Yesterday evening, as many of those of you who read this blog will know, David Solomons, modest and charming as always, accepted two awards: his funny, accessible, exciting book, My Brother is a Superhero, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Younger Fiction… and then went on to win the overall Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. The prizes are for people at or very near the beginning of their writing or illustrating careers.
To make it to the shortlist is a remarkable achievement. Not including self-published books, an estimated 10,000 new books are published each year. It’s hard for a new voice to be heard, or a new illustration style to be seen, in such a crowd.
Relative to our size, Nosy Crow’s books have been remarkably well recognised in the shortlists over the past: we’ve had 6 titles shortlisted, which means (and Tom thinks I am absurd to have worked this out) we have over 8% of the shortlisted titles. And in 2014, Open Very Carefully won the picture book category.
That My Brother is a Superhero won the overall prize is a testament, first and foremost, of course, to the brilliance of David’s writing. Publishers talk, probably in quite an irritatingly undefined way, about the importance of “voice” in writing, and about the fact that, even if there are plot issues with a novel (and, by the way, there really weren’t in the case of My Brother is a Superhero), they can be fixed, but a “voice” that doesn’t work is altogether trickier, sometimes irredeemably so. And it was the voice – the warmth and the humour and the naturalness of it – that had us at hello when we first read the manuscript of My Brother is a Superhero. We fought hard for the book: we weren’t the only company to recognise a terrific new children’s book writer. Having persuaded David (and his agent) to take a punt on Nosy Crow, we were particularly determined to bring this book to the really wide audience we knew it had the potential to reach. With an inventive marketing campaign, including cinema sampling, a free game app and vox-pop videos of children talking about what they loved about the book, we gave the book the best possible start.
From the beginning, though, Waterstones were fantastically enthusiastic supporters of My Brother is a Superhero.
Florentyna Martin, Waterstones children’s buyer, said: “My Brother is a Superhero is that rare thing; a hugely funny book for young readers that is also rip-roaringly exciting. It is infused with the spirit of larger than life heroes and colourful comic book trivia that enthrals younger readers and delights superhero fans of all ages, yet at its heart is a touching relationship between siblings. Given the author’s background it’s no surprise it is hugely cinematic, but it is also full of wonderful writing and so brilliantly plotted that one never knows what to expect next.”
James Daunt, Waterstones managing director, said: “The quality of the books on the shortlists this year was exceptional, reflecting the vibrant health of the children’s book market. That our winners were all first books, and each from a flourishing independent publisher, reflects how blessed we are currently by the breadth of creative talent in this country.”
It is the job of a publisher to discover new talent and bring it to market, but it’s not always easy to persuade retailers to support you when you do it. As a new publisher, we publish a disproportionate number of new authors and illustrators, and Waterstones is always particularly open to the fresh and interesting things that we bring to them. To have a supportive, energetic, powerful, prestigious partner working with you in the launch of a debut talent is invaluable. We’re really grateful to the brilliant team at Waterstones HQ, James Daunt, Kate Skipper, Melissa Cox, Florentyna Martin, Gary Deane and Peter Saxton to name just a few of them and every Waterstones staff member who engages so enthusiastically with My Brother is a Superhero and with so many of Nosy Crow’s titles every day.
You can take a look inside My Brother is a Superhero below – and you can buy the book from Waterstones here.
Thank you, Waterstones, and congratulations, David!
David with his trophy for the overall prize and the younger fiction category