Last Friday, Dragon Daughter was voted Calderdale Book of the Year 2019 in the primary age group. To say I was delighted would be an understatement, as I think you can see from this photograph by Calderdale Library Services. (This was after I’d wiped away the happy tears!)
The first reason for my emotional reaction is that the award was chosen by the readers themselves. To know that my story was loved by readers is the best vote of confidence I could possibly have.
The award ceremony took place at Halifax Town Hall, and while the authors were drinking coffee upstairs, the children were meeting in small groups to discuss the shortlist of books and vote on their favourite. The other books were Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen; The Lost Magician by Piers Torday; and The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle, all wonderful stories by brilliant writers whom I loved meeting last week.
Then came our presentations, where we got to work with groups of around forty children at once, to talk about our books and writing and ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an attentive audience or such great questions!
Towards the end of the day, we spoke as a panel, answering questions and talking about our work. I really enjoyed listening to the other authors and getting great insights into these books that I’d loved reading, like hearing Cat Doyle explain how she first had the idea to use candles in her story, after her mother gave her one which smelled of the sea to help with her homesickness away from the coast.
The second reason why this particular award means quite so much is because Calderdale is my home. It has been for most of my life now. That means these awards are organised by the same library services which fed my enormous appetite for reading matter as a young child. When I was the same age as the children I met on Friday – nine, ten and eleven years old – I used to trot down to Hebden Bridge library with my faded little cardboard library card and take out piles of books, week after week, month after month.
So you could say that my library services have nurtured me all my reading and writing life, from that book-hungry beginning, to this day when I might choose to work in the library to edit my third novel, and now to have this recognition of Dragon Daughteris just wonderful!
I’m so very grateful to these particular librarians: Alison, Lynne, Gillian, Jenny, Hannah, Ben, everyone I met on Friday. But also to librarians everywhere who work so hard, making books available to readers at all stages of their reading lives, making safe accessible spaces to read, work or study, and creating events like this one, which celebrates books for children: thank you very much!