Liz Hyder has just been announced (via Zoom) winner of the 2020 Branford Boase Award for the year’s outstanding debut novel for children for her powerful dystopia Bearmouth (ACHUKA’s Book of the Day on 30 April this year). Based on real-life stories of nineteenth century child miners, Bearmouth is set in a deep underground mine, and told in a distinctive dialect, invented by Hyder and maintained throughout. The award is shared with her editor, Sarah Odedina, editor-at-large, Pushkin Children’s Books.
The announcement of this important prize for a debut children’s book normally takes place in high summer at the offices of Walker Books, but like most prizes this year it had to be delayed and moved online.
The submissions in 2020 were particularly strong, and the judges chose to award Highly Commended to Katya Balen and her editor Lucy Mackay-Smith for The Space We’re In, a moving story about a boy and his relationship with his younger brother, who is autistic.
Muhammad Khan, last year’s Branford Boase Award winner said of the winning book : “[It] is a tour de force of a page-turner with an intricate and stylised plot. Liz Hyder has created a gritty world for her hugely likeable protagonist, Newt, and a unique language which evolves as the exciting story unfolds. Original and unforgettable.”
Liz Hyder says: “The Branford Boase Award is such a prestigious award and I love that it celebrates both editor and author. It was a true partnership to work with Sarah on Bearmouth. I learnt so much from her and can honestly say that the experience changed my life in so many ways. To be shortlisted felt like prize enough but to win feels utterly incredible! It means the world to me not only because I’m following in the footsteps of so many authors who I admire and cherish but also because I share it with Sarah who is the best, most inspiring, wonderful editor. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”
Sarah Odedina, the book’s editor (also recognised by the award) said: “What marks Liz out for me is her courage and originality and her faultless ability to create a story that holds the reader’s attention by its sheer power. As an editor there cannot be many higher accolades than to be on the Branford Boase Award shortlist. To win the award in partnership with an author confirms that this task of bringing stories to young readers is a work of collaboration and one that is most successful when author and editor listen to one another and enjoy the process of creating a novel.”
Katya Balen and Lucy Mackay-Sim, Highly Commended, said: “We’re thrilled to have received this commendation from such a prestigious award, and to be recognised among a shortlist of such brilliant books – including a truly extraordinary winner. It’s also a delight to receive this accolade together on a book we both care about so much.”
Muhammad Khan says: ”The Space We’re In is a challenging story about neurodivergent siblings and what ‘family’ and ‘home’ means to them. Katya Balen writes with an assuredness that takes you directly into the characters’ lives and makes you feel every beat of their joys, woes and frustrations. An incredible first novel.”
This year the judges were Sue Bastone, vice-chair SLA; Victoria Dilly, creator of the Book Activist blog; Layla Hudson of Round Table Books, Brixton; and Muhammad Khan, author of I Am Thunder, winner of the 2019 Branford Boase Award. The panel was chaired, as always, by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival and Branford Boase Award founder.
Liz Hyder receives a cheque for £1,000 and Liz and Sarah both receive engraved trophies.
The complete list of titles on the 2020 shortlist:
- Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad and Henry White, edited by Holly Harris and Sharan Matharu, illus Aleksei Bitskoff (Puffin)
- The Space We’re In by Katya Balen, edited by Lucy Mackay-Sim, illus Laura Carlin (Bloomsbury)
- A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, edited by Liz Bankes and Sarah Levison (Egmont)
- Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, edited by Sarah Odedina (Pushkin Press)
- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, edited by Lindsey Heaven (Electric Monkey)
- Frostheart by Jamie Littler, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Puffin)
- The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Penguin)