nearly summer. The roses are out. The open air swimming pools are heaving. Parents everywhere are chivvying their children to revise.
In the pond the tadpoles are writhing. All is well in the world and the hat is high on the side of my head.
What, I hear you say, has prompted such joy? Well, apart from my own birthday yesterday, I had a fantastic present on Tuesday when I went up to the Leeds Book Awards where A Nest of Vipers was shortlisted along with some other lovely books for the 9-12 prize. It was a great day out; I watched various children do fantastic and funny presentations about the books they had read and had a delicious free lunch which included choux buns. What more could any writer ask for?

There is some debate about the worthy-ness of these small regional awards which are springing up like a rash. Some say what's the point. There are no big cash prizes and because there are so many of them publishers don't give two hoots if any of their authors are shortlisted or not.

I don't agree at all. It really is not about the writers or the books - these awards are all about the readers.

One of the Leeds librarians said that a major impetus for the award was the opportunity to promote shadowing schemes with a wider range of books than the Carnegie offers. Leeds for example, had three categories, 9+, 12+ and 14+.
I know, from the experience of my son's old school in Bethnal Green that even where a librarian is the best that money can buy she, or he, can find it very hard to interest their students in some of the Carnegie's list.

I am not against the Carnegie at all. I do think there needs to a be a blue ribbon prize for real quality books and whatever we think should, or should not be, on the list the Carnegie does the job.. But there is also room for something more accessible to ordinary young readers, readers who perhaps - like the nine year old at the Leeds Award - who said he didn't like books but did read Diary of a Wimpy Kid and was thinking he might try Shadow Forest.
The whole point of these little local awards is readers. And that's what all of us want. So few children (and adults) read any books at all, any initiative that encourages new readers has to be a very good thing.
Oh, and congratulations to Matt Haig, who not only won the category with Shadow Forest, but also became a new Dad.


Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I couldn't agree more with this - these projects really get the kids reading. Between Two Seas is longlisted for the Wirral book prize and went up to the event in March, and it was the best event I've yet been to. Full of kids really enthusiastic about books and lots of them had read the entire longlist. And as you say, a much greater variety of books than the Carnegie.

Penny said...

Being an almost local author, I sneaked into the LBA afternoon event. (Thank you, Leeds librarians, for accepting my nosiness!) I could NOT get into the morning presentations because SO MANY schools and children wanted to come along.How good is that? And there are worries that is the LBA becomes more popular, they'll have to find a bigger venue! As Catherine says, their enthusiasm for the books and for reading was so encouraging. And it's the wide choice of books that does it for the LBA, and for the Hull Book Award, and for all the other "small" awards where there's such a strong feel for the needs of the young readers. It certainly didn't feel a "small award" to me!
Congratulations on the Nest of Vipers being there, Catherine!

David Calcutt said...

While it does the ego good - my own included - be long or shortlisted for any kind of award - I'm not sure it does that much good in the long run. Maybe for short-term sales and bursts of excitement over whatever books is nominated or wins. But for the writer - this writer at least - they have a detrimental effect, taking the focus off the actual work itself, which is where the focus should always be. And writers are a competative enough bunch anyway without being egged on by awards and prizes.