Thursday 28 February 2013

Being a judge for the Costa Book Awards by Matt Whyman

While attending the Hot Key Books/Templar Publishing blogger brunch, I managed to talk to Matt Whyman, who has a book called The Savages coming out with Hot Key Books later this year. While chatting, I discovered that he was a judge for this year's Costa Children's Book Award, so I bribed him with sweets and cupcakes to write me a post all about his experience. And voila! Here is it!
When the invitation arrived by email, asking whether I would like to be a judge for the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Prize category, just one thought came to mind. Naturally I wanted to do it. Who wouldn’t? I just worried that responding too quickly might seem a bit… keen.
I held out for about two minutes tops before hitting reply. I then spent the rest of the day feeling far too excited to carry on working. In my early twenties, living in a bedsit and working part time in a call centre so I could write, I looked upon the award, formerly known as the Whitbread before the sponsor switch, as the last word in modern British literature. Like the Booker, this annual prize served up the very best in books. It seemed a world away from my life at the time. I certainly never thought that one day I might join the panel that made the selection.
After the invite, everything went silent for some weeks. Every now and then, I’d check the email to be sure I hadn’t just imagined it. Looking back, before the first of the book boxes arrived, and continued to do so over a three month period, I realise it was just the calm before the storm. Now I’ll be honest with you here. I don’t read that much. I write every working day, and so the last thing I want to do at the end is pick up a book. Put it this way, if I cleaned windows for a living then I wouldn’t be thrilled if I returned home to find my wife had put the ladder out for me and a bucket of hot, soapy water. I love literature, I really do, but my reading tends to be restricted to the beach. On this occasion, however, I had to change my ways. I also didn’t look back. As soon as I started ploughing my way through the submissions, I found myself lost in countless different worlds and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I deliberately didn’t work on my own book during this time. As well as the coals to Newcastle thing, I’m a big believer in being true to your voice as a writer, which can be problematic when reading other people’s work.
The brief from the powers that be was very simple. Along with the author Marcus Sedgwick and Waterstones’ Sarah Clarke, we had to select the most enjoyable children’s book of the year. The stature of the author, the prettiness of the jacket or the hype surrounding the content, none of this mattered. It was simply a question of deciding what title clicked the most with us all.
In terms of the process, after all the individual list-making we each had to put forward our personal shortlists. This was tough. Killing your darlings always is, and required a ruthless streak. Finally, with the chosen books on the table we convened to hammer out a shortlist of four. At the meeting, we chewed over each book in turn, picking them apart in detail until we had our selection: The Seeing by Diana Hendry, Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, What’s up with Jody Barton by Hayley Long and A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Sheldon. It was a good-natured affair, and our choice offered a fair representation of the diversity on offer for 2012. 
As for the winner, we were unanimous in choosing Maggot Moon. Every book on the shortlist deserved to be there, but for different reasons we felt that Sally Gardner had created a unique, striking and enchanting story. Above all, however, we agreed that it was the most enjoyable – not an easy thing to define by any means. If anything, it’s just a sense throughout the judging process that builds to a feeling and then a conviction. A different combination of judges might well have seen things in another light, but in a way it doesn’t matter. A prize of this stature serves to raise awareness of the richness and diversity in fiction for children and teenagers today, and also provoke discussion. In this view, every book’s a winner.
The Savages by Matt Whyman will be published by Hot Key Books in June.
Synopsis: Sasha Savage is in love with Jack Greenway - a handsome, charming, clever... vegetarian. Which would be acceptable if it weren't for the fact that Sasha's family are very much 'carnivorous', with strong views to boot....
Biography: Matt Whyman is a best selling author and agony uncle for Bliss Magazine and BBC Radio 1's The Surgery
To find out more about Matt Whyman:


  1. This is such a cool post to read. I love to hear from judges for big prizes like this. And I totally get the thing about reading, I don't read a quarter as much as I used to before becoming a writer.

  2. I still read tonnes even though writing is a day job for me now! I don't think that'll ever change :) interesting to hear how the judging process goes. And go team Hot Key!


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