Last month, me and Sam Morrison were shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Award. We were informed that our children's book, Aliens FC, was down to the last five manuscripts out of 2,000 entries. To say we were flabbergasted and excited would have been an understatement. We had to wait a whole month before the winner's announcement party, which finally took place in the Savile Club in London last Tuesday.
Before the announcement, Sam and I didn't expect to win. We felt that Aliens FC had the youngest age group in mind as opposed to the tween and young adult books that made up the list. So, I headed off to London on Tuesday morning, just genuinely excited to go along to the party, meet a few nice people and have a day out. Of course, while never expecting to win, your mind allows itself to imagine, just for a second, that we could win, and the heart beats that little bit quicker.
Once we arrived in the posh room of the Savile Club and met the staff/selection panel of the prize, their eyes lit up at the mention of Aliens FC, and they enthusiastically told us how much they loved it. Then the brain kicks in once more, telling you: "you could win today", and the stomach starts to churn with excitement. You can't help it. People are being nice and friendly, telling you how much they like your book.
We got to chat to the other shortlisted writers (all women, Sam and I are the only blokes, and the only writing team), and we were enjoying the vibe. Then, the announcement. Barry Cunningham, head honcho of Chicken House, presented the judges, which included Malorie Blackman, children's author, and Amanda Craig from The Times. Each judge got to make a brief presentation of each book, and why it was so good (which was a nice touch) and then deep breaths all round as the ultimate winner was finally announced.
As expected! Instead, it was Emily Diamand for her book, Reavers. Huge congratulations to Emily, who I didn't get to chat to, but she seemed terribly nice and modest. We felt a strange relief that the winner had finally been announced, and me and Sam talked to a few more people before heading off to get our bearings and catch up with each other (haven't seen the rascal since his baby was born a few months ago).
Long time readers of the blog might remember that we developed Aliens FC as a screenplay first. It got optioned twice and got lots of favourable interest, even getting shortlisted for South West Screen's Development Competition. So, a different medium this time, another shortlist and another near miss, but we're still very confident and passionate about the story, which everyone agrees is great fun, so we're gonna stick with it and get it made/published, by hook or by crook... Aliens FC tells the story of two kids who get mistaken for famous footballers (because of their replica shirts) by a couple of bumbling aliens who whisk them across the galaxy to help save their alient team from relegation, and an adventure of a lifetime.
Extracts of all the shortlisted entries for The Times/Chicken House award can be read here, while our extract from Aliens FC can be read here. There will be a full report (with pictures!) in The Times Books Section this Saturday, so feel free to nab a copy to get a full rundown.
That's it, excitement over! Now I've got to crack on with the second draft of the book (Sam doing most of the hard work on the first draft, much kudos).