Sooooo sorry that I haven’t updated for about 6 weeks… OOOPSS… BAD writer! I’m slapping myself on the wrist over here (I am, really!). I’ve got loads of things I can tell you about too, about all the wonderful schools I’ve been visiting (including the absolutely delightful schools in the Brighton and Sussex area who I visited recently and who voted for me to win this year’s Southern School’s Book Award – thanks guys!). I can tell you about how the film of Stolen is progressing (slowly, slowly!). I could even tell you how my third book is going (completely rewritten it once already, still playing with it!). BUT instead, I’m going to give you something. I’m going to give you a transcript of the speech I gave at this year’s Printz Awards Ceremony in New Orleans. I made a speech there because STOLEN (my first book) was awarded as an Honor Book. It was super exciting being flown out there by my publishers to collect a very lovely award and to talk to about 500 or so fantastic US Librarians. What an experience! And what a totally amazing and beautiful and FUN city. And what a wonderful publishing team I have to do this for me! Anyway, here’s the speech I gave on the night (I was a little nervous, so not all of it came out as planned! ;-) )
Hope you enjoy!
“The sunlight hit me immediately. Everything was bright, painfully so.
These are Gemma’s first impressions of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia where my novel, Stolen, is set. These could also be my first impressions standing up here tonight in the bright lights of the Printz Awards Reception in stiflingly hot New Orleans.
Standing up here is a delight, a privilege, a terror, and an honour. I never would have believed that my first book could take me from the bright sun of the Australian desert to the glimmering heat-haze of the American South. So thank you, very much, for this precise moment. Thank you also for letting me share the stage with authors I hugely admire, and who have also created vivid and intoxicating, brave new worlds with their novels.
For me, the most important pull to Stolen was getting the world right. I drove through the Australian outback for almost a month to research the setting of Stolen. I kept notes in a journal, often talking about the endless desert sand. One short passage goes like this:
Day 13: Middle of Nowhere
“The scenery has changed. Maybe. Less rocks, certainly. More orange sand, if that’s possible. Wildflowers, sand, spinifex, sand, the occasional loping camel, sand, and yes, more sand. In other news, we blew another tire.”
The Great Sandy Desert is aptly named. There are zillions of grains of sand that make it up. In just the same way, there are so many individuals who helped create this story of mine. Without their help, Stolen would still be just a dust storm of scattered thoughts, blowing around in the back of my brain somewhere, with the tumbleweed. Writing a book is a collaborative process. After all, I’m just someone who thinks a lot about strange things like sand and camels and kidnapping – I need other people to help me put this into a book, get that book into the hands of my audience, and to read my fictional world into life.
Tonight I’m going to thank about 512 individuals who have helped (don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems, I’ll stick to the time limit). I’m also going to explain why Stolen is special to me. And while you probably already know that librarians are the most important people in the world, I want to share why that’s particularly true in terms of my own writing career.
My first thank-you is going out to you – all 500 or so of you here tonight (see – that’s 500 thank-yous done already). I especially want to thank the amazing, hardworking Printz Judging committee. Thank you all of you who have read, or are going to read, or who are interested in, Stolen. Because, after all, it is the reader who brings my words, and Stolen’s world, to life. Thank you for making my characters breathe. Thank you also for bringing the orange desert sand to New Orleans (or perhaps I should thank the rather bemused customs official for that one). And thank you for giving me a life as a writer. Because you really have, by recognizing me with this honor for my first published book.
Stolen is based on things I’ve felt and experienced – which is part of the reason why it’s so special to me. Though I should probably clear something up right now – I’ve never been kidnapped Not even once! Which is something I get asked often by fans. So no – this book is not a true story. Or based on a true story. And no, Ty hasn’t actually written back to me …yet.
But in a different way, this book is entirely a true story. And I’ve been preparing to write it all my life. The idea of kidnapping a British teenager to the middle of the Australian outback and changing her perception of it felt to me like it had force; like it had too much momentum behind it to have come from nowhere. Like the desert I wrote about, I have since discovered that Stolen had layers of sedimentary thought and exploratory roots beneath its surface.
The first seeds of Stolen were sown when I was nine years old and lived – coincidentally – in the same tiny town in Wales that I do now. My family decided to move to Australia – I didn’t want to go. In some small way, maybe it did feel like a kidnapping. I can remember vividly my sense of awkwardness when I got there; feeling disjointed and peculiar and hot in my heavy British cardigans. To fit in with a different school system, I’d been put ahead a grade and had to take ‘special education’ classes to catch up, I was shorter than everyone, with an accent too rounded, and I’d never been to a pool party.
To avoid the uncomfortableness of being a new immigrant, or perhaps just to avoid the heat, every lunch time I would take myself off to the only place in the school where I could find air-conditioning:…The library. And there I would sit and be deliciously cool. My school librarian I can remember vividly. She was named Mrs. Adamson, and was American, as it happens. She said I could sit under the air conditioner as much as I wanted, BUT…while I was there, I had to read. And because I liked Mrs. Adamson so much — and perhaps more so because I didn’t want to leave the air conditioning! — for the first time in my life, I read. I raced through the Silver Brumby series, Ivan Southall’s books, and I absolutely adored every word that John Marsden ever wrote. It’s only later that I realised these books were very much concerned with the Australian landscape — kids getting lost in the bush, having adventures in the snowy mountains, and hiding out from war in a deep forest hollow. Australia in these stories was always a source of fear or excitement for its characters.
Australia as a beautiful and terrifying land was something I also experienced first-hand. The land beyond our first garden fence was an overgrown nature reserve; a kingdom for spiders and snakes…and adventures. I was terrified of it, but fascinated too. I had never lived so close to something so wild. It was also the first time I felt simultaneously scared and in love with something. This feeling lasted all the way through growing up in Australia, all the way though returning to Wales, and all the way to when I was thinking about writing a book.
I wanted to write about land I loved and also hated. About the feeling of belonging and simultaneously being an outsider.
Stolen sprung from a place of fear and excitement, alienation and yearning, as I think all the most interesting things, do. Adolescence, love, even standing up here in front of you tonight — all of this is entwined with these emotions.
Fear and excitement, in particular, are emotions that define a teenager’s world. And I think this is part of the pull teenagers feel towards reading Stolen – they recognise its emotional world. At first, Gemma is petrified of the desert, and then in love with it; she’s also terrified of her captor, though she comes to love him, in a way, too. Navigating her way through fear and excitement is part of her growing-up process, realising who she is and who she wants to be.
Fear and excitement are very much entwined with my writing process, too. When I’m in the middle of writing anything, I hate it … I want to give up and throw myself from a ten-storey building on a daily basis… I’m terrified that the time and effort I’m spending will be useless. David Almond — a previous Printz winner, and an author I hugely admire — also gets scared by the process of writing. He also feels the fear when he is in the middle of the dark tangled forest of a novel. I heard him talk once about two words he has written on a Post-it note in his office:
‘Be Brave’ kept me going when I was a teenage immigrant in a strange land, even if I couldn’t articulate it then. ‘Be Brave’ keeps me going now, as a different kind of immigrant, because all writers really are immigrants. We jump in on other people’s lives. We never really belong. And we write about strange, fictional lands.
‘Be Brave’ are words that help navigate the forest of adolescence too. And this is what I hope all the teenage characters in my books learn. In Stolen, Gemma learns to be brave under the most terrifying and isolated circumstances. In my second novel, Flyaway, Isla learns to be brave in the face of illness. And in the novel I’m working on now, Emily learns to be brave in the chaos of war.
Books help young people be brave. They help them find the courage to make decisions, and to know what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s make-believe. They certainly helped, and continue to help, me.
My final thank yous go to my wonderful teams at Scholastic US and Chicken House UK – who were also brave in publishing this book. Imogen Cooper, Barry Cunningham and Siobhan McGowan in particular. My agent Linda Davis, and all my family and friends, plus all the people I talked with to get the details of the desert right. You’ve made up the grains of this book.
Lastly I thank the desert itself, and am grateful for the experience of moving to a strange new world at a strange young age. My journey as an author started with a very hot summer’s day, a very cold air conditioner, and a very understanding and encouraging school librarian. So thank you, all of you, for doing what you’re doing, for putting books into the hands of vulnerable, curious and confused young people…people like me once. Thank you also for letting me do what I do now.
I know, I know…I should have written in this thing MONTHS ago. But I tell you…I have just been too busy! This year has been so crazy busy, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced…EVER! Imagine a Merry-go-round sped up about one billion times, complete with super sonic flashing lights and cheering faces whizzing past … and that’s how it’s felt. I’ve already been to Germany twice, Australia twice, America once, and round the bend several times …
I think I should give you the ten-plot-point summary of the past few months :
1). In March I launched STOLEN in Germany. I went to the Leipzig book fair (cool manga characters wandering round!), Hamburg (sat in my hotel room and worked on my PhD) and Cologne (met some super nice Lit festival people!). This was all great fun, even though the crowds I seemed to attract to watch me seemed very SERIOUS. I guess that might have something to do with the fact that my German cover is uber scary….it’s black and menacing and with a man’s face lurking behind. The German title is quite scary too. It’s called ‘Ich Wuenschte Ich Koennte Dich Hassen (which in English means ‘I wished I could hate you’). Apparently it’s doing quite well in Germany. I hope so. I learnt German all the way through school and even went on exchange to Germany for two months before my final year of school. I adore this country and I adore its’ language too – I love the way its’ sounds seem to erupt from the back of one’s throat. It feels like such a privilege to have my words translated into it.
2). End March, I did some great school visits in Sydney and Melbourne … including the most amazing school in Sydney called Newington who runs their own Literature Festival over three days. Gorgeous place, very inspiring too. I even went back to my old school in Melbourne to do a visit – get this, some of the pictures on the walls are still the same from when I was there YEARS ago … (some of the teachers are still the same too!)
3). End May – back to Melbourne for the wonderful Reading Matters Conference. Imagine this – a whole conference dedicated to YA fiction. Blissful stuff. I sat next to one of my childhood heroes – Melina Marchetta. I also signed a copy of Stolen for Markus Zusak … yes, you did read that correctly, author of THE BOOK THIEF! I think this might rank as a career highlight. However, I did have to ask him how to spell his name – how EMBARRASSING is that?!
4). I returned to Germany in May once again for the Saarbrueken Book Festival – gorgeous little town, and gorgeous little festival. My delightful German editor joined me for this one – sie ist sehr nett.
5). In June I was on a panel to decide the winner of this year’s Branford Boase Award, and the winner is …. HA! I’m not going to tell you this YET….you need to wait a couple more days at least. But I will tell you that it’s a book that I absolutely think is one of the best books I’ve read for a very long time ….but I would do, wouldn’t I?! It’s the winner after all. But it’s a good winner, a very, very good winner indeed…. It’s so good I wish I’d written it!
6). End June I jetted off to the steamy armpit of New Orleans to pick up my PRINTZ HONOR AWARD for STOLEN (yes, you read that correctly too! Yay!). I spoke in front of 500 librarians (eek!) and then I carried my lovely award home in my hand luggage all the way. I also got to present FLYAWAY to hundreds of librarians too (which is very exciting as FLYAWAY isn’t out in USA until October – they all got advance, uncorrected proof copies to take away…I’d love to know what they thought….hmmm…). New Orleans was one of the most amazing cities also…I rode in a mule-drawn cart as well as on a paddle-steamer. I came over all-Huck-Finn. Plus, I got to spend time with my fantastic American publishing team.
7), Maggie Stiefvater gave me 5 stars on Good Reads for FLYAWAY (I like this fact so much it deserves a point of its own!)
8). I’m just about to set off for a whirlwind tour of Oz….to attend the Prime Minister Awards, for which Flyaway is shortlisted (cross fingers everyone! Cross toes too please!) and to discuss Stolen the FILM (exciting, hey!? Even more exciting is the fact that I may or may not be meeting my ‘Ty’!)
9). I’m a good way into finishing this third book (after several misguided attempts in the wrong direction!). Easy peasy. Ha! Let’s hope so anyway!
10). End of July – I present my Creative Writing PhD to four examiners, including the very brainy Peter Hunt (Lit academic), the very adorable Steve Voake (YA author), the very lyrical Linda Newberry (YA author) and the very important Paul Davies (head of graduate school). Wish me luck for this one too. My PhD is pretty much all about the writing of Stolen, just in case you were interested.
So, that’s it for now chickens. Take care out there. Hopefully it won’t be forever again until I write once more…. I’ll try my best anyway. ;-) In the meantime keep those toes crossed for Flyaway at the PM Awards, and watch out as I hand my baton over to the new Branford Boase champion… it’s a big baton, wouldn’t want to hit you with it!
I’m going to leave you with my favourite quote of the moment – “Be kind. For everyone is fighting a hard battle.” (Plato)
Well, I went to the Costa Book Awards last night. There’s something gloriously indulgent about going to a book award ceremony which you know you haven’t won. You get to take photos of silly things for one thing (see below), get to feast on the delightful morsels of food without fear of them exploding in your hands and ruining your outfit moments before you know you have to make a speech, and you get to star spot.
I brought my mum along to this night (she’s been asking…no, pleading…to go to somewhere with tasty awards morsels for months now) and we had fun. And reader, guess what, there were paparazzi present at this awards ceremony … although, when Mum and I left the event, there was a distinct lack of camera snapping going on. In fact, when they saw us coming, they decided to take their fag break. Nevermind, I rubbed a shoulder with Ian Hislop (on the way to reaching for another one of those delightful coffee mouse things), and Mum got a smile from Andrew Neil (which she’s still pleased about!), and I got to spend some time with the ever-lovely Tim Bowler and his equally delightful wife. I also had some fab chats with the other shortlisted children’s authors Sharon Dogar and Jonathan Stroud (what lovely people they both are!). In fact, my mum even invited Jonathan and his family for tea! And finally, of course, I congratulated Jason Wallace for his fabulous book, Out Of Shadows, which won the Children’s Category. I met Jason about a year and a half ago where we were sharing a panel on teenage fiction – it was his first event and Out Of Shadows was still only in proofs. I knew it would be a powerful book even then, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It lived up to all my expectations. So, reader, if you haven’t read Out of Shadows yet….get out there now to your friendly local bookshop and snaffle a copy quick. It’s going to be a strong contender for this year’s Branford Boase too, I’m sure.
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you who won the overall Costa Book Award! Well, for the second year running the prize went to a poetry collection, this time to Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutibility. I read this on the long train home back to South Wales and rather enjoyed it. So, while you’re out there buying Out Of Shadows, perhaps pick this one up too.
Anyway, here’s some pics so you can pretend you were there too. Sorry they aren’t very brilliant – ‘fraid we had to make do with camera phones. I did try for you though!
Wishing you morsels and magic,
Me and the lovely Tim Bowler
Me, Tim, Tim's lovely wife, and the superb Jonathan Stroud!
The Children's Category shortlist, one judge, plus Mum!
Jo Shapcott and Stars!
The Winner - Jo Shapcott!
The winner is... ME! Ummm... no... it was Jo Shapcott!
Here are some photos from the recent Southern Schools Book Award (which STOLEN won!!). It was such a lovely night, full of fun, meeting nice people and muchos book signing! Here are just a few piccies so you can see too….
From left to right: Cathy Macphail, Jeremy de Quidt, Lucy Christopher, Leslie Wilson, Tim Bowler
Signing with the lovely Tim Bowler
Me with Jeremy de Quidt, and the all-important award!
This is very cool! Plus, two awards in one week ain’t bad, hey?! When winning the SSBA comes hot on the heels of receiving a Michael Prinz Honor Award, I’m a very happy author indeed! ;-)
The SSBA is an absolutely lovely award to win because it’s entirely voted for and judged by the readers themselves – made up of 35 different schools in the South of England no less! And what a fantastic award ceremony it was too! All of the shortlisted authors were in attendance, as well as hundreds of representatives from the various schools who were involved. I shall post some photos from this event as soon as they are sent across to me.
This last book, Saving Rafael, was awarded the Highly Commended Award, and Leslie did such a wonderful reading of the book. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one and have a good read – sounds brilliant.
Anyway, photos coming soon. Just wanted to let you know.
I now have another lovely bit of crystal to stick up on my shelf! Wahay!
How exciting is this?! Stolen has been recognised as one of this year’s Michael L Printz honor books. This is so flipping exciting to be recognised on such a prestigious set of awards. And look at that beautiful medal that all the American copies get to wear. It’s just so super exciting.
Thanks wonderful American librarians!! And thanks to my fabulous team over in Scholastic US too.
It’s so nice to be sharing this honor book category with my fellow Bath Spa connected author, Marcus Sedgewick, and his wonderful book ‘Revolver’. Can’t wait to read the other books on this list too, and of course the winner (Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi).
As you can probably tell, I’m really rather excited about this fact.
In fact, I need to scream very loudly right now …… STOLEN HAS WON THE GOLD INKY AWARD!!!!!
There. Did you hear me?
I want to make sure and scream again, but in case you heard me the first time, here’s my acceptance speech for winning the award instead:
Unfortunately, my grandfather has been very ill this past week so I wasn’t able to attend the awards in person (which I was REALLY sad about! :-( … ) However, my dear old dad picked up the award for me. I can’t wait to see it in person next week. What a treat!
Thank you so much to everyone who voted for my debut book to win this amazingly wonderful prize. I really am very grateful. This is SUCH a great prize to win. The best thing about this prize is that it’s voted for by YOU, my teenage readers. Wow. So I guess that must mean you kinda like my book? Gosh, I really am very grateful. THANK YOU!!
I’ll be back home in Melbourne early next year so hopefully I’ll get to meet a few of you wonderful voters then. Sure hope so anyway. If anyone has any requests for visits or appearances, please get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.
Only one thing left to say: sadly my grandfather died yesterday, so, in true Oscar style, I think I should dedicate this award to him! And also to you…my voters. Thanks guys. You’re all lovely.
The news that Flyaway is on the shortlist for Children’s Section of the Costa Book Awards has just been announced. It’s tremendously exciting.
Flyaway is such a special book to me. It’s taken me years to get it right, and, more than anything I’ve ever done this book taught me how to write. I have written this book in third person, first person, present tense, past tense, from a boy’s perspective and from a girl’s perspective. It was even a fantasy novel at one point!
When I got the idea for the book I was sick in bed, and I was thinking about the similarity between the images of long term illness and the migration of wild swans. I kept thinking about images of whiteness and coldness, images of unease and hope. A migration is a little like a long term illness – in both you don’t know if you’re going to get to the other side, or how you’re going to make it….both of them require a large dose of hope (which Emily Dickinson once called ‘that thing with feathers’).
And Flyaway is about hope essentially … hope and love and finding your flock around you. Plus, it’s dedicated to my grandparents. My Grandfather is currently very sick with cancer, and it’s a blessing that he gets to hear this news before he flies off himself.
Thanks Costa for shortlisting me! I’m delighted. :-)
The other (really really good!) books on the shortlist are:
Annexed by Sharon Dogar (an ex-Chicken House author whom I have shared many a Chicken House event with!)
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace (Really can’t wait to read this one. It’s set in Zimbabwe for one thing, and Jason is lovely)
Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud (What an exciting book!)