A wonderful afternoon at the Oxfordshire Book Awards 2015

We all like to feel special, don’t we? And sometimes for writers that can be difficult. We work in isolation most of the time; we are now (through social media) more aware than ever of what other writers and publishers are up to (which means we know when we haven’t been invited to launches or parties or when our publisher has made a huge offer for a brand new book just after they’ve turned down our own); and the precious little space given to reporting of children’s books means that most new publications don’t get reviewed. And there are the awards – which we all try very hard not to want, but can’t help dreaming about.

For those of us who just want to write books for kids and enjoy the process, it can be a bit daunting to navigate the emotional waters of publishing. Which is why it’s always so wonderful to have a letter from a child saying how much they enjoyed your book. And which is why I was really properly utterly thrilled to go along to the Oxfordshire Book Awards yesterday and pick up a cup – A REAL CUP!! – for Looking at the Stars, which took the ‘Highly Commended’ prize in the secondary category. My first ever book prize!

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I’ve been gatecrashing the OBAs since 2011 when Malorie Blackman won for Boys Don’t Cry. It’s always a fantastic occasion, with hundreds of kids from around thirty schools involved in the judging process and ceremony. So many members of staff work extra time just to make it happen – and the tea and cake and bookselling reception afterwards is always buzzing. In the earlier years, I looked on in envy as children with just-bought books flocked to the winners, forming long queues and wanting to share their reading experiences with the authors. Having grown up in Oxfordshire, I hold particular affection for these awards and I told myself: one day – that might be me.

Yesterday, it was. And it was brilliant.

Left to right: me, Robin Stevens, Sue Heap and Teresa Heapy
Left to right: me, Robin Stevens, Sue Heap and Teresa Heapy (photo by Mark Thornton from Mostly Books)

Thank you so much to the organisers and sponsors for making it happen (and for the cake!). Thank you to Oxford High for hosting, and for Alec Williams for MCing so beautifully. Thank you to Mostly Books in Abingdon for being stellar booksellers as always. Thank you most of all, of course, to the kids who read the books and argued with each other passionately about which should win. The awards are entirely voted-for by children, which is extra specially nice for an author. A huge thank you also to Emma from Marlborough School for reading her wonderful review of my book as an introduction:

“It made me think of how girls, the same age as me, survive their situation, How girls in war-torn countries around the world deal with their circumstances. The book encourages us to see light in the darkest times as courageous and beautiful Amina does. She is such a strong-minded and loving character who never gives up hope on those that she loves and, I think, is an inspiration to us all. I valued the seriousness of this book as it showed me what really happens in the world and about how lucky I am…The book shows how stories can change things, like the thoughts in my head…the wonderful stories Amina tells makes the people feel free. The camp restricts them but their minds are open and running on imagination. Jo Cotterill talks of how, however enclosed and fenced off you are, the mind can escape to wonderful places as high as the stars with the power of storytelling.”

A fantastic review of which I am very proud – thank you, Emma.

This is the full list of winners for the awards – it was lovely to share the stage with Robin, Teresa and Sue! Sadly Marcus couldn’t join us but he sent a fab video message. It was also lovely to see Matt Brown and Virginia Bergin as fellow authors in the audience – Matt was shortlisted for Compton Valance in the primary category.

Best Secondary Novel

Winner – She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Highly Commended – Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

Best Primary Novel

Winner – Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Highly Commended – Goth Girl & the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

Best Picture Book

Winner – Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy & Sue Heap

Highly Commended – There’s a Shark in the Bath by Sarah MacIntyre

Today I am back to earth with a bump, rushing to hit a deadline and trying to catch up on emails. But I still have a very lovely glow from yesterday and I’m sure it’ll last quite some time 🙂

Did I mention there was CAAAAAKE?!!
Did I mention there was CAAAAAKE?!!
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