Judging the Booktrust Teenage Fiction prize

I was absolutely delighted when I was asked if I would consider being a Booktrust Teenage Award judge and even though I had absolutely no idea of what was involved, that didn’t stop me from saying yes!

I then discovered that the panel would consist of only 5 judges – the chair, author, Tony Bradman; journalist, Barbara Ellen; author, Mary Hoffman (usually it’s last year’s winner but I assume that Neil Gaiman had other commitments) and Claudia Freemantle, a year 11 student. Each year, Booktrust hold a creative writing competition for teenagers and 4 winners are invited to join the judging panel at the shortlist stage. One is then selected to participate in the whole process the following year and this year it was Claudia.

The nominations for this award are not submitted by librarians or the public but by publishers who are entitled to submit up to 5 titles providing they meet the criteria (http://booktrustadmin.kentlyons.com/downloads/RULESTeenagePrize2010.doc) and the judging panel are expected to read all the nominated books – usually about 90!

No worries … I could do that … but then we were told that about 120 books had been nominated this year at which point I gave a big gulp! Even for a quick reader like me, that was a LOT of books. Fortunately, the organisers realised that maybe we would be rather overloaded and so gave each of us a randomly selected sixty books to read from the complete list. However, we all received all the books so I took delivery of three very full boxes and as I had no idea what had been submitted, it was like birthday and Christmas all rolled into one! Oh – the pleasure of opening those boxes and discovering what was inside!

All types of books can be nominated so I had a very eclectic selection of books spread out in front of me. Some of them were proof copies too – not the usual format that looks like a book with a very plain cover but a wad of typed papers. No wonder the boxes were so heavy! As I emptied them I gasped in delight at the pleasures that awaited me but it was interesting that my selected list didn’t contain any of the books that I had put to one side to add to my “must read” pile. In fact, my list seemed to consist of all the historical novels, definitely NOT my favourite genre … someone must be telling me something here.

The first stage was a general meeting where the judging process was explained and where we could get to meet everyone else on the panel. Then it was down to the task of reading through our lists … to begin with I was very thorough and made detailed notes on each book but I soon realised that I wouldn’t get through them all if I carried on like this so I became ruthless. After all, I had 60 books to read in 4 months …

How did I manage to get through them all? Well, my usual reading pattern is to have several books on the go at one time … one by my bed, one in the bathroom, one in my bag, you get the idea  .. and I noticed that I would be inclined to gravitate towards a particular book even if it wasn’t the most convenient for where I was currently reading. And others would be ignored for days. So I used this as part of my personal judging method. Of course I looked at things like plot, storyline, use of language, characterisation, all the usual criteria but the bottom line was that if the story wasn’t pulling me in then it wouldn’t pull in teenagers. Most of the books were okay and I would be happy to stock them in my library but I had to ask myself “is this an award winner,” “does it meet the criteria” and, sadly, in the majority of cases the answer was no.

The next meeting was where we selected the shortlist. We started by going through all the books and either saying yes, maybe or no. At the end we had one definite yes, a pile of maybes and an even larger pile of nos. A break for lunch and then we tackled the maybe pile … some were immediately put into the no pile. After much discussion, we managed to narrow it down to twelve. Five shortlisted titles were quite easy to select from those but the final one was the most difficult … and choosing this one probably took as long as choosing the other five!  Finally … result! Six shortlisted titles but we felt that some of the ones that “just missed” also deserved a mention so decided to make those part of a long-list http://www.booktrust.org.uk/Prizes-and-awards/Booktrust-Teenage-Prize

My next task was to read the shortlisted titles. Only two of them were on my original list so I reread those and then tackled the other four. I had done all of the previous reading before the summer so decided that whilst I was in Zambia doing my voluntary work, I would have a break from the award. This would give me a chance to do some adult reading for a change and also bring me to the six final titles with a refreshed viewpoint. It was interesting though that in rereading the two books on my list, one I loved even more but the other slipped down my list of favourites. All six books were exceedingly different, making it quite difficult to judge them against each other.

At our last meeting we were joined by another four young judges, winners from this years writing competition, and I was looking forward to hearing what they thought of our shortlisted titles. Their selections were surprising and illuminating. And they had some very pertinent and valid points to say about all the books. Suffice to say, there was a lot of discussion at this meeting, and Tony was brilliant at chairing it and moving the talk along. Slowly we rejected four titles … not because we didn’t like them but because we thought others were better. We were left with two remaining books! This was hard! The two books were both VERY good but VERY different! Finally, after much debate and deliberation we chose our winner.

As I write this my lips are sealed but if you really want to know what it was then you’ll have to checkout the Booktrust website after November 1st. Suffice to say that I loved this book the first time I read it, it had always been one of my favourites and that view was endorsed on its rereading. And I am delighted that it won.

The whole experience of being a Booktrust Teenage Award judge has been very satisfying and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It has made me read books that normally I wouldn’t even consider, something we hope award shadowing will do for all our students (my original favourites included some fantastic historical reads that I will be promoting back at school); at times it was quite pressured and I seriously doubted if I would actually get through all the books; and being behind the scenes at a selection process has been very interesting. I feel extremely honoured to have been asked to take part and wouldn’t hesitate if I was ever asked to participate in any other awards.

Barbara Band

October 2010

One thought on “Judging the Booktrust Teenage Fiction prize

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Judging the Booktrust Teenage Fiction prize | Heart of the School -- Topsy.com