Photo by Lloyd Winters
I grew up in North London. As a child, Alexandra PalaceÂ was alwaysÂ â€œtheÂ magical place at the top of the hillâ€, soÂ winningÂ The Alexandra Palace Childrenâ€™s BookÂ award yesterdayÂ forÂ Will You Catch Me?Â Â has beenÂ like a fairy taleÂ comeÂ true.
Will You Catch Me?Â is aboutÂ eleven-year-oldÂ NellÂ who has an alcohol dependent mother and lives onÂ the Beckham Estate. Nellâ€™sÂ guardian angel is Nell GwynÂ â€“ aÂ famous actressÂ who performed during the restoration period.
Writing about Nell Gwyn in my book,Â and my previous work as anÂ actor,Â made the ceremonyÂ at Alexandra Palace Theatre particularly special.
WhenÂ IÂ workedÂ in the theatreÂ industry,Â myÂ ritualÂ was to arrive atÂ the dressing roomÂ with plenty of time to spare. Yesterday was no exception â€“ I arrivedÂ an hourÂ before schedule.Â As soon as I stepped inside the building,Â I could feel the lovely atmosphere, generatedÂ by IsobelÂ and her creative learning team.Â The whole day was filled with warmth, joy and excitement.Â The authorsÂ were beautifullyÂ looked afterÂ byÂ the armyÂ of volunteersÂ whoÂ madeÂ us allÂ feel at home.
The day kicked off with theÂ nominated authorsÂ performing readingsÂ fromÂ theirÂ books,Â followedÂ by aÂ Q&AÂ session.Â The highlight of the day,Â though,Â was meeting ourÂ youngÂ readers; something I know myÂ fellow authors will agreeÂ is so veryÂ special. WritingÂ a book can beÂ very isolatingÂ â€“Â weÂ oftenÂ spend months on our own, perfecting ourÂ booksÂ forÂ the world, withÂ no idea how they will be received. AnyÂ feedbackÂ we get from ourÂ childÂ readersÂ is worth its weight in gold.
We had two signing sessions during the day. I enjoyÂ signings, but I often find them challenging, due to myÂ dyslexia. I want to thank volunteer Shirley who stayed with me throughout,Â dictatingÂ the namesÂ of all the children toÂ me, so thatÂ each child in the queueÂ couldÂ get aÂ signedÂ copyÂ ofÂ Will You Catch Me.
Michael RosenÂ was the perfect host forÂ the ceremonyÂ â€“ watching him perform his poetryÂ was truly special.Â The ChildrenÂ knewÂ his poemsÂ off-by-heartÂ and joined inÂ â€“Â it was theatreÂ at its most magical.
When my name was called out as the winner of the Alexandra Palace Childrenâ€™s Book Award, IÂ couldnâ€™t believe it.Â Iâ€™m still on cloudÂ nine.Â In my speech,Â I paid tribute to librarians, whoÂ I believeÂ areÂ braver than the heroes and heroinesÂ in our books. They battleÂ tirelessly to bringÂ books to children,Â despite cuts to funding. I also paid tribute toÂ Nacoa, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics,Â who have a helpline for Children like Nell,Â who might benefit from having someoneÂ to talk to.Â The helpline number and guidanceÂ can be found in the end-pages ofÂ Will You CatchÂ Me?
BeingÂ on a shortlist with amazing authors asÂ PiersÂ Torday, Mitch Johnson, Lauren St JohnÂ and Padraig KennyÂ has been like winningÂ anÂ awardÂ itself. CongratulationsÂ toÂ Steve, whoÂ was the winner of the Library Award.Â Yesterday was trulyÂ a dayÂ IÂ will never forget.
Thank you to everyoneÂ for making it so special.
Additional funding for the Biblio-Buzz: Alexandra Palace Childrenâ€™s Book Award comes from theÂ TottenhamÂ Grammar School Foundation.
Alexandra Palace is a charity, run for the benefit of everyone. Our Park, Palace and spectacular events have been enriching lives since 1863, but the coronavirus pandemic has hit us hard. To be blunt, we are looking at a £1m shortfall this year and the same again next year. We know this time has been hard on many people but, if you can afford it, your support will help us get through this crisis.