(Part one here.)
We drove up to Dundee the day before the ceremony. It’s nearly 400 miles from Leicester to Dundee, but I’ve done the trip dozens of times before – Sandra’s family still live in Dundee, so we go up to visit them every year.
I didn’t get an awful lot of sleep that night. I was so nervous. I’d been working towards this moment for three years, but what if I didn’t win? Literary agent Gemma Cooper’s comments on my book at the Nosy Crow masterclass weighed on my mind. What if she was right? What if Harry was too old to be one of the main characters?
I’d been in touch with Joe Lamb and Lindsay Littleson, the other shortlisted authors, on Twitter in the run-up to the event. Lindsay had been through all this before, when she won the Kelpies prize for her book The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean, but Joe seemed as nervous as I felt.
The day dawned, bright and cold, with the raucous but strangely comforting sound of gulls on the Tay. I suppose living so far inland after spending my childhood by the sea makes me appreciate their unmusical calls more than I might otherwise, but they certainly brought a nervous smile to my face.
We made our way to the Central Library in the Wellgate, where we were made extremely welcome and the order of proceedings was explained. Everyone was so kind and friendly, but it didn’t stop me being extremely nervous.
Pupils from Braeview Academy were running the event. By strange coincidence, this is Sandra’s old school – although it wasn’t called Braeview in those days, but Whitfield High School. I don’t know exactly how much rehearsing they did, but it paid off – the presenters and the book champions did their jobs perfectly, and were extremely professional.
One by one, we got up on stage.
Look at how nervous we were!
One by one, our champions described the plot of our books and why they enjoyed them. My champion did an amazing job, and made my book sound great, but as Joe and Lindsay’s champions described their books, I became more and more convinced that one of them would win. Joe’s coming-of-age, end-of-innocence story sounded the perfect treatment of childhood against the backdrop of the Great War. Lindsay’s timeslip allowed her a modern perspective onto historical events. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I love timeslips!
We each answered a question on our books from the champions, then announced the winners of the book jacket design competition. While older pupils had been actually reading and voting on the books, younger primary school pupils had been designing covers for the books. It was down to Joe, Lindsay and me each to decide on the winner for our respective books. This wasn’t easy, but in the end, the cover that grabbed me the most was Qynn Herd’s.
The composition is really something special. The silhouette of the lighthouse, with the poppy and barbed wire motifs symbolising the connection with the Great War, against the amazing colours of the sky backdrop – I just loved it.
Then the fun and games were over. Theresa Breslin, one of the judges, and, more importantly, the Carnegie-winning author of books like Whispers in the Graveyard, took to the stage and introduced each of the shortlisted books.
By this point I was 100% convinced Joe or Lindsay would win. Absolutely, definitely, no doubt in my mind whatsoever. I was steeling myself for disappointment and reminding myself that getting onto the shortlist was the best thing I’d ever achieved with my writing, and it was a great omen for the future.
Then Theresa opened the golden envelope and announced my name.
The rest of the event is a blur. I remember standing up, accepting the envelope, and saying something, but I’m not really sure what it was. Then there were photographs. Lots of photographs. The lighting in the Steps Theatre is appalling! Those big spotlights just bounced right off my baldy head. Just as well I’ve never been vain about my appearance.
After that, lunch at the Rep Theatre. The last time I was there was to see Iain Glen play Macbeth in 1993. Joe, Lindsay, and I had a good chat about writing – I really enjoyed meeting both of them, and I hope we keep in touch.
Now, all that remains is to work with Cargo Publishing to lick my book into shape for publication in September this year. That’s not long now.
Thanks to all at Dundee libraries and schools who were involved; thanks to Cargo Publishing for publishing the winning book; thanks to all the readers, artists, and presenters from Dundee schools who did such a brilliant job; thanks to Joe for not thumping me when I know he’d really have liked to; thanks to Lindsay for reminding me that her book is being published first; thanks to Theresa Breslin, Allan Burnett and Martha Payne for judging the competition; and most of all, thanks to Sandra, for believing I could do it even when I’d given up all hope.
Roll on September. I can’t wait to get my published book in my hands.