Bolton School Senior Girls

Bolton Children’s Fiction Award Ceremony

Year 7 and 8 pupils from sixteen schools in the region came together today for the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award Ceremony.

The six authors nominated for the award arrived at the school the evening before and enjoyed dinner with Girls' Division Headmistress Miss Hincks. Over the course of the morning, pupils were offered the chance to listen to two of the finalists talk about their work and their book which had been shortlisted for the prize. During the lunch break, the pupils were able to purchase copies of the books and have them signed by the authors in the Arts Centre. There was also an opportunity to enter a prize draw for the only proof copy of Jon Robinson’s novel Anywhere, which has not yet been released!

The visitors then reconvened in the suitably grand surroundings of the Boys’ Division Great Hall for the awards ceremony itself.

2006 Bolton Children’s Fiction Award winner Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates series of books, acted as compere for the event. He said: “It is a huge honour for all of us to be here, and it’s a pleasure for me. When I wrote my story about a genetically engineered assassin, I didn’t know if anyone else would like it – I just knew that I loved it. To find out that the people of Bolton liked it too was a huge boost.”

He went on to talk about the difference that the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award made to his career, for example giving his publishers confidence in the popularity of his work, and the huge impact receiving such awards has on authors themselves. He did so in a humorous manner that really engaged the children and was in keeping with the buzz of excitement filling the Great Hall.

Joe introduced the writers in alphabetical order to talk briefly about their shortlisted books. Each speech was preceded by a book trailer created by pupils from St James’s School. These were highly entertaining and created just the right level of suspense and interest; each one received well-deserved applause from the other students.

Gillian Cross was the first to speak. She related to the pupils that she wanted to write a book about the experiences of refugees, and initially though that in order to write a book like this, she would have to write about people in Africa or the Middle East. However, her research uncovered something particularly interesting: “The big thing I learned is that refugees are just like us. They try to do everything they can to help themselves. So I started to ask: what if we were the refugees?”

This led her to write After Tomorrow, a book about two British boys who end up in a French refugee camp because the value of the pound crashes.

Julia Golding began by talking about her own experience of reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, and imagining herself going on that journey to another world; she took those stories with her into her own writing. However, she then began to ask what would happen if that journey was reversed, and this led her to write Young Knights of the Round Table, where the real challenge is successfully pretending to be an ‘ordinary’ teenager! She had even brought her round table with her – or at least, the tablecloth, with a pattern of spokes leading out from the centre, each one representing a character. She advised aspiring authors to ask themselves, if their story was a round table, which characters would be seated at it?

Sam Hepburn talked about her career in television and film, and how this has been the basis of her inspiration: “I spent a lot of time researching documentaries, and the first place I went to was the library, because if you go there, your mind works in a different way and the information sticks – it isn’t like Google, where it goes in one ear and out the other!”

This research, along with all the interesting people she met during her travels around the world, formed a creative mulch inside her head on which she can draw when writing fiction. However, it was a specific event that particularly inspired Chasing the Dark. At one point, she was researching Picasso’s politics for a documentary and was therefore looking at the two different files that the KGB and CIA had on him. When she sent the KGB files for translation, she discovered that one secret file that had nothing to do with Picasso had been mixed up in the papers she had been given – and it was this idea, of a secret file being released by mistake, that led her to write Chasing the Dark.

Gareth P Jones took to the stage with his ukulele in hand and turned the pupils into a choir of ghosts and gravediggers for his song version of Constable and Toop! The children had a great time singing along and reliving the story through the words.

Gill Lewis has a particular passion for animals and this is what led her to write Moon Bear. She talked about how easy it is to feel depressed when she considers the many animals facing extinction, such as elephants, tigers and gorillas, and the huge companies responsible for drilling for oil or destroying habitats through deforestation. She wondered what she could do, as just one person. However, she was inspired by the Asiatic Honey Bee: a large variety of bee which cannot scare off predators alone. When the hive works together, they become very intimidating, but the effective threat-display is triggered by just one bee. This reminded her that one person can influence everyone else and make a huge impact. The character of Tam in Moon Bear is similarly just one person, but he manages to make a big difference within the story.

Gill asked the pupils to follow the bees’ example and perform a Mexican Wave, radiating out from a single person who caught a piece of paper she tossed down from the stage. There was a huge effect when she threw down the ball of paper, and it illustrated her point perfectly.

“If there is something you passionately believe, you can make a difference,” she reminded pupils at the end of her speech.

The final nominee was Jon Robinson, author of Nowhere. “My favourite thing about going into school is the really interesting questions I get asked,” he said. “For example, one boy asked today how I would escape from a prison if I was in a cell and all I had with me was a cow.”

This certainly provoked a laugh from the pupils. Jon went on to announce the winner of the prize draw for the one-of-a-kind proof manuscript of his new novel, Anywhere. The winner was Westhoughton High School pupil Daniel Taylor, who was thrilled to receive the manuscript as Jon is his favourite author!

“It’s absolutely amazing to be shortlisted, and it’s great that so many of you are interested in reading and books,” Jon said.

It was then time to reveal the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award Winner 2014. As Joe Craig opened the envelope, a murmur of anticipation rippled through the Great Hall.

He finally named this year’s winner: Gillian Cross, author of After Tomorrow.

“Thank you so much,” Gillian said. “That is awesome! Thank you to everyone who has been involved with organising the Awards, thank you to all the other authors, and thank you to all of you! I’m over the moon.”

Girls’ Division Headmistress Miss Hincks offered her congratulations for Gillian and her thanks to the Bolton School library team, particularly Mrs Frew who started the ball rolling and Mrs Howarth who saw the Awards through to the final ceremony.

The event was sponsored by Bolton School and Page Nation Books, who sold the shortlisted books on the day and donated the £500 prize money. The Bolton Children’s Fiction Award 2014 was arranged in conjunction with Bolton Library Services.

The shortlisted authors with some of the Year 7 and 8 pupils who attended the Awards Ceremony

The shortlisted authors with some of the Year 7 and 8 pupils who attended the Awards Ceremony

Gareth P Jones performing Constable and Toop: The Song

Gareth P Jones performing 'Constable and Toop: The Song'

Bolton Children's Ficton Award Winner Gillian Cross with some Bolton School pupils

Bolton Children's Ficton Award Winner Gillian Cross with some Bolton School pupils