Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Book Trust Teenage Prize
Unfortunately for us, Gregory was in Canada at the time of the announcement but his prize was collected for him by Roisin Heycock, the editor of this unusual book. Apparently he wrote it in Iceland in eight months in "a room so small he could touch both ends ... while standing in the middle."
Hughes is English but has spent a lot of time in Canada, where the book begins. It's a "road movie" of a novel in which reliable older brother Bob, accompanies his little sister, "The Rat," on a quest to New York to find their uncle, after their father's sudden death.
They get caught up in petty crime, a virtual kidnap, a paedophile ring and the life of a successful rapper. The book stands or falls through the character of the Rat (real name Marie-Claire) and here Hughes treads a fine line very delicately. Is she an annoying brat or a brilliant, unusual, credible eccentric? Definitely the latter but it's a close thing.
It was a fresh voice on a very varied shortlist encompassing quasi-zombies, centaurs, brutal racism, a pacifist's dilemma and a "girly" book that wasn't remotely pink. And that was just the shortlist. Our longlist also featured some wonderful books, like Marie-Louise Jensen's Daughter of Fire and Ice, Keren David's When I was Joe, Tamsyn Murray's My So-called Afterlife and Mary Hooper's Fallen Grace.
The judging process was fascinating. Five of us: myself, Tony Bradman (Chair), librarian Barbara Band, journalist Barbara Ellen and impressive teenager Claudia Freemantle, faced up to the challenge of reading 120 books submitted by their publishers. At our shortlisting meeting (which was in my opinion far and away the hardest one), we sorted this monumental quantity of YA reading into three piles: Yes, No and Maybe.
The No pile was for unanimous negative response from all five judges. If one of us loved it, it was put in Maybes. It is not breaking any confidences to say that Unhooking the Moon went straight into the Yes pile from the beginning.
Once we had our shortlist - agonising for me because I should have liked our longlist to be our shortlist, if you see what I mean, but we HAD to stop at six - we had to re-read them and were joined in this by four more teenagers, whose ideas I certainly had not predicted. But I must say, if these are our future, the country is in very safe hands. Here's a photo of them with the shortlisted authors who could be present, taken by the official Booktrust photographer:
As well as lacking the winner, we also missed Marcus Sedgwick, who was on a plane to Switzerland. His Revolver was a shortlisted title. Charlie Higson (The Enemy) is 4th from right, next to Sarra Manning (Nobody's Girl) and Louisa Young (the other half of Zizou Corder). Between Isabel and Louisa is Jason Wallace, another début author with Out of Shadows.
It was a day of celebration but now I have a word of rebuke and it is for the editors of a large proportion of the 120 books we read. This was remarked on by our teenage judges in particular so is not the embittered rant of an older generation stickler! Here, at random, are some of the things I found in published, not proof, copies:
"clashing symbols;" an address printed on the cover different from the one inside the book, "slithers of ice;" a country's Latin motto incorrectly translated; "sight" for "site;" "I sunk into a chair;" "pour over their relationship;" "the baby laid in her buggy" and a definition of "déjà vu" so bizarre that one can only assume neither the writer nor editor knew what it means.
Too numerous to mention were the instances of the "lay" for "lie" confusion and the use of "I" as an object as in, for example "He looked at X and I." And that was just the grammar and vocabulary!
Claire Armitstead, the Literary Editor of the Guardian, had some harsh words for editors recently when judging their First Novel Award and she was talking about content rather than syntax or word-use. Sadly, that was also evident in the books I read. I can honestly say there were some, including by very well-known names, that should not have been published, let alone submitted for an award.
No names, no pack drill but why is this happening? And why does no-one understand that "Wherefore art thou Romeo?' does NOT mean "where are you, Romeo?" but "WHY are you Romeo?" (If Shakespeare had meant "where" he would have said it and added another syllable in the line so as not to bitch the rhythm. That is the speech that contains "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" after all).
Is it that editors don't go on courses any more? Or that proof readers are less capable than they used to be? I can't believe that. Answers, please, in Comments.