The first winner of the ground-breaking new Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is Cristy Burne for her manuscript Takeshita Demons, “a fast-paced adventure story” about a Japanese schoolgirl in the UK who confronts the demons that have followed her family from Japan. She wins £1,500 and the option of having her novel published by Frances Lincoln Limited. Christy, who has Australian/ New Zealand dual nationality, currently lives in the UK. As well as studying Japanese at school, she has lived and worked in Japan, which is when she first heard about the yokai. Speaking about these supernatural spirits in an interview with Geraldine Brennan, one of the Award’s judges, Christy explained:
“There are dozens of supernatural yokai that most Japanese people will be familiar with. They appear over and over again in all kinds of stories. Some are benign, some are nasty and some you’re just not quite sure. The demons that Miku [the book’s young heroine] has to deal with include the nukekubi, a kind of child-eating flying-head demon, and the noppera-bo, a faceless demon that can take on other personae.
Most Western children don’t know about these yokai in the way that they know about vampires and werewolves, but just as vampires fear garlic, the demons often have an Achilles heel or fatal flaw. The nukekubi, for example, must leave its body somewhere while its hungry head flies around, and you can destroy the head by destroying the body. I chose the demons I thought would have the most potential for an adventure story, but there are plenty more for future stories. I like to write about children, especially strong girls, having great adventures.”
Created in memory of publisher Frances Lincoln, who died in 2001, the award was co-founded by Frances Lincoln Publishers and Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle in the UK. The Award was announced on Thursday at Seven Stories, which was a magical and perfectly fitting place to host the evening and I will be devoting a separate post to it next week. This is a photo of Hannah Green, archivist at Seven Stories, with a display of books and manuscripts from the collection.
In her introduction to this inaugural presentation of the Award, Kate Edwards, Chief Executive of Seven Stories, talked about the importance of highlighting global communication in a way that will promote understanding; and of finding the right voices to communicate with the 8-12 age group. She made a very striking point about considering books as cultural mirrors – sometimes they offer a true reflection of their contemporary society; sometimes they distort or play with that reflection.
John Nicoll, Managing Director of Frances Lincoln Limited, then spoke as Frances’ husband of his quest to establish the right kind of project in her memory: and this, he felt, was exactly what she would have supported, in its promotion both of new talent and of good stories to provide a bridge for people who find the unknown challenging.
In all, there were fifty entries, mostly from the UK but also from Australia, Canada, Germany, India, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, from writers from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. These were whittled down by Seven Stories to a shortlist of ten and the panel of four judges selected the final four (who were all presented with a copy of the superb We Are All Born Free):
Winner: Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne;
Highly Commended: The Gift by Gemma Birss;
Commended: The Ever-changing Mum by Ruth Patterson;
Special Mention: The Queen of Sheba’s Feet by Clare Reddaway.
The judges treated us to an outline of each of these books – and Cristy then read us a very exciting extract from Takeshita Demons, seated in Seven Stories’ glorious Storyteller’s throne. We will now have to be patient and wait for the book to go through the practical publishing process before we’ll be able to read the rest of it. And it was tantalising too to hear about the other three novels and not be able to run and pick them up afterwards!
At the beginning of this post I described the award as ground-breaking: this is because it seeks both to celebrate diversity and to foster new talent. Entries must be unpublished manuscripts aimed at 8-12 year olds from writers who have not previously published a novel for children (although they may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry). The Award’s stated purpose is fourfold:
To take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives whose work is published in Britain today;
To promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice is currently under-represented;
To recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance;
To support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.
The closing date for entries for the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is 26 February 2010.
You can read more about the Award on both Seven Stories’ and Frances Lincoln’s websites, including how to enter…