The winners of this year’s award to the author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children and young people has been announced by last year’s winner Muhammad Khan in an online ceremony. This year’s Branford Boase Award was presented to Liz Hyder and her editor Sarah Odedina for the powerful dystopian novel, Bearmouth published by Pushkin Children’s Books. In an exceptional year for debuts, Katya Balen and her editor Lucy Mackay-Sim were awarded Highly Commended for The Space We’re In.
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. It was also named winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Older Readers Category in July. Muhammad Khan says of the winning novel: “Bearmouth 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.”
Chair of the judging panel and founder of the award, Julia Eccleshare, summarised the wining book’s appeal, “We all agreed that Bearmouth is the outstanding novel on the list, a hugely brave and impressive piece of writing, testament to the skill of both author and editor in successfully creating such characters and such a narrative. It’s a book that sends shivers down the spine, truly astounding.”
Now in its twenty-first year, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It is regarded as one of the most important awards in children’s books and has an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge.
Winning author, 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.” This award highlights the importance of the editor and the special chemistry between the writer and editor that results in great fiction. This became more apparent during the interesting conversation following the presentation of the award. As Sarah Odedina says, “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.”
It is encouraging to note the quality of new fiction being published at present and as submissions in 2020 were particularly strong, 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. A book Muhammad Khan describes as, “An incredible first novel.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the online ceremony itself and the discussion between Muhammad Khan, his editor Lucy Pearse and judge, Sue Bastone was, I thought, illuminating. Muhammad described how his own experience informed the narrative of his prize winning novel, I am Thunder. As a teacher and then an author he felt it was important to capture the voices of the pupils he taught. His comment that “when you sideline and other a section of society you leave them vulnerable.” explains in part the inspiration for his story. I am Thunder is now being used as a school text opening up honest discussions about challenging subjects such as Islamophobia. Although progress has been made in recognising the problems there is still more to be done.
As Julia Eccleshare said during the ceremony the judges of this important award are “looking for a book that will touch a reader” and explain what is going on in the lives of children and young people. Long may this award continue to do so!
As well as encouraging publishers to find and promote new writers, the Award sets out to alert readers of all ages to the work of interesting newcomers. This is welcomed by all who enjoy reading books for children and young people and discovering new talent. Many congratulations to the winners and thanks to the organisers and the judging panel for making this possible. For more information about the award and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition please visit the official website.