Author Penny Joelson and her novel ‘I Have No Secrets’ was this year’s winner of the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award, organised by Bolton School and voted on by hundreds of children from across the region over the course of the school year. A delighted Penny told the Great Hall audience of pupils from 19 schools and four other shortlisted authors of her delight at winning the award: “Thank you to everyone for voting for me. It feels really special to be the winner today, thank you so much from me but also from the (disabled) main character Gemma – it is great to have her voice heard! I wrote the book with the intention of producing a good story and it is magical that it has also raised issues. Today has been a wonderful day of celebrating reading. It has been a lovely day and it turns out, looking at all these people, writing is not such a lonely business after all!”
Penny shared the stage with fellow shortlisted authors Natasha Farrant (Children of Castle Rock), Juliette Forrest (Twister), Mitch Johnson (Kick) and Will Mabbit (Embassy of the Dead) as well as with compere for the ceremony, Andy Briggs (author, screenwriter and producer). Alex Bell (The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club) was the sixth shortlisted author but could not make it on the day. Prior to the announcement in what was one of the closest competitions in years - the winning book won by just 10 votes - each author spoke to the audience. Andy Briggs talked about how good writing is not just needed for books – but for songs, TV, films, video games and much more. He told the boys and girls that storytelling is all about the characters. Natasha Farrant talked about “the mad things that happen in authors’ brains” and shared an anecdote about writing her next book when a character just appeared out of nowhere. Juliette Forrest felt that “to be an author you had to be incredibly intelligent” and never considered it, but advised that if you’re passionate about it, don’t let anything put you off. She also explained how she came to writing later in life, so it’s something you can always return to. Penny Joelson pointed out that she is quite shy, but one of the things about being an author is that you’re expected to talk to hundreds of people! She thanked pupils for their enthusiasm and fantastic questions and said that events like this are great to bring together readers and give authors an opportunity to meet them. Mitch Johnson reflected that it had been a “wonderful” morning and thanked everyone who read ‘Kick’, especially the people who didn’t think they’d like a book about football but discovered something new. He also said he hoped it got readers thinking about the issues of garment production and exploitation. Will Mabbitt told how he was honoured to have had his book recommended through the Award. He thanked the organisers, librarians, helpers and teachers who arranged the day, and thanked readers for reading the books.
Post-announcement, the authors spent an hour talking to children and signing copies of their novels.
Earlier in the day, the writers had taken part in a carousel of workshops, reading excerpts from their work and shedding light on the writing process and how they gain creative inspiration for their novels. Top tips included “be a sponge”, write about what you know and show, don’t tell, the personality of your characters! Each author talked about their work, with particular focus on the book that was shortlisted for this year’s award, but also discussed reading, their other books, writing and the publishing process, where they find inspiration and how they develop ideas. Many pupils took advantage of the opportunity to ask probing questions based on their reading for the Award.
The day of author sessions and the ceremony was organised by Head Librarian Mrs Howarth and the Bolton School library staff. Throughout the day, they were ably assisted by Prefects, Monitors and Year 8 and 9 Ambassadors who had been chosen for their active participation in the Award in previous years.
Mrs Howarth and the librarians are already considering books for the 2020 Bolton Children’s Fiction Award, and pupils were asked for their suggestions on the day. Next year’s shortlist will be in September 2019.