A month (& a bit) of madness

Well. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know it’s been quite a few weeks for The Girl of Ink & Stars, all those involved with her journey, and me. The month after it won the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year Award was full of joy, including window displays, interviews, and even re-entry into the bestseller charts.

It was wonderful to revisit the excitement I felt during my debut month. In fact, it was even better, because a year on GOI&S has had the sort of success I never even dared to dream about. The Island at the End of Everything came out early too, and there was a rather special week when my debut and second book were two of the top three bestselling middle grade books at Waterstones. Here they are, making a Robin Stevens sandwich.

But this wasn’t even the most exciting part of April, because at the end of the month, I got married to my long-time love and best friend, Tom de Freston. We had a whole weekend of happiness, with a low-key official ceremony at the local registry office with family on one day, and a huge celebration with family and friends the next. This of course meant I had to have two outfits.

They were the happiest two days of my life, and we’re still caught up in the giddiness of it all.

A short week later, the Branford Boase Award shortlist was announced, and I am delighted to say GOI&S is on there alongside some of my favourite authors and friends.

A long time ago now – three years in fact – when I’d just signed with Chicken House, I remember that year’s shortlist being announced, and saying to Tom that this was the award that I’d dearly love to win. It rewards and recognises the work of the editor, as well as the author, and GOI&S was an especial team effort owing to the eight drafts I completed with my wonderful editor, Rachel Leyshon. It was a different book when she found it, and without her and Barry’s guidance, it could not have become what it has. I found my voice thanks to her hard work. I feel very emotional and blessed to be considered for this unique award, though looking at the shortlist a win may be too much to hope for.

The evening after the Branford Boase was announced, we found ourselves at the British Book Awards, where GOI&S was shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year. Chicken House were kind enough to host Tom as well, and we had a brilliant night.

Tom, me, Barry Cunningham on the red carpet!

When I found out it was shortlisted, I was also told it was the Oscars of the book world – and it totally was! Held in the same venue as the BAFTAs, compered by the Strictly Come Dancing voiceover guy, and replete with red carpet and photographers, it was a truly amazing evening even before this happened…

Yep. WE ONLY BLOODY WON. Which, considering the shortlist looked like this:

…is pretty remarkable, and a testament to the incredible job Chicken House did of editing, designing, and marketing the book. I had no idea we would win, and my speech was not the most eloquent, but at least we were told to keep it brief. Then we ate, drank, danced (Barry C has MOVES) and drank some more. It was one of the best nights of my life. Here’s an article Sian Cain at The Guardian wrote about it all.

If all that wasn’t enough, The Island at the End of Everything launched the next day at Waterstones Piccadilly.

It’s had some gorgeous reviews, including this in the Telegraph last week.

I’m overjoyed it’s having such a good reception. I loved writing it, and in some ways prefer it to GOI&Shere is a Q&A I did about it with The Bookseller.

So, that’s us all caught up. Now TIATEOE is out officially, school events and festivals are starting, and I have a busy time ahead. More than anything, I am looking forward to finishing my next book, and taking the next steps in a career that has been given such an amazing start.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017

Last week, The Girl of Ink & Stars was awarded the Younger Fiction Prize, and was announced as the overall winner for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017.

I’ve sat down to write this post every day since Thursday’s awards ceremony. And every day I’ve felt overcome, though it’s all I’ve talked about in person and online. Even now, at a distance of five days, it still makes me well up. It feels too impossibly wonderful.

The ceremony itself was a beautiful evening. I’d felt very strange in the day preceding it. I had resigned myself to not winning, and while I was fine with that, especially when the shortlist was so strong, I was also not relishing it. Clutching a bag full of books, I wandered around asking other authors to sign them.

So when James Daunt announced my book as the winner of the Younger Fiction category, it did not sink in until I was actually on stage and realised I hadn’t prepared a speech. So I burst into tears and rambled instead. Luckily for you, my fiancé recorded it (listen out for the sobs, he is also crying). He equally was not expecting it, so had positioned himself behind a tall man.

Lizzy Stewart won the Illustrated Book category with There’s A Tiger In My Garden, and the searing, brilliant Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence took home the prize for Young Adult. There was a ten minute break in which I managed to haul myself to Patrice to say congratulations, before retreating back to a corner with Tom to gawp wordlessly at each other. Needless to say, we were both too far gone when it was announced The Girl of Ink & Stars had also won the overall prize, so thankfully there is no recording of that particular embarrassment. After the initial shock wore off, there were photo calls and interviews, and the joyous surprise of my parents rushing up to London to celebrate.

The excitement was far from over – as we left Waterstones Piccadilly, the windows had been changed to look like this:

And this was my reaction (pictured with the lovely Anna James, who led me out blindfolded to maximise the surprise):

…which pretty much sums up my feelings about the whole situation. I am so grateful to everyone responsible, from my friends and family, to Chicken House, to the booksellers, to Florentyna Martin (the children’s buyer), and everyone in between.

Florentyna Martin and me.

Author and friend MG Leonard and me.

Tom and me with trophies!

What an utterly unexpected, utterly wonderful thing to have happened. Practically, it means we can make our roof structurally sound after Storm Doris made it dangerous, and we can be a bit more ambitious about our honeymoon. It also means GOI&S is Book of the Month again, and Waterstones booksellers are already doing an amazing job of windows and sales.

Waterstones have supported me in so many ways, as a reader as well as a writer, and they have given me an incredible gift in choosing me as their winner. Life-changing, really, and certainly perspective-changing. Since the win, I have felt so happy, and have written more than I have in weeks. In the immortal words of Nadiya – I’m not going to say I can’t anymore. Because I can, and I will.

FAB Book Awards

I had a lovely time yesterday at the FAB Book Awards! My friend and author of Paper Butterflies was there, and I got to meet Crongton Knights author Alex Wheatle and River of Ink: Genesis author Helen Dennis for the first time.

Alex Wheatle and me

We listened to presentations from all the schools championing each of the shortlisted books. St Cecilia’s made a beautiful case for The Girl of Ink & Stars, ably abetted by a cardboard cut out of Yote! Then each of us authors gave presentations on our books, before the countdown. The Girl of Ink & Stars came 3rd, after Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and worthy winner Lisa Heathfield!

l-r: me, Lisa, and Helen

British Book Awards

Something startlingly amazing happened a week ago! I discovered that The Girl of Ink & Stars has been shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, alongside a frankly stellar line up.

My excitement was only topped when I had a (brief but blissful) Twitter exchange with none other than Tom Fletcher, author of the lovely The Christmasaurus, and member of McFly. I claimed on Facebook that my 13-year-old self would’ve been overjoyed – my 26-year-old self wasn’t too cool about it either.

Full lists here.

Branford Boase Award Longlist

The Girl of Ink & Stars has been long listed for the Branford Boase Award! This is an especially special award, because it’s not only me acknowledged, but my editor too. Rachel Leyshon nurtured GOI&S through five (of a total of ten) enormous re-drafts, putting up with my cycle of rejecting her suggestions, before trying them and sheepishly emailing to say ‘That works much better actually’. It’s because of her it’s in the first person, and her and Barry Cunningham that Lupe has such a central role – plus Miss La was bulked out their insistence! In short, my book would not and could not have been what it is without her, and it’s lovely to be up for an award that values that.

Chicken House has three books up for the prize: James Nicol (ed Kesia Lupo) for his beautiful tale, The Apprentice Witch, MG Leonard (ed Rachel L and Barry C), for her bug-tastic success Beetle Boy, and me (ed Rachel L)! Plus my wonderful agent Hellie has three authors in the running: Amber Lee Dodd for We Are Giants, Nat Luurtsema for Girl Out of Water, and me. Full list and more details here.

Sheffield Children’s Book Award 2017

Overjoyed The Girl of Ink & Stars has been shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Award, in the ‘Longer novels & YA’ category!


Sheffield is one of my favourite cities and I’m so pleased to be considered in such amazing company. Sarah Alexander is my agency-sister at Janklow & Nesbit UK, so I’m especially proud to be alongside her! More info when I have it…

Waterstones Children’s Prize Shortlist

The Girl of Ink & Stars has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize!

The other shortlisted titles in the Younger Fiction category are Beetle Boy by fellow Chicken House author (and friend) MG Leonard, Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, and Captain Pug by Laura James. I’ve read and adored all but the last, which I intend to read ASAP – it’s an honour to be considered alongside them!

I love what the Waterstones announcement said about books offering optimism:

The worlds of fantasy too offer their conflicts, as Kiran Millwood-Hargrave – also seeing print for the first time – offers us the rich allegories of a young girl fighting for truth against oppression in The Girl of Ink and Stars. So many books in our chosen eighteen mirror much of what we see beyond our doors. For our Children’s Buyer Florentyna Martin, “whilst reading has always encouraged an element of escapism, this year’s shortlists provide a guiding light of optimism in the face of uncertain times… we’re delighted to celebrate these inspiring books.”

Full announcement here.

Waterstones have been incredibly supportive, as they are renowned for being towards debut authors. It’s lovely to have this public affirmation of their belief in the book. Between this and the Jhalak Prize shortlist yesterday, I may just burst. This is surely the best part of being considered by a prize: when you have been recognised by the judges, and all the possibility is ahead.