Chicken House’s Barry Cunningham has won the Branford Boase Award for the third time for his editorial work on Beetle Boy, it was revealed on Wednesday (5th July).
The managing director and publisher at Chicken House was presented with the award for the outstanding debut novel for children at Walker Books’ offices in London along with editor Rachel Leyshon and author M G Leonard, who spent a decade studying insects for the book.
The award’s organisers praised the title, about a boy and his beetle, for its “its humour, characters and plotting and because of Leonard’s special understanding of her young audience”.
Cunningham said he "felt like an old hand" after his hat-trick of wins: he scooped the prize in 2003 for Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks and in 2000 for Song Quest by Katherine Roberts (both published by Chicken House).
The only other editor to win the Branford Boase three times is David Fickling, publisher of David Fickling Books. The editor won in 2013 for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton, in 2008 for Before I Die by Jenny Downham and the previous year for A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd.
Cunningham praised how Leonard had bought to life the “wonderful natural world” and the “amazing ability of beetles”. “Once children get over the shiver factor, they love it,” he said.
He told The Booskeller that the Branford Boase was important because it recognised the collaboration between author and editor. He said: “We specialise in new writers at Chicken House and that first relationship between an editor and an author is like your first girlfriend or boyfriend in how it shapes you. We are the young readers’ voice and we say this is great that might be confusing. It is not the same relationship as an editor has with an adult book author, it is more collaborative.”
Rachel Leyshon and Barry Cunningham
Now in its 17th year, the other titles shortlisted for the award include Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, edited by Rebecca Hill (Usborne), We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodd, edited by Niamh Mulvey (Quercus) and Little Bits of Sky by S E Durrant, edited by Kirsty Stansfield (Nosy Crow). The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, edited by Rachel Mann (Simon and Schuster) was also nominated along with Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, also edited by Leyshon.
Leonard said: “My heart is brimming over with joy and delight that Beetle Boy has won the Branford Boase Award. I would never have dreamed such a prestigious award was within my reach, because my literary beginnings were extremely humble. I wrestled unsuccessfully with the English language at school and didn't get to university until my late twenties, doing my first degree with the Open University.
"I worked for the best part of a decade, researching coleopteran [beetles], writing and rewriting the story to introduce the reader to this new language without alienating them."
She added: "I am particularly happy that this award is shared with my editors Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon. My editors have taught me a great deal, and helped me to develop confidence in my writing. I am excited about our partnership and what stories we might bring into the world together in the future."
Winning book Beetle Boy and author M G Leonard (picture: © David Myers)
Last year’s winner, Horatio Clare, a judge for the 2017 award said the book “combines classic story-telling with a tremendous sense of fun and excitement”. Clare scooped the prize for Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot (Firefly Press) along with editor Penny Thomas.
Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare, who is children’s director of the Hay Festival, likened “classic storyteller” Leonard to Roald Dahl or Dodie Smith. She said: “The UK children’s book market is booming, and our shortlist reflected all the new vigour and excitement in the market. M G Leonard is a classic storyteller, in the tradition of Roald Dahl or Dodie Smith, but an original voice. We predict that once again the Branford Boase Award judges have recognized an author who will be thrilling young readers for decades to come.”
The other judges includes Brenda Gardner, former children’s editor and founder of Piccadilly Press, Joanna Halpin, manager at Waterstones Trafalgar Square and Elizabeth McDonald, winner of the 2016 Public Librarian of the Year Award.
Frances Hardinge, who won the Branford Boase in 2006 for Fly By Night (Macmillan), presented Leonard with a cheque for £1,000 and she, Cunningham and Leyshon all received a hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.
Cunningham also revealed that for the first time Chicken House will be hosting an open call for pitches through its Twitter feed, @chickenhsebooks, on Friday (7th July).
He said: “We have never done anything like this before so it’s very exciting. We wanted to collaborate more widely and open our doors even more.” Writers should send one tweet to @chickenhsebooks without images and, if their tweet receives a ‘like’ from the Chicken House Twitter account they will be messaged instructions on what to do next.
The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of author Henrietta Branford and Walker Books co-founder Wendy Boase, who both died of cancer in 1999.