Last night, I was very excited to receive this year's Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Literature (cue for big excited screams) for my manuscript The Book of Whispers. It was a lovely evening, and wonderful to meet so many of the people at Text Publishing who seem like a great team. I had to give a speech (cue for shaking knees) and this is what I said (well, kinda... this is what I planned on saying, I added some bits as well, that due to nerves, I don't remember!):
Thanks so much to everyone at Text Publishing for hosting this event and for offering this award for Young Adult and Children’s fiction. I’d like to acknowledge the other shortlisted writers whose manuscripts sound really exciting.
The Text Prize has already produced so many outstanding books, across a fascinating variety of genres from memoir to tales of adolescent loss and learning how to cope. These stories show how vibrant and exciting literature for children and young adults can be.
The ideas for The Book of Whispers came to me while travelling through Turkey a couple of years ago. My two main characters are a young crusader knight and a girl who has been brought up in a convent. The Book of Whispers in the title refers to a locked medieval manuscript that only Luca can open and only Suzan can read.
There are actual demons in my story and I hope they’re scary ones. Their need for suffering and pain gave me some chills while I was writing them. But I also wrote this novel thinking about The Book of Whispers as a site of communication between people and between cultures.
I hoped that one day I’d be able to finish researching my story of a journey from Tuscany to Jerusalem by travelling through Syria. You just need to watch the news to realise why I’ve had to postpone that, but this brings me on to something else I wanted to say.
I’m a high school teacher as well as a writer and each of these practices reinforces to me the importance of literature for young people. Stories need to be valued because they build bridges between people. They let us imagine what it’s like to be another person. They let us experience lives that are not like ours. They build a capacity for emotional connection and empathy.
This is one reason why the Text Prize means so much to me. I’m really excited and humbled to be following in the footsteps of the previous winners, and I think in creating stories that are – hopefully – enlightening and understanding – we’re all doing something really important for today’s young readers.
So thank you.