Branford Boase Winner

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A SWIFT, PURE CRY by Siobhan Dowd, edited by David Fickling and Bella Pearson, and published by David Fickling Books, won the Branford Boase Award.

The Award Ceremony took place at Walker Books, Vauxhall Walk, SE11, at 6.30pm on Thursday 28th June.

Siobhan Dowd commented: �I�m moved beyond words at winning the Branford Boase Award. Henrietta Branford had a razor-sharp intellect and compelling honesty in her writing. Fire, Bed and Bone, which I�ve just finished, leaves me mourning the books-that-might-have-been had breast cancer not so cruelly taken her from us. This is an award that taps you on the shoulder and whispers �Hurry up and earn me.� I promise to do my level best. �

David Fickling�s response was enthusiastic: "Well done the Branford Boase! Siobhan's first book is an amazing novel. It deserves every single bit of praise it is garnering. Siobhan Dowd is a special writing talent and she is right in the middle of the hottest streak of any author we have ever published. As editors we are proud to be associated with the Branford Boase which is now marking itself out as a prize that knows how to pick the very best new children's writing in the UK and in my view is becoming the prize to win."

Julia Eccleshare chaired the judging panel, which also included Frances Hardinge, last year�s winner for Fly By Night, Annie Everall of Derbyshire Libraries, Claudia Mody of Waterstone�s and Nicolette Jones who, as we were unable to be present at the award ceremony this year, has kindly forwarded the words she spoke about the winning novel and other shortlisted books...

I�m sure I speak for my fellow judges in saying that the experience of judging the Branford Boase, which was an honour and a grave responsibility, was also a great pleasure. Partly, for me, that was because of the insights, conscientiousness and amiability of my fellow judges: Annie Everall of Derbyshire libraries, Frances Hardinge, last year�s worthy winner, and Claudia Mody, children�s fiction buyer of Waterstone�s, with Julia Eccleshare as an outstanding chair. It was a pleasure, obviously, because there were lots of good books to read and to re-read. But also because, to quote Annie Everall, �it gave us real hope for the continuing strength of children�s publishing�. There is remarkable new talent in the field, and publishers are publishing first novels well. We saw, in the longlist and the shortlist, books that were thoughtfully published and beautifully designed, with notable illustrations and lovely jackets. We believe that this is partly thanks to the impact that the Branford Boase has already had in encouraging publishers to support first novels. Publishers, I am glad to say, are paying proper attention to the future.

As for the future of the shortlisted authors, I am confident that they all have notable careers as children�s writers ahead of them. In fact all of them have already written a second book � either just published or about to be � so they have already proved that we were right to judge them promising.

Above all, we were looking for writerly skill, and we found it. The shortlisted books were all remarkable in different ways. They demonstrated a variety of talents and offered a range of joys. So a word on each in alphabetical order:

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, edited by Venetia Gosling and published by Simon & Schuster won us over for being so fertile and convincing a picture of the 18th century, as a boy, whose last words to his father are �I hate you�, finds himself transported in time. It was not guilty, as historical fiction can be, of anachronism or hindsight, and was thoughtful about the relative merits of then and now. We loved the richly evoked detail of the 1700s and were emotionally engaged by the characters in both time frames, including the boy�s parents, who learn a lesson about priorities. The reader, we thought, would find it hard, like the protagonists, to get back to the present.

Although Siobhan Dowd�s young adult novel A Swift Pure Cry edited and published by David Fickling and Annie Eaton, is based on a true story of dead babies in Ireland in the 1980s, it leavens tragic events with humanity and even, in places, humour. The story of motherless Shell, her reckless friend Bridie, and a randy altar boy, it is a memorable and moving portrait of a whole community. It has a fluent, entertaining, lyrical, and above all expertly crafted style, each sentence beautifully worked. This novel is so skilled it is hard to believe it is a first book.

Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher, edited by Anne McNeil and published by Hodder is based on a brilliant idea, of a parallel London in which statues come to life and the spits � the human statues, battle it out with the taints � the gargoyles and monsters. We much admired Fletcher�s pitch-perfect way with dialogue, whether it was the speech of the first world war machine gunner from the Hyde Park memorial, or of Dr Johnson, and the subtlety with which he suggested depths of character and experience in his boy and girl protagonists. This action-packed adventure will make readers see London through new eyes.

Beast by Ally Kennen, edited by Marion Lloyd and published by Marion Lloyd/Scholastic takes a boy with a delinquent history in a brutal world, and makes a page-turner that operates on many levels. The loner hero is responsible for a menacing creature that is written as if it were a mythological monster � and is also perhaps a metaphor for the dark side of himself. We admired its spare prose, confident storytelling and above all its ear and eye for the speech and experience of disaffected youth.

Sian Pattenden�s The Awful Tale of Agatha Bilke with her own illustrations, edited by Aurea Carpenter and published by Short Books, is an idiosyncratic debut which demonstrates a talent for dark humour, and spoke to our taste for whimsy. It is about the misdeeds of an evil-minded, 12-year-old arsonist who is sent to the TreadQuietly Clinic for Interesting Children to be reformed. One of her fellow patients suffers from a fear of toast. The story has refreshing impropriety, eccentric metaphors, unexpected satirical touches and a lot of wordplay. Our favourite phrase in this was �as happy as a pony in a cinema�.

Andy Stanton who wrote You�re a bad man, Mr Gum! edited by Leah Thaxton and published by Egmont is a stand-up comedian, and it shows. This irresistible, illogical, surreal romp, is about Mr Gum who has a ghastly, squalid house with an ancient, pongy carpet �the colour of unhappiness� and a beautiful garden, which he has to keep neat because if he doesn�t a fairy hits him over the head with a frying pan in the bath. With its daft asides to the reader, barmy tangents, one-liners, and a great song: �You got to have eyes for the lovely things in life . . . or how you gonna get the chocolate you deserve?� it is the kind of book that will make readers of children who never knew they wanted to read.

A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma, edited by Charlie Sheppard and published by Random House is an important book on a dark subject: it tells the story of an unusually talented music student and his bi-polar disorder. Based on the experience of the author�s brother, it displays remarkable empathy with the sufferer. It reads as if it happened to the author herself, and is therefore eye-opening for anyone outside the experience of mental illness. Written with great clarity, it was also unusual for its theme of classical music, and what it means to be committed to achieving in such a field at such a high level. A book, we thought, to expand horizons and counter narrow-mindedness.

NICOLETTE JONES

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on July 2, 2007 6:58 AM.

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