Being a Book Award Judge

bookclub-being-a-judge-2016Ms Swinyard invited Simon Key & Andrea Reece, both involved in the process of this year’s Brandford Boase Award, to come and be interviewed by the bookclub! This is what happened!

Questions and answers:

Who are you?

  • Simon co-owner of the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green – judge of the short story in Bristol. This year a judge for Brandford Boase Award
  • Andrea works in publishing with Troika Books & helps with administration for Branford Boase. She has previously been a judge for the Costa Book Award & the Carnegie Medal. Andrea also runs the children’s literature journal Book for Keeps.

How much does it pay?

Most awards pay nothing, but you do it because you love reading & you get free books! It gives you the discipline to read so many books in a short time & try out different things. Also, it is a privilege to be asked, so it comes with kudos. Sometimes you do get a little bit of money (e.g. for Costa) and you get to keep the books.

Be warned, however – it can actually be a stressful experience! You have to take it seriously.

What’s your favourite book?

SK: It changes every day! Reading depends on your mood, the time of day! If you asked me tomorrow I would say something different. I just finished The Glorious Heresiesshortlisted for the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. I seem to like Irish female authors. I’ve also recently enjoyed A girl is a half-formed thing – it is written in her own dialect, so you have to engross yourself and not read it in short bursts, so you can get into the language.

AR: My favourite book to re-read is Middlemarch – and I love Frankenstein too. Lately a favourite has been Julia Vanishes.

Have you ever had a book and you thought it was rubbish?

Lots of times! Reading a book is always a gamble & why judging is so hard sometimes.

Can you choose an author who you would like to write just one more book?

AR: Diana Wynne Jones – she’s died now so I wish she could write more, especially in the Chrestomanci series. I love Howl’s Moving Castle which was made into a film.

SK: For children’s authors it would be Roald Dahl – my favourite is Danny Champion of the World.  For an adult author – Mark Leyner. In the mid 1990s there was an American surge in fiction with 3 main writes – Jonathan Franzen (still famous), Dave Foster Wallace (still famous) & Leyner. Leyner is less well-known now. He stopped writing fiction between 1998 & 2012 – such a shame!

What book would you take to a desert island?

If you could make up your own book award, what would it be like?

AR: Something like the Phoenix Award, for books published 10 years ago & wasn’t well received at the time, or just missed out on winning awards to other books. I might call it the ‘We Were Robbed’ prize. Kit’s Wilderness would be on there!

SK: Something for short stories. You need specialist skills to write a decent short story. We’re trying to set this up at the Big Green Bookshop actually – watch this space!

Are there any books that you have read more than once and have reacted differently?

Yes, definitely. You usually miss things the first time around. When you read for judging, the first read it just trying to find out what happens – re-reading means you can look at different things. Again, reading depends on your mood too – and your age. You have a different perspective on life as you get older, so your perspective on a story changes too.

What is your fav genre?

SK: Magical realism e.g Harry Potter

AR: I love a book that makes you cry. I used to be a bit sniffy about fantasy, but actually I like it.

Do you have any rituals when reading?

SK: I know I will get in trouble for saying this, but when I’m reading books for judging, I like folding the pages over. I know you’re not allowed to do that with your school books though!

AR: I’ve started to do that too! I make annotations too. The editor Marian Lloyd, one of the Branford Boase judges,  scribbles over everything when she judges – no one can re-read them afterwards! I also try not to read blurbs – I don’t want any pre-conceptions of the book.

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read?

AR: When I was 17 I read War & Peace. I remember it took forever. Also Lord of the Rings took me a long time too.

SK: Wolf Hall (I tend to avoid long books!)

What’s you favourite book that has been made into a film?

AR: I like the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice. I think the casting was great. But films are so different to the books, and they should be. Perhaps one of the reasons The Golden Compass didn’t work as a film was it was just like the Northern Lights book but with pictures. And Shrek, for example, the book version doesn’t have the character of Donkey at all – he makes the movie!

How does the Brandford Boase Award work?

The award is for a first novel. Publishers submit books which are eligible and the administrators read them all and cut them down a bit. Andrea & the other admins had to read the 63 submitted books and narrowed it to 23.

The judging panel all read the 23 books and have a discussion day where they decide together on a shortlist of 6. You turn up with 3 piles of Yes/No/Maybe and fight for your favourites. As a judge you have to compromise all the time & be aware that the books are aimed at teenagers, not you – you have to take that into consideration!

Once the shortlist is decided, the judges then go and read the shortlisted books again, before another meeting together to pick their overall winner. The Brandford Boase Award is great because it acknowledges the editor as well as the writer – the editors often have a big part to play with a first novel.


The Brandford Boase Award 2016 was awarded to…



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