Previously, I featured a guest post by author Linda Gillard, “Always A Bridesmaid….” . In that post, Linda wrote about her book STAR GAZING being shortlisted for the inaugural Robin Jenkins Literary Award, the UK’s first environmental book award. She was to find out if her book won at this week’s Edinburgh Book Festival.…
Here then, is the sequel to “Always A Bridesmaid….”
…Never the Bride
I didn’t win.
My friend Mandy Haggith won the inaugural Robin Jenkins Literary Award with her first novel, THE LAST BEAR (Two Ravens Press). As losing goes – and I’m fast becoming an expert in the field – losing to a friend is as good as it gets, especially when you have to sit in the front row of the audience, facing four judges for 45 minutes, smiling hopefully but not, you trust, desperately.
They were very kind about my short-listed novel, STAR GAZING (Piatkus). One of the judges whose father was blind assumed there must be a blind person in my family as I’d written about a blind heroine. (No, I made it all up. That’s what writers do. Sometimes we get given awards for doing it. But not me. So far.)
They gave the award to Mandy. She was already a friend of mine and as a result of the copious amounts of wine consumed at the reception afterwards and the emotional nature of the event, I now have some new friends. (Authors are a nice bunch, especially when drinking somebody else’s wine.)
Julia Gregson and I have shared a shortlist twice now: with our first novels for the Waverton Good Read Award and more recently we were both short-listed for the Romantic Novel of the Year which Julia won with EAST OF THE SUN (Orion). You couldn’t lose to a nicer or more modest author.
Julia said, “Getting on to the Waverton short list thrilled me. THE WATER HORSE was my first novel. My trip to Waverton was my first experience of giving a speech in public and of meeting actual people who’d read my book. Did it increase my sales? I doubt it, but it did give me confidence, and I liked the down to earth nature of the award: no smart London critics, no networking, no publisher’s plugs, but a whole village reading a book. That appealed to me. I didn’t expect to win, but felt flattered to be with some good writers such as you, Linda!”
You see? I told you authors were nice. (Your very small cheque is in the post, Julia.)
She also confirmed the fairly arbitrary nature of selecting a winner. “I think most readers see the choosing of a winner as fairly subjective. You only have to watch the Academy Awards to know that the film you liked best doesn’t always win.”
Adèle Geras, another very nice person and author of DIDO (David Fickling Books) and A HIDDEN LIFE (Orion) agrees but admits, “Being on a shortlist is a thousand times better than not being on a shortlist. If you’re on a shortlist then it means your book has been good enough to stand out from the crowd. After that, it’s a total lottery. I’ve been on enough judging panels to know what I’m talking about.”
Adèle’s Young Adult novel TROY was short-listed in 2000 for both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Novel of the Year. “I didn’t win either prize, but hey, I’m not bitter. I enjoyed far better sales than I would otherwise have done and it’s still my best-selling teenage title. I adored all the hoopla and even bought a special dress for the splendid Whitbread dinner, a kind of Jane Austen-ish velvet Empire line affair. I’d be delighted if every one of my books ended up on some short-list. I don’t think I’d mind being ‘always the bridesmaid’ if they didn’t win.”
The Waverton Good Read Award is judged by the villagers of Waverton, Cheshire in the UK. The winners of the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books are decided entirely by children and young people in schools and libraries across Scotland, reading and voting for their favourite books. In 2008, over 18,000 young voters registered to take part.
Now that’s what I call an award and D. A. Nelson, author of DARKISLE (Strident Publishing) has won it. Dawn said, “Just being published was a dream come true for me, so when I found out DARKISLE was on the shortlist, it felt like I’d won the lottery. I went to the award ceremony, nervous and not expecting to win. You can imagine how stunned I felt when my name was announced as the winner.” (Well, I will have to imagine it, Dawn, though I had hoped to compare notes.) “Winning the award has certainly raised my profile. More schools have contacted me to come and do author visits, which has been great.”
Can there possibly be any downside to winning? (Please say yes. Every little helps.) Dawn Nelson said, “The win has had two effects: it has boosted my confidence as a writer, but it’s also added on a bit of pressure to ensure that the sequel to DARKISLE is as good as the first one or better.”
A bit of pressure? I could live with that. It has to be easier than choosing the right outfit to lose in.
I dressed down in the end, abandoning the idea of a new outfit as the £5000 prize money wasn’t exactly in the bag. I resorted to my smart (and theoretically slimming) long-line aubergine jacket, with separates in two shades of plum. If that sounds as if I was playing safe, note that I chose a youthfully outré shade of lipstick, Amethyst Shimmer. (What do you mean, this is too much information? Do you think I’d be telling you all this if I’d won? No, I’d be telling you how I was going to fritter away £5000.)
An almost embarrassing number of people came up and said complimentary things about STAR GAZING. One of the judges astonished me by revealing she’d read my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. (By mistake? No, in addition.) The lovely men from Forestry Commission Scotland (major sponsor of the award) confirmed my theory that men who work with trees are more cultured, spiritual and better looking than the average guy. And they liked my book.
OK, I didn’t win, but it was great to be short-listed. It was fantastic to be at the Edinburgh Festival and to get to use the authors’ portaloo. (We had one to ourselves, just like the Queen.) And I got to talk endlessly about STAR GAZING. Does it get any better than this?
Well, yes, it does, £5000 better. But actually the best thing for me was, for the very first time in my writing career, my daughter and I managed to be in the same place, at the same time and she was finally able to see her Mum being honoured as an author. I asked her for a comment for this blog. She wrote:
I had my first experience of what being a parent will be like, watching my child sitting in the front row waiting to hear if she’d won, preparing to scream at the judges if they dared to give the prize to someone else. Except it wasn’t my child, it was my Mum.
I was gutted that she didn’t win and was dreading the reception afterwards – fixed smiles, glamorous mingling and hidden disappointment. But it wasn’t anything like that. People swarmed round us, desperate to convey their love for Mum’s books. I’ve never been so proud of my Mummy.
Prize money? £5,000.
Listening to a room full of people whose lives were changed by my Mummy’s book?
It doesn’t get better than that.
(You can read my review of Linda’s book Star-Gazing here.)