Monday, 24 November 2008

The Royal Mail Awards: behind the scenes

As promised, we've gathered up the thoughts of the Scottish Book Trust staff to give you a little peek into everyone's experience of The Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books last week. And amongst them you'll see a smattering of candid snaps from behind the scenes...

"My favourite moments were when all the children started stamping their feet before the winner was announced!" Jasmine

"I loved the way all the shortlisted authors were welcomed in the hall like rock stars, with cheering, clapping and wolf whistles." Marion

"My favourite moment was the fireworks … I like explosions!" Michael
“I thought the props were particularly noteworthy. That hat! That Octopus! Seriously, it was fabulous to see so much hard work pay off. Kirsty Wark was brilliant and pitched it just right to appeal to the kids and the adults and I hope she does it again next year!” Celia

“Wow, what a day! It was a fantastic culmination to the project and I am so glad that we shared that experience with so many keen young readers and I am delighted that the fireworks didn’t maim any children (or authors)! My thanks go to everyone who attended and made loud slurping noises, to the authors for writing such great books and to the SBT staff who helped us not only at the ceremony but throughout the project.” Chris

"I loved Kirsty Wark’s Newsnight Review moment, running through the audience asking the kids where they liked to read!" (most said 'in bed') Marc

"I always look forward to the Royal Mail Awards ceremony – it’s really exciting to be with so many people who are passionate about books. This year more than lived up to my high expectations. The Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen is a fantastic place. I could imagine it being used as a set for an Agatha Christie adaptation (one of my own personal obsessions!). And what a packed ceremony – interviews, performances, the awards themselves – and fireworks! I may have to go and have a little lie down as I am getting far too excited all over again. Many congratulations to the winners, and a final thought about how good all of the shortlisted books were this year – it was a really close race and every book on the list is an absolute joy to read! Bye – I am off to a darkened room." Philippa

“What an experience, I now know what the Oscars must feel like! Despite knowing who had won already I was still overwhelmed by excitement as the children drummed their feet in anticipation of the announcements. A huge well done to everyone who took part and made it such a success.” Jo

"As a relatively new member of SBT staff, it was really exciting to be part of the day. I was amazed at how many kids were at the event and what a buzzy atmosphere there was during the ceremony. It was a rare treat to see authors get such recognition from their own readers!" Clare

"The celebrity reception which greeted the authors at the start of the show was amazing and, I would imagine, a new experience of stardom for them. But for me, the best part of the ceremony was the heel-drumming on the floor by the whole audience as the winning authors came on stage to receive their awards – it must have been planned, but how? It even beat the Mexican wave of books from last year." Jeanette

"I liked the bit when Caitrin phoned to say she had forgotten her keys to the office and might be a bit late." Caitrin (Returned from Australia and holding the fort back in Edinburgh - just)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

and the winners are...

This was the week of the long-awaited Royal Mail Awards: webmaster Paul tells us how it all went down…

So after many months of planning, promoting, voting, stressing and preparing, The 2008 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books took place in Aberdeen this week and, after all that build-up, they didn’t disappoint. The whole of the Scottish Book Trust staff decamped from Edinburgh to Aberdeen for the day, along with over 550 pupils from schools all around Scotland, the authors and illustrators of the nine nominated books, the day's host, BBC broadcaster Kirsty Wark, and a further assorted collection of publishers, parents and parliamentary persons (sorry, slightly shoehorning the alliteration in there).

It all made for an atmosphere that was genuinely buzzing in the packed Beach Ballroom; when the shortlisted authors were announced they walked out to the kind of adulation generally reserved for pop stars (“now I know how Kylie feels” was one of the nominee’s later comments). This year's awards saw over 9,500 votes cast from pupils across the UK, and you could tell that every child present really felt part of the proceedings; not just spectators but truly invested in the outcome of the Awards.

But there was fun to be had before the announcement of the winners, as first a brilliant group of pupils from Riverbank and Smithfield primary schools presented dramatised excerpts from the six books nominated in the 0-7 and 8-11 years categories. I particularly loved the Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses section, as the kids delivered a hilarious ‘behind-the-sheet’ transformation of their main character. Everyone involved has earned themselves a high five from me, and I’ll have you know I don’t dish them out lightly.

Then it was the turn of Aidan Turner, one of our very cool pupil ambassadors, to take the limelight, as he hosted a Q&A with the three authors in the 12-16 years category. He did a great job (hey, anyone who can confidently carry off an interview under the watchful gaze of pro Kirsty Wark is doing well in my book), and asked very intelligent questions, bringing out the key differences and similarities in the nominees’ approaches and novels.

After Marie Macaulay presented the Gaelic prize, won by Rachel Kate McLeod, whose story was chosen from an incredible amount of entries, Kirsty Wark announced that we had reached the key moment, the announcement of the winners. As MSP Maureen Watt opened the envelope for the 0-7 category you could feel the tension rising in the crowd; feet were stomping, kids were shouting out their favourite titles – it was about as far from a library environment as you could imagine, and all the better for it! – and there were genuine woops of delight when Alan Durant and Ross Collins’ Billy Monster’s Daymare was announced as the winner.

D A Nelson’s Dark Isle and J A Henderson’s Bunker 10 were announced as the 8-11 and 12-16 category winners respectively, each eliciting similarly ecstatic reactions from the crowd (I’m certain I saw some kids actually jumping on their chairs…), and it was clear from each of the winning authors’ speeches that they felt truly humbled and honoured to have won, and all were full of praise for their fellow nominees.

So now it’s all over for another year, but my single description can’t really do justice to the day in all its fullness, so we’ll have more of the Scottish Book Trust staff members’ thoughts on the day up on the Blog shortly, as well as a special Royal Mail Awards interviews podcast on our site. But for the time being there are some pictures from the day up on the website, which can be found on our Awards Ceremony page.

But we need your contribution too! Were you at the Awards? What was your favourite bit? How was the whole experience? Tell us by adding a comment here or sending an email to and we’ll post it here.

We already knew that Keith Gray was a hugely talented author and that his novel Ostrich Boys was brilliant but he has now been nominated for the Costa Children's Award, one of the biggest in the UK! Congratulations Keith, good luck and everyone at Scottish Book Trust is rooting for you.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

"Underpants, charcoal, a best ever friend..."

Hello faithful readers! This week we've got another of our touring authors to add their own unique contribution to the blog. Writer and illustrator Simon Bartram (that's him on the left) came on the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour with us around Moray this September - check out the pictures here - and he's written a fantastic poem that perfectly sums up his experiences on the tour.

Here it is:

Newcastle, Edinburgh
Firth of Forth
Dundee, Montrose
Motoring North

Aberdeen, then left
And along a jot
On target for Elgin
For events and whatnot

School and library
And school once more
Town and village
Sea and shore

Aliens, Rockets
Astronaut types
Powerpoint pointing
Red and white stripes

Shouting, screaming
Peeled eagle-eyes
Odd looking canines
Mini pork pies

Underpants, charcoal
A best ever friend
Pet shop, Craters
'Hooorays' at the end

Dimly lit breakfasts
Lunch by the sea
Coffee in staffrooms
Findhorn for tea

Fine Scottish cuisine
My haggis debut
'Cullen Skink Sir?'
- 'Don't mind if I do!'

A choice of twin beds
Travel-iron mishaps
New trousers soaked
By all powerful taps

Long winding roads
The purest of air
Soup made just here
+ Whiskey just there

School and library
School once more
Town and village
Sea and shore

Books to be signed
Names to spell right
Then south through the Cairngorms
And into the night

Farewell to Scotland
Off on the train
Edinburgh, Newcastle
And back home again

Big thanks to Simon, we love his poem, and we think he's pretty awesome too!

Plus, if you haven't done so yet, be sure to listen to our brilliant Neil Gaiman interview, and watch the Michael Rosen video podcast. In fact, you can watch it right here:

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Robert Dodds and Haunted Cattle

This week we have Robert Dodds author of The Murrian (which is book of the month) on blogging duty. Read on for a crazy adventure!

Hello blogpersons!

I’m very excited that Scottish Book Trust have chosen my new book ‘The Murrian’ as their book of the month for November, and also delighted to be invited to make a guest appearance on the blog!

This is my first ever blog. Aargh! What do I write about? How about a glimpse of my weekend? Well, on Saturday I met up with my friend Elizabeth who lives in the north of England to go for a walk near Chillingham in Northumbria, so I think you should know that it’s a strange and dangerous place to go, as it is home to both a wild castle and haunted cattle.

As we set off, the day was bright and clear. Yet the valley was filled with the sounds of phantom moo-ing, and we soon came across signs warning of the awful consequences of meddling with these fearsome creatures.

Obviously no-one in their right mind would ignore such a sign.

We pushed on, along muddy paths, where deep, squelching footprints showed where other brave souls had gone before us. None of the footprints were coming back the other way. What had happened to all these people?

The footprints reminded me of how the idea had come to me for my first children’s novel, ‘The Midnight Clowns’. On another muddy walk, years ago, it had occurred to me how scary it would be to come across a set of footprints in the mud made by great long thin shoes. Who would wear such shoes? Well, the obvious answer was clowns. But why would anyone dress as a clown to go on a walk in the countryside? The answer was, again, obvious – there might be people who didn’t just dress up as clowns, but really were clowns, with great long feet ending in toes like sausages, and brightly coloured faces. Since one didn’t see them about, they must only come out at night, like vampires…
Anyway, back in the present moment, it was bright daylight, and there were no clowns about, just the ghostly moo-ing from somewhere up ahead.
A little further on, we came across the entrance to the wild castle. Speaking of vampires, it had a creepy vampire bat gate. I felt an overwhelming urge to pose as a bat in front of this.

The wild castle itself was not visible beyond this forbidding gate, which was locked anyway, and we weren’t sure which way to go. Elizabeth decided we should climb over the wall.

On the other side, we found ourselves in a really spooky graveyard. The sounds of ghostly moo-ing were even louder here, and suddenly Elizabeth was knocked over by an invisible ghost cow!

In something of a panic, we looked around for helpful signs to get us out of this spot. All the signs were ambiguous.

However, a mysterious red arm appeared behind a tree trunk, pointing us away from the graveyard.

We followed this direction, and found ourselves safe and sound back at the car park. We drove to the local pub for a fortifying drink, and questioned the barman about the local wild castle and haunted cattle.
“Don’t you mean haunted castle and wild cattle?” he said.
We looked again at the leaflet describing our walk. Yes, it was haunted castle and wild cattle. That did make more sense. But what had knocked Elizabeth over in the graveyard?
If you’re feeling brave, try it for yourself. Go for a walk in the woods near Chillingham Castle.