Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reflections on the CBCA shortlist.

I do this every year. I do. I forget that the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Awards shortlist is due. Then I remember at the last moment, or someone mentions it in an email or on Facebook. Then I'm onto the website, and clicking Refresh every thirty seconds for the five minutes leading up to midday. Because as much as I claim that I don't care, I do. I really do. And let me heartily congratulate every one of the writers and illustrators and publishers and editors represented on those lists.

A couple of years ago I got in some trouble from Mo Johnson, when I suggested that it's of more value to a newish writer to be on the shortlist or notable list than someone who is properly established. And as much as that sounded like sour grapes for Hunting Elephants failing to get a notable listing, I certainly didn't mean it that way. I stand by what I said - that to someone with a gazillion books and half a gazillion shortlistings, one more gong isn't going to do much to advance their career. But when you're just getting established (as I was when Captain Mack was shortlisted for the CBCA in 2000) it does put you on the map.

Which brings me to one of the great disappointments out of today's shortlist announcement, quite apart from the fact that Anonymity Jones wasn't on it. And that is that a number of very fine books weren't even on the Notables list, not least of all the wonderful Saltwater Vampires, by Kirsty Eager, and the incredible Big River, Little Fish, by Belinda Jeffrey. The latter was particularly disappointing, since I predicted that Belinda's first book, Brown Skin Blue was going to win Book of the Year in 2010. Boy, was I wrong!

Those guys, and many others, are feeling pretty glum tonight. Others are feeling rather buoyant. And that's how it goes. Some feel cheated, some feel lucky, others feel like they got precisely what they deserved or even expected. But at the end of the day, it's down to judges. Human judges who are just trying to pick the best books they can. They don't have an agenda - they just want to reward the best books. The books that they deem to be the best books.

Earlier this year I was one of the judges for the Patricia Wrightson Prize in the NSW Premier's Awards. A number of the books shortlisted today were well down our list, and the list of the Ethel Turner Prize. And several of the books we chose didn't appear in any of today's announcements. So it's hard, and your choices as a judge will always be criticised. But to those who missed out today, I'd say this: none of us are entitled. None of us have a birthright to this wonderful thing we get to do for a living, not even those on the lists. So chin up, onward and upward, all that cliché and guff. We don't write for awards; we write because we have to, because we love to, because we love to tell stories, and we love it when kids' eyes light up with the glow of the stories we tell.

13 comments:

Megan Burke said...

Really good points, I agree with almost everything.

I really liked how you said that it means more to debut authors, which I think is true.

You see the same experienced, award-winning authors on every list and it's like come on...

james roy said...

Don't get me wrong, Megan, I'm not saying that the CBCA should reserve those lists for new writers. If an established, experienced, award-winning writer produces a kick-arse book, let's list it by all means. But yes, over the years there have been several usual suspects.

Marj Kirkland said...

Many good points, James! As a reader we bring ourselves and our personal history to the journey we embark on with you the creator, so for each of us a story takes us to a different place. Judges are readers, so the same goes for them! The CBCA awards represent consensus achieved on the day through fair process by that set of judges.
So, congratulations to ALL literary creators, shortlisted or not! You bring so many readers so much joy!

Corinne Fenton said...

Really well put James - it's exactly as you describe it, especially the part about simply not being able to stop the writing. It's part of us.

Dee White said...

Great post, James,

Have to say I was disappointed for Belinda Jeffrey that she missed out again. She is one of those authors whose books I read and make me say to myself, "I wish I could write like that".

I'm also disappointed for all the other talented authors and illustrators who had their hopes up and who would have made worthy winners. Awards are so subjective, just like people's choices in reading. Books affect us in different ways and one person's favourite can be on another person's 'not recommended' list.

But I do agree we can't lose sight of why we write...we write for our readers and because it's who we are

karen tayleur said...

Hi James, thanks for putting into words what I have been feeling. I was excited when the list went online yesterday, as many of the authors and illustrators are friends or people I have worked with previously in a professional capacity.

The reality, however, is that a little CBCA sticker can add thousands to a print run - thus making a living from writing a bit more achievable.

It is an honour to do what we do. Unfortunately, honour does not pay the bills. However, as Margaret Attwood once said, "Nobody is making you do this: you choose it, so don't whine."

Which is a fair comment.

miffyjf said...

Well said - orignal post and comments all valid and thoughtful and, well, just good stuff.

Sally Murphy said...

Great post, James. As someone who was shortlisted, I can say it is a real buzz - but there are so many other books which were equally (or more) worthy of being on that list. I think the judges have an unenviable task having to produce a shortlist of just six.
I especially loved your last point - which is similar to what I said on my own blog today. Snap!

Gabrielle Wang said...

Well said, James. The judging is all so personal. The only point I would disagree with you on is when you say that it means more to debut authors. We writers are our own worst enemies. To be on the Notable list or be Shortlisted is recognition of all that hard work. Not being on these lists can make one feel like a failure... for a short time anyway. But we write not to win awards, but because we have to.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Good points, James. I was especially disappointed that Big River Little Fish wasn't there - I thought it was a shoe-in as well.
You'll be pleased to know that, as a Qld Claytons judge I only picked one of shortlisters in the Younger Readers section - not to worry, my other 5 picks are fantastic too. Just blogged about it - http://tinyurl.com/3nlza7x

james roy said...

Gabrielle, I didn't say that it means more to new authors - I said that it probably makes more of a difference for a newer author from a career POV. Emotionally it means just as much, no matter how long you've been doing it. I'm sure Jackie French is just as disappointed as the rest of us who got a Notable but no Shortlist. Maybe twice as much, since she had two Notables.

teenager who loves your work said...

i'm sorry you didn't make the list this year. i absolutely loved 'anonymity jones' and found it to be one of the best books i read last year. also, i love your philosophical way of dealing with so many things and your support of new authors. keep up the good work

james roy said...

Why, thank you, teenager who loves my work! That's very kind of you to say so.