Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Disappointed (some elaboration)

Here's the thing. A year ago, Town was on several CBCA Clayton's shortlists, and named as top pick in at least one case. I was also told by one of the judges how much she adored that book. So on the big day of the 2008 announcement, I felt quietly confident. It was, as far as I was concerned, the best thing I'd ever written, hands down.

At 11am on that fateful day, just before I went into a creative writing workshop with thirty excitable Year 6 kids, I logged on and saw the list of Notable Books. There was Town. First hurdle cleared. The big one would be announced in an hour.

At 12 noon, I gave the kids a quick writing exercise and logged in again. After a few false starts, the shortlist finally showed up. Meme McDonald, Sonya Hartnett, John Heffernan, and so on, name after name that wasn't mine. I sighed, accepted it and turned off the computer and went back to work. Yes, I was gutted, but to be fair, that was mostly of my own doing. I'd let myself believe what I wanted to believe - that Town was destined to be on that shortlist. Arrogant? Cocky? Overconfident? Perhaps all of the above, even based on the evidence I felt I'd gathered. So this year I didn't even note the announcement date on my calendar. If Hunting Elephants was going to get onto the YA shortlist, it was going to be a surprise. A lovely, lovely surprise. (And it would have been too, since I honestly don't think it's my very best book ever.)

So, what was my error this year? Simply that I set myself a bare minimum achievement for Hunting Elephants -- inclusion on the 20-ish strong list of Notable Books. That much I thought would be good, anything more would be gravy.

I don't go much for karma, dogma or any such supernatural entities. But I think that maybe Karma did have something to teach me today: that hiding under the feeble modesty of not 'expecting' to be shortlisted is not enough - you genuinely shouldn't expect anything. At all. Then you can't be disappointed.

So mark these words: next year, when Anonymity Jones is eligible for these awards in which we place so much stock, I'm going to expect nothing. Nothing. Then anything I might (but probably won't) get will be a true delight.

Sincerest congratulations to all those whose books did appear on the lists, and my heartfelt commiserations to anyone who harboured hopes that their book might, but didn't, particularly Bill Condon, Julia Lawrinson and Libby Gleeson, who can each feel slightly out of sorts that their very fine books were overlooked.


Rob Roy said...

Perhaps your dogma was hit by your karma!

Seriously, commiserations. Everyone knows judges don't know anything (unless it's the judges of the NSW Premier's awards)

lili said...

Take comfort in the fact that neither of the Golden Inky winners have been CBCA shortlisted books. So there isn't necessarily a correlation between books that win "literary" awards, and books that young people read and enjoy.

-Lili (who is obviously GUTTED and SHOCKED that her Girlfriend Fiction book hasn't been recognised this year)

lili said...

Except, of course, for the fact that BOTH Golden Inky winners won Premier's Awards...

jonathan said...

I haven't yet read Hunting elephants so can't really comment on that one. As for Town, you can rest assured that it is a fantastic book, much loved by a lot of people, many of whom don't even know what CBCA stands for.

Adele said...

James, thank you for your honest post. I feel your pain but from a teacher and reading perspective. I even posted a little rant, which got a shockingly fast reply. Bizarre.

james roy said...

Rob: it's all good. No need to talk anyone back from a a ledge.
Lili: much comfort indeed. And the pink GF meme doesn't seem to have quite infiltrated the CBCA consciousness.
Jonathan: thank you.
Adele: nice rant. And pain is probably a bit strong. As I said, it's just disappointment, but my expectations weren't terribly high to begin with. The person I most feel for right now is Libby Gleeson - I think she was dudded. But I spoke with her today and she quoted Victor Kelleher: "You can't write for that bloody list: you either celebrate for a day or mourn for a day and then you go back to work." Wise words.

YP said...

My first novel Boofheads was apparently the first pick of the YA judge at the ACT Claytons this year.

I didn't even realise there was was a Notable's list. I just thought they announced the short list.

Boofheads was a Notable so I guess your bare minimum aim was my blissfully unaware.

I even had to email Bill Condon and ask if it meant I got a sticker.

My GF book Something More was released on the same day so I guess I won't be on any list next year by the sounds of things.

I think you're right. It's all one big lottery.

What do you do except keep writing? (although I find a dart board with pictures of prolific, popular authors - who shall remain nameless - very therapeutic).

Keep smiling.

Mo Johnson

james roy said...

Gidday, Mo, and thanks for your comment. And no, you don't get a sticker for Notable, unfortunately. But big props for getting on the Notable list (he said through gritted teeth).

In general terms, I wonder if these lists are sometimes of greater value to writers who are trying to really get a foothold in the market, as I was when my third book Captain Mack was shortlisted in 2000. Nowadays I like to believe that most school libraries buy my latest book anyway, whereas with only two YA books out in 2000, and considering that Captain Mack was for my first book for middle readers, that shortlisting helped raise my profile just when I really needed it.

I also find it interesting how a particular achievement can be looked at in a couple of ways. A few years ago one of my very slight (or so I thought) books - The Legend of Big Red - was named on the Notable list, and I was absolutely thrilled. But one of my friends (a very prominent Australian children's author) was absolutely gutted that his book for that year only got the 'booby prize' of being named on the Notable list. So one man's meat and all that.

Ah, the two-edged sword of expectation...

julialawrinson said...

James, you sing my song (substitute Town for Bye, Beautiful in 2006). I, too, tried to have no anticipation - for a Notable this year for The Push, if nothing else, and failed. But I was even more dismayed at books by Simmone Howell, Bill Condon etc that didn't get a guernsey. I just don't think the CBCA know what they're doing with YA - are they targeting popular or literary? Rant thus ends. Good luck with your Buddhist detachment for next time.

YP said...

In general terms, I wonder if these lists are sometimes of greater value to writers who are trying to really get a foothold in the market, as I was when my third book Captain Mack was shortlisted in 2000.

Email Bill for my contact email and we'll go from there.


james roy said...

I'm suddenly aware of how horribly conceited and patronising and sour-grapey my last comment might have sounded. That certainly wasn't my intention - I would have welcomed inclusion on any of the lists that were announced last Tuesday, and I apologise if it sounded like I was saying anything different.

My comment about the relative usefulness of shortlists and notable lists to different writers was meant to be nothing more than an observation of our industry, and the forces that drive and mold it. To elaborate using a couple of examples, I imagine it makes little difference to Jackie French's overall sales whether or not she is shortlisted (although I could be wrong). I'm sure it makes a huge difference to how she feels about herself and her writing, as it would for anyone, but the fact remains that schools will still buy everything she writes, whether it wins a gong or not. Ditto Shaun Tan, Sonya Hartnett, James Moloney, Steven Herrick, Garth Nix, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Colin Thompson, and anyone else fortunate enough to be established to that degree. And when that my first shortlisting happened along with Captain Mack, it happened along at just the right time, and I was - and will always be - grateful for its timeliness.

Have I just made it worse? Have I? I hope not. If so, I apologise all over again.

Mike said...

Unfortunately, the CBCA Older Readers category is just that: Older Readers. Older Readers cannot be equated with YA. Older Readers is a category that reflects the culture of the committee making the award. I would suggest that it doesn't reflect the wider literary culture. The lottery is hardest when you are holding the wrong tickets. Sorry, hardly a consoling thought, but that seems to be what is coming through here.

Rona said...

Haaaaay its rona

im doing an assignment on your book and i would like to know what was the purpose or your book?


james roy said...

Hi Rona,

The purpose of Hunting Elephants? There are several:

1. To tell a good story with engaging characters.
2. To pay my respects to the numerous brave young cystic fibrosis sufferers I've cared over the years, a couple of whom died in exactly the way described in the book. Nasty.
3. To tell a good story.
4. To examine the idea that sometimes people pretend to be something else simply because to tell the truth requires far too much uncomfortable conversation.
5. Because I enjoy telling a good story.