Last Wednesday, April 29th, I’m delighted to announce that A Dark Inheritance won the KS3 category of the James Reckitt Book Award, which was sponsored by Hull Libraries. Here’s a picture of me with my prize. I’m standing beside a display of the shortlisted authors. More on them in a moment.
It’s a long time since I’ve been involved in any sort of award. Prior to this I’d been highly-commended for the prestigious Carnegie Medal – but that was 15 years ago – and despite been shortlisted for several local awards I’ve only ever won one – in Rotherham, 13 years ago! So you can understand how thrilled I was not just to be involved in an award again, but to actually win it. Look at my face. That tells you everything!
What was particularly pleasing was that the award should come for the first book of The UNICORNE Files. My career will always be defined by The Last Dragon Chronicles, so I wasn’t sure when I began the UFiles if anything new I produced would ever be able to compete with the dragon books. It seems I was wrong. A Dark Inheritance has stood up well. Judging by the comments I’ve had about it from some of the 109 children who voted on the awards, and some of the organisers too, I may have underestimated the book’s potential. I hope so, because I’ve really grown into the series lately and was particularly pleased by my editor’s reaction to the third book, A Crown of Dragons, which I delivered a couple of weeks ago. She said: “Congratulations on this utterly astounding and marvelous achievement. I loved the book and can’t stop marveling at how you wove such a beautiful, sad, moving, thrilling, totally suspenseful and cool story with such panache and skill and grace.” Great praise indeed.
Back to the awards.
Hull is a long, long way from my South Devon home. So it seemed sensible to stay in the area for a few days and do some school visits. I managed six in two days and spoke to many enthusiastic young readers, a lot of whom were at the voting ceremony. What a wonderful thing it is for a children’s author to have more than a hundred book-devouring students together in one room. You could feel the buzz, right from the start. We, the shortlisted, sat behind tables on a small raised stage at one end of the room, nervously wondering how our books were doing, while the children were gathered around a cluster of tables discussing the merits of paranormal fantasy, empathising with zombies, and worrying over the chilling use of donkeys during the Gallipoli conflict in World War One – to draw upon the themes of just three of the books. I’ve judged competitions myself in the past and I didn’t envy the children their job. One of them summed it up perfectly, saying, “The trouble is, I like something in all five books. How do you choose?” How indeed?
On a personal level, one of the things I like about this kind of jaunt is meeting the other authors. Writing is a solitary business and I’ve never met an author yet who doesn’t like hooking up with other writers to talk about…what else? writing! I had never met Martyn Bedford, Sam Angus, Jeff Norton or Chelsey Flood – last year’s winner, who was the event MC – before (sadly, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald couldn’t be there) but the warmth they showed toward me, toward the children and to each other was great to see. I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of a roomful of people acting like zombies during Jeff Norton’s hilarious presentation of his book. Here are the authors getting involved!
Lastly, I want to thank everyone in the Hull Library Service who helped in putting this award together. It was quite a feat of organisation, which as far as I can tell went without a hitch. Guys, you were fantastic. In the style of my opening presentation: Mwah! Mwah!