Liz Hyder has won the £1,000 Branford Boase Award for her "outstanding" children's debut novel, Bearmouth, sharing the prize with her editor Sarah Odedina, who is editor-at-large at Pushkin Children's Books.
The annual award recognises the "most promising" book by debut novelists, written for children aged seven and upwards.
Bearmouth was chosen from a seven-strong shortlist. Described as a "powerful dystopia", the novel is based on real-life stories of 19th-century child miners, and is set in an underground mine and told in a distinctive dialect invented by the author.
Hyder said: “The Branford Boase Award is such a prestigious award and I love that it celebrates both editor and author. It was a true partnership to work with Sarah on Bearmouth. I learnt so much from her and can honestly say that the experience changed my life in so many ways. To be shortlisted felt like prize enough but to win feels utterly incredible! It means the world to me not only because I’m following in the footsteps of so many authors who I admire and cherish but also because I share it with Sarah who is the best, most inspiring,wonderful editor. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!"
She will receive a £1,000 cheque, in addition to an engraved trophy alongside Odedina.
Odedina said: “What marks Liz out for me is her courage and originality and her faultless ability to create a story that holds the reader’s attention by its sheer power. As an editor there cannot be many higher accolades than to be on the Branford Boase Award shortlist. To win the award in partnership with an author confirms that this task of bringing stories to young readers is a work of collaboration and one that is most successful when author and editor listen to one another and enjoy the process of creating a novel.”
Meanwhile, Katya Balen's debut The Space We're In (Bloomsbury) was highly commended by the judges. In a joint statement with her editor Lucy Mackay-Sim, she said: "We’re thrilled to have received this commendation from such a prestigious award, and to be recognised among a shortlist of such brilliant books – including a truly extraordinary winner. It’s also a delight to receive this accolade together on a book we both care about so much."
This year the judges were Sue Bastone, vice-chair of the School Libraries Association, Victoria Dilly, creator of the "Book Activist" blog, Layla Hudson of Round Table Books and Muhammad Khan, author of I Am Thunder, winner of the 2019 award. The panel was chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival and Branford Boase Award founder.
She said: “The Branford Boase Award is now in its 21st year, and it has really come of age. Each year we look for exceptional books, stories we haven’t read before, told in new and original ways. Both Bearmouth and The Space We’re In do this, and both Liz and Katya have extraordinarily memorable voices even amongst a shortlist of such exciting debut authors. We all agreed that Bearmouth is the outstanding novel on the list, a hugely brave and impressive piece of writing, testament to the skill of both author and editor in successfully creating such characters and such a narrative. It’s a book that sends shivers down the spine, truly astounding. As always, we can’t wait to read what the shortlisted authors will write next.”
The winners were announced on 9th September in an online event featuring previous winning authors.