Getting an Award – And acceptance speech terror…:
Thirty-six hours earlier I’d been laid up in bed with tonsillitis and fever. The antibiotics were starting to work but I couldn’t drink for courage, I’d pushed my food around my plate for an hour and if the adrenaline didn’t kick in soon I was about to topple off the acceptance speech cliff… So how did I end up here…?
The source of my terror can be traced to France around 2001. Doctor Francois Dufour of La Cadière D’Azur, in Provence, speculated that reading a good book might be as useful to some of his patients as medication. So he set up an annual prize for the French debut novel of the year which attracted most votes from the readers in the village. The idea was a great success and Le Prix De La Cadière was born.
In 2003, Wendy Smedley and Gwen Goodhew decided to replicate this idea in Waverton, near Chester, and set out to find fifty or more debut novels by British citizens published in the previous twelve months. Their aim was to stimulate reading and encourage British writers. Every year since, the residents of Waverton have made an award to their favourite British debut novel.
Publishers became more and more helpful as they realised what was going on and by 2014 the difficulty of sourcing debut books had long been replaced by that of whittling down the proffered debuts into a longlist (in this year, 74), to be scored out of ten. In March 2015 these scores were applied distil a shortlist of five:
Carys Bray – A Song for Issy Bradley
Shortlisted for the Costa first novel award.
Anna Hope – Wake
“Compelling, emotionally charged”. (Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)
Jane Shemilt – Daughter
A Sunday Times top five bestseller and Richard & Judy Autumn Book Club pick.
Jemma Wayne – After Before
Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015
& Me – If I Should Die
It was only at this point that I learned that If I Should Die was even in the running. Seeing the amazing books on the shortlist, I hardly dared hope it might win. As a crime novel, it seemed a thorn amongst roses. And as the only chap on the list it seemed ungallant to hope…
So I’d like to say that on the evening of June 29th 2015, as the good folk of Waverton gathered to cast votes, I was nonchalantly going about my business and not checking my phone every ten minutes… But I don’t think I’d be fooling anyone.
When Gwen emailed to say I’d won, I literally did a little dance around the room. I was stunned, and delighted, and distinctly undignified; as my longsuffering spouse can testify. She and our children deserve this award as much as I, for their constant support and forbearance. I’m told that If I Should Die garnered almost as many votes as the rest combined. And what makes this award even more special, is to be judged not just against other crime novels but across genres. It was thrilling to discover its appeal to a broader readership.
The very readership that on the evening of Friday 23rd October 2015 packed into the sold-out award dinner to form the sea of expectant faces staring at me, ready to hang on my every word.
So did my speech descend into mumbling ignominy…?
I’m not great at public speaking. I’m okay with the free-styling back and forth of a Q&A, in fact I quite enjoy it. But standing up and making a speech, notes in trembling hand, trying to remember to look up and smile from time to time, the words sounding dry in your ears, your mouth feeling dryer by the second… that’s not my in my comfort zone. But that night, I was happy to do it.
The discerning readers of Waverton had voted If I Should Die the Debut Novel of The Year 2014-15, and invited my wife and I as guests of honour to the award dinner to collect the coveted Waverton Eddie. Their goodwill was palpable. Every single person we met was enthusiastic, kind and attentive. The table dinner quiz was a blast, even if my poor team were denied victory by my unfair insider knowledge of If I Should Die’s list of acronyms.
The attention to detail was wonderful, from the discrete Stark-themed details on the printed menus to the brilliantly bespoke table decorations. Everyone at our table was delightful and fun, not to mention eminent and fascinating. Historian, author and professor from Liverpool University, John Belchem, delivered a flattering introduction and presented me with the award, and I took the microphone and delivered gushing thanks and a brief talk on the story behind the novel, my path into writing and plans for the future.
I can’t claim my speech was any great shakes, but I got through it. And the Q&A that followed was enormous fun.
I had some lovey all-too-brief chats with the long line of people that queued up to have their copies signed, and before I knew it the evening was over.
There was a great deal of interest into when the next Stark novel will be out (working on it…) and the general expectation that the Waverton Eddie would be first among many honours. I daren’t hope. And right now, I firmly believe I’ve been lucky enough to win literature’s finest award!
(My heartfelt thanks go to Wendy and Gwen. To Peter Goodhew, Richard and Terry Taylor and to John and Mary Belchem and the rest of Team Sanson table… for being such fun. To David and Linda Evans for your generosity. And to everyone who helped organize this year’s award and who read and voted not just for If I Should Die but all the books every year, for your wonderful support for debut authors. And to the Sponsors – National Nuclear Laboratory.)
Previous winners of the Coveted Waverton Eddie include:
2003-04 Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Winner of 2003 Whitbread (now Costa) Award for book of the year. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2004. Now adapted for stage at the National Theatre.
2004-05 Jonathan Trigell – Boy A
Winner of The John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for the best work of literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) by an author from the Commonwealth aged 35 or under. Adapted into a BAFTA award-winning TV movie.
2005-06 Marina Lewycka – A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
Winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize at the Hay literary festival. Shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction.
2006-07 Nicola Monaghan – The Killing Jar
Winner of a Betty Trask Award and The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. Monaghan was included in The Independent’s New Year list of “Rising Talent of 2006” and The Killing Jar made their 50 Hot Books for summer and Books of Year features.
2007-08 Paul Torday – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Winner of the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year Award at the 2008 Galaxy British Book Awards. Adapted into film in 2011 for worldwide cinema release.
2008-09 Tom Rob Smith – Child 44
Nominated for 17 international awards, winning seven.
Longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Nominated for the 2008 Costa First Novel Award. Recipient of the Crime Writers Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award for best thriller of the year. Shortlisted for the 2008 Desmond Elliott Prize for a first novel in 2008. Listed in the 2011, Richard and Judy Book Club 100 Books of the Decade. Translated into 36 languages and adapted into film by Ridley Scott in 2015 for worldwide cinema release. Smith was awarded the 2008 Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer.
2009-10 Andrew Sharp – The Ghosts of Eden
Shortlisted for the 2011 International Rubery Book Award, and listed by Ann Widdecombe as one of her top five books on childhood innocence.
2010-11 Helen Simonson – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
A Richard & Judy Book Club selection and instant bestseller in multiple countries.
2011-12 Christie Watson – Tiny Sunbirds Far Away
Winner of the COSTA first novel award.
2012-13 Rachel Joyce – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Long-list finalist (top 12) for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
2013-14 Gavin Extence – The Universe versus Alex Woods
Richard and Judy summer bookclub read 2013, Amazon Rising star, and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.
2014-15 Matthew Frank – If I Should die
Winner of nothing else so far, but fingers crossed…
Some further links:
Click link for Nudge Books write up.
Click link for Jan’s Writing Journal.
Click link for the official WGR event.