Bolton School Senior Boys

Bolton Children's Fiction Award Winner 2015 Announced

Over 600 children from 23 schools in the local area took part in this year’s Bolton Children’s Fiction Award: reading the six nominated books, leaving their comments on the blog, and voting for their favourite! Nine months after the shortlist was first announced, the time had finally come for the winner to be announced.

The chief organiser of the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award is Bolton School’s Head Librarian, Mrs Maria Howarth, who said, “The Bolton Children’s Fiction Award is part of a drive to promote literacy and it really does spread throughout the schools that get involved. The Heads at Bolton School are really supportive of the Award and of the wider impact it has on young people, inspiring them to read and think about what they are reading.”

The award ceremony was hosted by Bolton School, and pupils representing all 23 schools were able to attend, including Year 7 students from the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions. Before the ceremony itself, the enthusiastic young readers were able to enjoy two sessions with the three nominated authors who were able to attend the event: Rohan Gavin, Alan Gibbons, and Rebecca Stevens.

Audiences in the Girls’ Division Great Hall were enthralled by Alan Gibbons’s talk about his novel Hate. He gave a very funny and engaging talk about the wide variety of stories he has published over the course of his writing career, eventually focusing on his novels that are inspired by tragic real-life events, particularly An Act of Love, Raining Fire, and finally Hate. The hall was completely silent at he described the murder of Sophie Lancaster and his meeting with her mother, which led him to write a novel based on her story. The book confronts the prejudices which resulted in the murder, and also the fact that eye-witnesses did nothing to help. He said, “I write books to make people think. I’m not writing novels just for fun, but also because I want to change the world.”

Rohan Gavin, the author of Knightley and Son, spoke to pupils about the path that led him to writing children’s fiction, which began with screenwriting in Los Angeles: an important step which inspired him to put all the fun of movies into his books. He also spoke about meeting famous British thief Peter Scott and a family of criminals who travelled around in a London cab – the inspiration for the Knightleys’ mode of transport! He went on to compare writing to detective work, as both involve analysing clues until they make sense to solve a problem. This led him to test the pupils’ detective skills by showing them a series of photographs and asking them to figure out what was wrong with each one.

Rebecca Stevens talked about her novel Valentine Joe. Like Hate, this too was inspired by a real person: Valentine Joe Strudwick, who died in the trenches during the First World War at the age of just 15. She talked about the youth of the soldiers of the First World War, giving the example that the average age of officers was 19, and their life expectancy on the front line was just six weeks. It was facts such as these that inspired her to write the story. She also spoke to pupils about her dream to write a stage version of Valentine Joe, as she began her writing career by writing for the stage and screen.

Sam Hepburn, whose novel Chasing the Dark was nominated for the 2014 award, hosted the award ceremony and also gave a fantastic talk to pupils about writing murder mysteries. She began by asking the pupils what kinds of detective stories they enjoyed, and went on to talk about the basic structure of these stories and the techniques authors use to keep their readers guessing – right the way to the end. She also discussed why she decided to write about a teenage detective: since he doesn’t have a crime lab or any special equipment or powers, her readers have the same set of skills to work out the culprit as the main character, making the story much more engaging and interactive.

All of the authors offered advice to aspiring writers throughout the day. Alan said, “Writing is telling the truth, and great universal truths are simple. You have to start with the meaning and find the right words to express it.”

Rebecca also gave some great practical advice: “We all have that voice in our heads that says, ‘That’s a bit rubbish.’ I get that all the time! You have to learn to ignore it. When you’re first writing, it doesn’t have to be good – keep doing it and keep doing it and don’t ever think, ‘This isn’t good enough,’ because it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

After lunch, the time came for the award ceremony itself. The pupils assembled in the Boys’ Division Great Hall, which was filled to capacity for the event. School Captain Paul Greenhalgh was delighted to open the ceremony and introduce Sam Hepburn.

Sam led the audience in thanking the organisers and expressed her delight at attending the awards once again. She said, “Sometimes you find that there’s a sort of wilderness between young readers and older readers – people read a lot when they’re very young, and they start again when they’re older, but often stop when they are around your age. It’s great to see that there’s no wilderness here!”

Three Year pupils from Philips High School then took to the stage to read poems based on three of the shortlisted books. The pupils in Years 8 and 9 worked together with Bolton University students on a creative writing project, in which they used the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award shortlisted books as inspiration for poems of their own. The Philips High School pupils chose their favourites to read at the Award Ceremony. Chloe Cain read a poem based on Valentine Joe, Emily Campbell read a poem inspired by Dragon Shield by Charlie Fletcher, and finally, Megan Nicholson read ‘Black Roses’ by Simon Armitage, which was based on Hate.

Pupils from St James’ C of E High School have also been hard at work on their own creative project since the launch of the shortlist. Working in groups, they put together an exciting and imaginative book trailer for every book on the shortlist. These trailers are very creative and certainly work to catch potential readers’ interest!

Sam then introduced each of the authors, allowing Alan, Rebecca and Rohan to speak briefly about their books, and give a short description of Dragon Shield by Charlie Fletcher and Pyrate’s Boy by E. B. Colin on behalf of the absent authors.

When she came to Thirteen by Tom Hoyle, there was a dramatic interruption: the doors of the Great Hall burst open and a mysterious figure in headmaster’s gown and mortarboard strode in to hand a message to Sam on the stage! He instructed the bemused audience that they must keep his appearance at the ceremony a secret before leaving as quickly and suddenly as he had arrived – leaving everyone wondering if this might have been a brief glimpse the anonymous headteacher who writes under the pseudonym ‘Tom Hoyle’!

Sam also announced that although E. B. Colin could not attend the ceremony, she had recorded an interview when she visited Bolton School a few weeks before. This interview, along the book trailers created by St James’ pupils, will be made available online for pupils to enjoy.

Finally, the golden envelope was opened to reveal the winner of the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award 2015: Tom Hoyle’s Thirteen.

Thirteen is a dark thriller about Year 9 pupil Adam, who was born at the stroke of midnight in London at the start of the new millennium. Although Adam doesn’t realise it, there is a cult dedicated to wiping out the boys born on that date before they reach the age of fourteen. They have already killed twelve, and Adam is their thirteenth target!

One of the pupils who commented on the blog about Thirteen was Shreya, who said, “This book was amazing, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. The plot is full of mystery, action and life-threatening situations. It’s a gripping story full of adventure. I have used this phrase many times but never quite meant it – I literally couldn’t stop reading this book and finished it in two days. I have really enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to anyone.”

Although the ‘secret author’ could not receive his award in person, his editor was in attendance to collect it on his behalf. The other authors also received special certificates commemorating their nominations, which included a pupil’s quote from the blog about their book.

Girls’ Division Headmistress Miss Sue Hincks closed the ceremony by leading the audience in thanking the organisers, particularly Mrs Howarth, the Girls’ Division Prefects and Boys’ Division Monitors who assisted throughout the day, and the members of staff who accompanied visiting schools.

After the awards ceremony, Rebecca was presented with a special piece of ‘cover artwork’ for Valentine Joe created by William Bateman, who made the piece as part of a project in English. This was particularly poignant as the School has this year been commemorating the 81 Old Boys and staff who died in the First World War, some of whom were still in their teenage years. Indeed, at the recent centenary Prizegiving, Headmaster Philip Britton paid special tribute to the School Captain of 1915, Charles Herbert Roberts, who enlisted after two terms at university and died in September 1916 at the age of just 19.

The Bolton Children’s Fiction Award was sponsored once again by Page Nation, who sold discounted copies of all the nominated books throughout the day.

Alan Gibbons, Rebecca Stevens and Rohan Gavin with pupils from Bolton School, Philips High School and St James' School

Alan Gibbons, Rebecca Stevens and Rohan Gavin with pupils from Bolton School, Philips High School and St James' School

Sam Hepburn hosted the ceremony

Sam Hepburn hosted the ceremony

The Great Hall was packed with enthusiastic readers

The Great Hall was packed with enthusiastic readers