The People’s Book Prize

Susan Navas at The People's Book Prize

After my very exciting day yesterday, attending The People’s Book Prize awards ceremony, I’m really very tired and perhaps I should be taking a nap rather than writing this blog post. The invitation had made it clear it was a ‘Black tie’ event, so I dusted off my best frock and matching bolero for the occasion. I don’t often get the chance to dress up for a formal event but always enjoy it when I do. On this occasion, however, it did feel slightly odd travelIing on the London Underground all dressed up in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday!Susan Navas at The People's Book Prize
I was the first to arrive ready for the official photographs and dress rehearsal. My feet were already hurting by the time I arrived as I’m not used to wearing high heels. After a short rest, I was led up some stairs in the beautiful historic building of Stationer’s Hall in London and had my photo taken, holding up my book. The holding up of books was a feature of the whole evening as were supposed to carry them around with us at all times!

After a dress rehearsal where we had to line up in our category groups in the correct order (alphabetical by book title), we were eventually taken down some steps and through to another very grand room where we had drinks and could mingle for a while before dinner.
We had to keep very strictly to timings as we’d been told that the ceremony was being filmed and broadcast live by Sky News, so when we were called into dinner, nobody lingered… we all followed each other, like a flock of sheep, into the dining room and sat down at our allocated places. I was lucky enough to find myself at a table of three women and six men – a very good balance of numbers, I thought!

photo 2I was the only female author at the table,  the others being: Joe Stein who was up for the fiction prize with his book, ‘Through Another Night’; Kevin Price with his children’s book ‘Curious Creatures’, Quentin Smith, another fiction author with ‘Huber’s Tattoo’; Rob Jones with his children’s book, ‘Bernard’, and, last but not least, Tim Wotton, who had written a memoir about living with cystic fibrosis called ‘How Have I Cheated Death?’

Beautifully presented and interesting dishes were presented to us, starting with pea mousse served with a sliver of air dried ham. You must understand they weren’t just any old peas and ham, the menu proudly announced the provenance of the two main ingredients – “Kentish Peas” and “Cumbrian Ham”.

photo 4For the main course we had Gressingham duck with fondant potato, cherries and glazed cabbage. The most creative course was the dessert which was a de-constructed trifle consisting of a sheet of Pimms jelly, blobs of lavender custard and mint and cucumber sorbet.

photo 6Waiters hovered, filling up our glasses at the first sign of a drop in the level of wine held within them. Throughout the meal I chatted with the others at the table, discovering a local connection with Rob Jones who happens to know a friend of mine. It’s certainly a small world! I had a lovely conversation with Tim Wotton and through the course of the evening was mistaken for both his wife and his mother!

photo 10As Frederick Forsyth, Patron of The People’s Book Prize, was unable to come along in person he had sent along a short video message wishing us all a fun evening. We watched and applauded politely.
Promptly at 8:20pm, the non-fiction finalists made their way to the stage, standing in their rehearsed positions as the camera panned along the line. Tension mounted as the presenter tore open the envelope. The winner was announced, “Grumpy Old Menopause” by Carol E Wyer!” Carol stepped up to the podium to receive the beautiful crystal trophy and give her little speech. It really was like the Oscars, only on a smaller scale.
Next up were the children’s finalists. Three of us from our table got up and followed the others onto the stage. My heart was pounding so loudly I was worried the microphone on the podium would pick up the sound and it would be broadcast across the nation!
Once again, the camera panned across as our names and book titles were read out and the presenter of the children’s book award ripped open the envelope.
“The winner is… Bernard by Rob Jones!” I was so delighted that someone on our table had won that I really wasn’t upset at all it hadn’t been me.
The fiction awards came next following exactly the same pattern, apart from having to wait while the adverts were on TV! Some of the people at the table had been following Sky News on their phones and so far nothing had been broadcast. This was to change with the fiction category. You can see the back of head at 3:24 on this video.

After coffee and some rather yummy chocolates we had to perform The Loving Cup ceremony. Rather than attempting to explain what we had to do and why, here’s a short video that shows it.

By that end of the evening, none of us were too certain what we had to do but we all helped each other along – symbolic of the camaraderie I felt and experienced throughout the evening.

I want to thank all friends of Agnil who have supported me and voted for the book in this competition. I would never have even been in the finals without you all! I didn’t win but I felt so privileged being there among such lovely people, breathing in the ambience. I came away with a renewed enthusiasm for writing and itching to get started on my next book. Perhaps I’m a winner after all!

photo 7

Vote for Agnil!

Vote!

If you have been following my blog, you’ll already know that The Rise of Agnil has been nominated for The People’s Book Prize and that this is a really important national award. The book is now on their web site and will be there until the end of February. I’m incredibly excited about this! To progress through the stages of the award needs you, the readers, ordinary members of the public, to go and vote on the web site. You will have to register and will be sent a password allowing you to vote.

Vote!From The People’s Book Prize web site:

“The People’s Book Prize is the democratic Book Prize voted exclusively by the public aimed at finding, supporting and promoting new and undiscovered works. It is the public who choose Britain’s Next Bestsellers.

Supported by Patron Frederick Forsyth CBE the Award consists of prizes in three genres – fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature. Leading up to the ceremony titles are showcased on www.peoplesbookprize.com and the books which receive the most votes go forward as finalists with three authors emerging as winners. In addition, The Beryl Bainbridge Award for First Time Author is given in honour of TPBP founding patron and an award for Best Achievement for outstanding content to the author whose writing has led, or could lead to benefitting the community.”

Please help support me and vote for The Rise of Agnil!

Should children read the classics?

I was recently involved in a discussion about which classic books children might love. I felt a little uncomfortable answering and I’ll explain why. As you probably know, until recently I was a primary school teacher and in many of our classrooms in Key Stage 2 we had a selection of the classics and they were hardly ever chosen by the children. Why is that? Times have changed.

Firstly, the language in the classics is very old-fashioned and in some cases I would describe it as archaic. Language is a living thing, constantly changing, and these classics use words and phrases that children nowadays no longer use nor understand. If you ever find yourself reading an old book to a child, count how many times you have to stop and explain what something means. Stopping to explain is important so that the meaning is not lost but if you stop too often it will interrupt the flow of the story and the children may lose track of the plot.

Children like books to be pacy and/or be humorous. They are surrounded by fast-paced media and like their books to be the same. The old classics  tend to be wordier and slower in pace; they had a lot of leisure time to fill in those days with little else by way of entertainment. These days there are many other things that many children would rather be doing. If we want children to love reading we have to give them books that fit their world.

Speaking of worlds, think LTWTWabout how much the world has changed in the last fifty years or so. Children then led quite different lives to now. Yes, we might feel a little sad at the passing of that world and it’s lovely to reminisce but we can’t pull back the past. Many of the classics portray a world they just can’t identify with. I’m going to partially exclude fantasy books from this, though. I learnt a valuable lesson last year. I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my class last year and, quite frankly, I was very concerned before I started reading it that they would find the book too old-fashioned. However, it’s a book I love and it fitted perfectly with the work we were doing with the children, so I was willing to give it a go. Yes, I had to stop and explain now the language now and again, but the beautiful fantasy world of Narnia that CS Lewis created is still as magical to today’s readers as it was to children who read it when it was first published. Fantasy seems to stand the test of time.

So do the classics have no value at all for today’s younger generation? I’m not saying that at all. There are still ways they can enjoy those stories, if not in their original form. Look out for simplified versions of the books which children might find easier to digest. It may go against the grain for us to read them ourselves but at least they will have access to some of that wide and wonderful array of classic literature, and just maybe, they will be enticed to read the originals when they are more mature.

Another way forward is to look at more modern classics. Children still adore the likes of Roald Dahl, for example, and my personal favourite is Matilda. There are many others too. Look for authors like Michael Morpurgo (Kensuke’s Kingdom) and Michelle Magorian (Goodnight, Mr Tom). But it’s good to also look out for lesser known authors; those without the marketing budgets of the big publishing houses behind them. I know that you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in the Agnil’s Worlds books, giving me, a relatively unknown author, a crack at giving children stories I hope they enjoy, and I am very grateful for that. Will the Agnil’s Worlds books stand the test of time and become classics? Who knows, they are fantasy books, after all. Thank you for sticking with me and enjoy the ride for now. Some exciting times are looming!

 

Book + Chocolate = Bliss

So what’s a chocolate book blog?

As I sit in the shade of my pergola on a glorious midsummer day, the air around me scented with jasmine, I’m worried that the chocolate on this blog post will melt!
I’ve been passed the baton in a chocolate book blog tour by the lovely Karen Emma Hall, founder of the Kid Literature Authors group that I am involved with. You can read her chocolate book blog here.
The challenge is to choose six books and six different varieties of chocolate that I feel are a good match for the books. Most of the chocolate book blogs I’ve read so far have focused on children’s books but I really wanted to include some books for adults too, so I’m going to break the mould a little.

Ezra_Cornell's_first_book

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

LTWTW
Perhaps the best known of all the Narnia books by this author, I suppose it was inevitable that I should include it here. After all, my own books fall into the same genre. But it’s more important to me than that to not miss this book out. The Chronicles of Narnia was the first book series that really enthralled me as a child and I was so bitterly disappointed when I got to the end of it that I searched the library high and low for any more books written by C.S. Lewis.
This much-loved classic children’s book describes the fantasy world that four WW2 evacuees enter and echos the war going on in the real world  through their battles against evil. Good, as in all decent children’s books of this type, triumphs.

To match this book I’m choosing Fry’s Five Boys chocolate. Although this is no longer for sale, I remember it so well from my childhood, I feel it’s a good match for my vivid memory of the book.

Five boysEzra_Cornell's_first_book

Goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

GMT

Another book recounting the life of a WW2 evacuee. This time firmly set in the very real world that William, the main character, finds himself in. Pulled away from an abusive home life, William finds himself placed in the home of widower, Tom. Initially reluctant to become a carer for the child, Tom quickly realises how much the boy needs him. The very moving story is about the growing bond between the two, friendships made and lost and William’s agony at returning to stay with his mother for a while before being rescued by Mr Tom.
I’ve read this book many times to classes of children over the years and every time I have to warn them in advance that I’m likely to shed a tear or two.

To match this book I’ve chosen Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Available on rationing during WWII, and advertised as having a glass and a half of milk in every half pound, I’m sure Mr Tom would have done his best to get hold of some for William!

CDMEzra_Cornell's_first_book

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

NL

I have no idea why, but in North America this book is known as The Golden Compass. This first book of the YA epic series, His Dark Materials, was introduced to me by my daughter who was working in a children’s book shop in Cambridge at the time. It’s another fantasy book set in a parallel universe to our own, but more than that, this book has a message so powerful it even upset the Pope! It features the journey of a girl called Lyra to the Arctic in search of her missing friend, Roger, and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as “Dust”.

Choosing chocolate to match this book proved difficult, but as it was a story of someone heading into a very cold region, it reminded me of white chocolate. I present you with Hotel Chocolat’s Sleekster White Selection.

HotelChocolatEzra_Cornell's_first_book

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Snow Child

Set in Alaska, this is an adult fairy tale based on a traditional Russian folk tale, Little Daughter of the Snow. It tells of a couple unable to have children. One day the wife, Mabel, makes a child out of snow and the very next day the snow child has disappeared leaving a set of footprints leading away from where it stood. It’s a magical story, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that this version might be suitable for children; it isn’t.

This is a story of love and hope, so to match it I have found these raw chocolate strawberry and pink peppercorn hearts from the Magic Chocolate Company.

heartsEzra_Cornell's_first_book

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

novel viola

This beautifully written second novel from Natasha Solomons, whose first was Mr Rosenbloom’s List, is set in Dorset and tells the story of a young Austrian Jew from a wealthy family who flees her home country shortly before the start of WW2. She goes to work as a maid in a country home and it tells of how she adapts to her new life. It is a moving story with wonderful descriptions of English country life in the 1930s.

In my mind the perfect match for this book are the delicious Mozartkugeln, chocolate balls (in some cases still hand-made) from Austria.

MKEzra_Cornell's_first_book

Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead

chickens

This book, the first of the Two Old Fools series, is a light and lovely memoir about when Victoria, a former teacher, and her husband moved to a little village in the mountains in Andalucia. If you need something that will make you chuckle, as well as green with envy for the life she now leads, this is the book for you! I first read this book in 2011 and have since gone on to read the others in the series. However, I have chosen this book for the very simple reason that the author has had a profound influence on my life. Three years ago she was just the author of a book I read but today she is my publisher and responsible for bringing Agnil’s Worlds into public view.

I happen to know that Victoria is rather partial to McVities’ Chocolate Hobnob biscuits. Even if biscuits aren’t allowed, it’s my blog and I’ll have chocolate biscuits if I want to!

hobnobs

I am passing the baton to Sandra Stoner Mitchell, the author of Hedgerow Capers which is all about a group of friends who live in Hedgerow Village. Just like children, they have lots of fun playing and making things and getting up to all sorts of capers. You can find her web site here. Look out for her chocolate book blog tour post the week beginning 28th June.