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The Branford Boase Award

The Branford Boase Award

The winner of the 2020 Branford Boase Award has been announced. Congratulations to Liz Hyder and her editor Sarah Odedina for Bearmouth, an accomplished debut. The Branford Boase Award, now in its 21st year, is awarded annually for an outstanding first novel to a first-time writer of a book for young people, from ages 7 upwards. At the same time, it marks the important contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent.

The Shortlist

The Longlist

Winner: Bearmouth

Told in narrator Newt’s distinctive phonetic English, this dark debut dazzles with originality and delivers a potent case for combatting inequality.

The Branford Boase Award is recognised as one of the most important awards in children’s books with an impressive record in identifying authors with special talent at the start of their careers.

Uniquely, it also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent.

The 2020 Winner:

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, edited by Sarah Odedina (Pushkin Press) Courage, rebellion and revolution run rampant in this boldly accomplished debut set in brutally exploitative Bearmouth mine.

The author, Liz Hyder says: “The Branford Boase Award is such a prestigious award and I love that it celebrates both editor and author. It was a true partnership to work with Sarah on Bearmouth. I learnt so much from her and can honestly say that the experience changed my life in so many ways. To be shortlisted felt like prize enough but to win feels utterly incredible! It means the world to me not only because I’m following in the footsteps of so many authors who I admire and cherish but also because I share it with Sarah who is the best, most inspiring, wonderful editor. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!"

Sarah Odedina said: What marks Liz out for me is her courage and originality and her faultless ability to create a story that holds the reader’s attention by its sheer power.  As an editor there cannot be many higher accolades than to be on the Branford Boase Award shortlist.  To win the award in partnership with an author confirms that this task of bringing stories to young readers is a work of collaboration and one that is most successful when author and editor listen to one another and enjoy the process of creating a novel.”

Muhammad Khan, last year’s Branford Boase Award winner says of Bearmouth: “Bearmouth is a tour de force of a page turner with an intricate and stylised plot. Liz Hyder has created a gritty world for her hugely likeable protagonist, Newt, and a unique language which evolves as the exciting story unfolds. Original and unforgettable.”

Highly Commended:

The Space We’re In by Katya Balen, edited by Lucy Mackay-Sim, illus Laura Carlin (Bloomsbury)

Katya Balen and Lucy Mackay-Sim said: “We’re thrilled to have received this commendation from such a prestigious award, and to be recognised among a shortlist of such brilliant books – including a truly extraordinary winner. It’s also a delight to receive this accolade together on a book we both care about so much.”

Muhammad Khan says: ”The Space We’re In is a challenging story about neurodivergent siblings and what ‘family’ and ‘home’ means to them. Katya Balen writes with an assuredness that takes you directly into the characters’ lives and makes you feel every beat of their joys, woes and frustrations. An incredible first novel.”

And the shortlist included:

Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad and Henry White, edited by Holly Harris and Sharan Matharu, illus Aleksei Bitskoff (Puffin)

A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, edited by Liz Bankes and Sarah Levison (Egmont)

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, edited by Lindsey Heaven (Electric Monkey)

Frostheart by Jamie Littler, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Puffin)

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Penguin)

Julia Eccleshare says: “The Branford Boase Award is now in its 21st year, and it has really come of age.  Each year we look for exceptional books, stories we haven’t read before, told in new and original ways.  Both Bearmouth and The Space We’re In do this, and both Liz and Katya have extraordinarily memorable voices even amongst a shortlist of such exciting debut authors. We all agreed that Bearmouth is the outstanding novel on the list, a hugely brave and impressive piece of writing, testament to the skill of both author and editor in successfully creating such characters and such a narrative. It’s a book that sends shivers down the spine, truly astounding. As always, we can’t wait to read what the shortlisted authors will write next.”   

This year the judges were Layla Abby of Round Table Books, Brixton; Sue Bastone, vice-chair SLA; Victoria Dilly, creator of the Book Activist blog; and Muhammad Khan, author of I Am Thunder, winner of the 2019 Branford Boase Award. The panel was chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival.

The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of the outstanding and prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, editorial director and one of the founders of Walker Books. They worked together on a number of Henrietta’s novels, a partnership they greatly enjoyed.

Henrietta Branford was a gifted novelist for young people. During her short career she won the Smarties Prize in 1994 for Dimanche Diller (Harper Collins) and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1998 for Fire, Bed and Bone (Walker Books); she was twice shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, in 1994 and 1997. Her progress and development as a writer was watched with interest by publishers, critics and fellow writers alike.

Wendy Boase, Editorial Director of Walker Books, and one of its founders, was a passionate children's book editor wholly committed to developing new writers and nursing them through their early writing careers. She is credited with bringing on many new talents. She and Henrietta worked together on a number of her books, a partnership that was warmly appreciated by Henrietta.

Both Henrietta and Wendy died of cancer in early 1999. The Branford Boase Award wishes to celebrate and encourage, in their names and in their memories, the crucial early development of new writing talent.

Running alongside the Branford Boase Award, the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition encourages writing talent in under 18s. 

The winner was announced on Wednesday 9 September as part of an online event which was watched by previous winning authors and editors as well as would-be writers, and featured a discussion with Muhammad Khan and his editor Lucy Pearse. Liz Hyder receives a cheque for £1,000 and Liz and Sarah both received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

For more information on the Branford Boase Award visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk.

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