David Solomons says he is “still processing” the fact that his book My Brother is a Superhero beat competition from books by David Walliams, J K Rowling and Terry Pratchett to win this year’s British Book Industry Awards Children’s Book of the Year.
Solomons, who has previously written scripts and a film tie-in novel that “sank without trace”, says the shock of winning means he has “only a vague recollection” of his name being called out at the awards ceremony at Grosvenor House in London on 9th May.
(From left) The British Book Industry Awards' host Mariella Frostrup with David Solomons, his editor Kirsty Stansfield, and Gemma Malley from Book Trust.
“I never expected the success I’ve had with the book,” he explains. “There is so much out there and it’s hard to punch through. You only need to go into bookshops and see all the books to realise that.”
My Brother is a Superhero, a humorous novel for readers aged nine to 12 years, is about a boy called Luke who is very annoyed when his brother Zack is given superpowers and he is not. Solomons wrote the story after the birth of his son. “I wanted to write something for him but I had no idea what I was doing. I gave up on it at 30,000 words but my wife read it and passed it on to her agent [Mark Stanton]. They both said I needed to finish it.”
Stanton took Solomons on as a client—the only children’s author on his roster—and sent the manuscript to various children’s publishers, later receiving “multiple offers”, including one from Nosy Crow.
The Children’s Book of the Year prize is about the publishing process as well as the content of the book, and Solomons agreed with the judges that Nosy Crow’s handling of his manuscript was a brilliant example of children’s publishing. Their interest in the book was clear from the very first meeting, he says.
“When I went to see Nosy Crow at its offices, I did a double-take because the [staff ] were all wearing T-shirts with the superhero from the book on them. They had also made a cake inspired by the ‘inter-dimensional sponge cake’ in the story.”
Nosy Crow took the design of the book very seriously, hiring Laura Ellen Anderson to execute the illustrations and Rob Biddulph to add the lettering on the front cover, and Solomons says he was “really impressed” with its marketing plans, which included advertising in cinemas and a free game app.
Since My Brother is a Superhero was published in July 2015, Solomons has won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2016, sold the film and TV development rights to Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow, written a sequel (My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord, out this July), and signed a contract to publish two more novels with Nosy Crow.
Nosy Crow has also sent him on several school visits, where he meets both boys and girls who love the book. “I know there is a bit of a crisis with boys reading at the moment, so it’s nice that boys like my book,” he says. “I was worried that girls might be put off by things like the fact the word ‘brother’ is in the title, but luckily girls are smarter than that.”
All in all, the success of My Brother is a Superhero is “very exciting”, he adds, especially given that earlier in his career he had worried that the birth of his son, who inspired the book, would hamper his creativity. “The opposite seems to have happened because I’ve had a burst of creativity,” he says.
“I’ve had a lifetime of near-misses, then all of this has happened in a condensed amount of time. I’m happy.”