When the book you thought should have been shortlisted for an award isn’t even longlisted you at least hope the eventual winning title will be one you have actually read.
I had read 5 of the seven shortlisted Branford Boase Award books and having reviewed a number of them, I was hoping that either Clare Furniss or Rupert Wallis would be the judges’ selection.
As it happens (that three-lettered law) they have chosen one of the two novels I haven’t read, Leopold Blue by Rosie Rowell, which naturally now goes to the top of my to-be-read pile to see how strongly I agree with the judgment. (Publisher, are there any review copies still available?)
Julia Eccleshare, chair of the judging panel, said of the winning book: “This year’s Branford Boase shortlist was very strong indeed and a number of books on the list have already appeared on shortlists for other prestigious awards. However, in Leopold Blue the judges have found a work of originality, power and intelligence that seems surprisingly to have escaped the notice it deserves. The characters and setting are brilliantly observed and described, and all readers will recognise something of themselves in Meg. The background gives it particular depth and it transcends the coming-of-age genre.” Rowell herself said that the book was something of a lovesong to the townships of her youth.
The tube strike depleted the assembly only very slightly (though I did note the absence of at least one shortlisted author). The presence of Jacqueline Wilson, a generous sponsor of the award, throughout the ceremony is especially good for the Young Writer prizewinners, inevitably mainly female. (The Young Writer Award was judged this year by Prue Goodwin.)
I always forget how tied up with book signing the shortlisted authors become after the announcement, so regret not talking to Clare Furniss earlier, to emphasise how much I enjoyed The Year of the Rat. It was good though to speak again with last year’s winner, C. J. Flood, and to hear how her next book is coming along, and with Rupert Wallis, who told me his second novel is due out next month and that he is already at work on a third.
Hats have been notable by their absence this week. First it was Shirley Hughes who turned up for the Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday _not_ wearing a hat and confounding Michael Morpurgo’s expectations, and now this evening at the Branford Boase Award ceremony it was the absence of David Lloyd (Walker’s man-in-the-hat and madhatter speech-maker extraordinaire) who was away fishing.
Another notable absence that was emphatically remarked upon was that of a previous award winner, the recently departed Mal Peet, who I never saw wearing a hat. It’s a source of some satisfaction to me (I know, I’ve mentioned it before, so excuse the repetition here) that I was on the judging panel (along with Kevin Brooks) the year Mal was chosen as the winner. Of course Mal would have gone on to win other awards even if he hadn’t been that year’s BBA winner – as any of this year’s unsuccessful shortlisted or longlisted authors may do as well, and as I’m sure the mysteriously overlooked Jon Walter will also (probably with his marvellous second novel) – but it is still a good feeling to have been amongst those who recognised the exceptional quality of Peet’s first book, Keeper. Books like that set the bar high. Which is as it should be.
As always the event was exceptionally well-managed and choreographed by both Anne Marley and the regular photographer for the evening, Paul Carter.
Vivian of the Newham Bookshop was running the book stand single-handed this year, her assistant John having been impeded by the underground strike.The award is unique for honouring the editor of a book as well as the author. The relationship of author and editor is a special one (the winning author spoke eloquently about how much she had learnt as a writer by working with her first editor, Emily Thomas) and authors I speak to regularly tell me how unsettling it is when they have to get used to working with a different editor mid-book, as happens all too frequently.
Indeed, such is the instability of the author-editor relationship that you sometimes wonder if the author-agent relationship is actually just as or (in some instances) more significant, especially in the case of first novels. After all, it is the agent who has had to spot the talent in the first place and, in all likelihood, has undertaken a good deal of editing before the finished book is ever submitted to a publisher’s editorial department.
In which case, although actual ones have been a bit absent this week, metaphorical hats off to Rosie Rowell’s agent, Claire Wilson.