This past weekend I traveled down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Award ceremony. It was my first awards ceremony, and hopefully not my last. I had an amazing time, and got along so well with the other shortlisted authors (Kerry Drewery, Emma Pass, Matt Whyman, Alison Rattle, and Paula Rawsthorne). I got into Newcastle early and relaxed at my hotel for a few hours (read: I napped), before heading down to speak to 250 (!) students about my book. All six shortlisted authors were able to make the event. We were each introduced by students, spoke for ten minutes about our book, and then answered a few questions the students had asked.
I’d tried to plan in advance but couldn’t really come up with an angle, so I decided I’d wing it. I…don’t think I winged it very well. I got the points I wanted to make across, but there was a lot of trailing off and exclaiming “my, there are a lot of faces out there!” Note to self for the future: write at least a few notes to look at so you don’t forget what you wanted to say!
In the end, Emma Pass won for Acid, with a special commendation for Kerry Drewery for A Dream of Lights. Very well deserved and I’m so happy for them.
And though it is hokey to say it, it really was just an honour to be shortlisted. Of course I had a wee daydream or two about my name being called, but my book was picked out of the many releases of the last year. A lot of teens in the North East of England have now read my book when they might not have before. Afterwards, we signed books (and bookmarks, and posters, and balloons!), and I had several students say how much they enjoyed my books. A couple said my book was the favourite they read that year, or the favourite they had read. Ever. Pantomime is someone’s favourite book. That is an absolute win in my opinion.
I was giving a signed A4 poster that has all the shortlisted covers and a big laminated poster with things that students have said about my book. A few of my favorites:
“An extraordinary adventure, this book could not have been more unique. It touches many issues teenagers can easily relate to. I couldn’t put it down, tremendously interesting and extremely entertaining. A brilliant read and a real gem among YA fiction.” – Mehak
“A gripping pageturner with many previously unexplored themes. Refreshing and interesting, I was enthralled. One of the best book I have ever read.” – Anna
“My favorite book, hands down. There must be a sequel – it just can’t end like this!” – Nathan
Afterwards we shortlisted authors (minus Alison Rattle, who had to venture home) went out to a meal with Eileen Armstrong, the librarian extraordinaire who coordinated the award which has 23 schools (!) participate, as well as Alec Williams, who MCed the event. It was the first time I’d had Persian food since the day after my wedding, and it was delicious. I tottered back to my hotel in the cold wind, feeling very happy.
The next morning, I had breakfast and then wandered around Newcastle in the cold, winter sunshine, listening to music, with no destination in mind. I wove my way through the streets, people watching, window shopping, and just exploring on my own. Afterwards, I met fellow Mushenite Andrew Reid, his wonderful wife, and their little baby!
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. There was a brief period where I was sorely tempted to take a writing hiatus (since I know I could never actually quit). So to have the experience of celebrating books and words, connecting with fellow authors and meeting readers, was so very welcome. I feel rejuvenated, remembering why I spend my evening and weekends writing instead of vegging out and watching TV. Because I love it. And I want more nights like the North East Teen Book Awards.
Thank you to Eileen, the other shortlisted authors, and all the schools and students for reading. It was a pleasure to meet all of you.