Southern Schools Book Award - Hurstpierpoint College

Southern Schools Book Award

For the first time this year, Hurst College organised the Southern Schools Book Award (SSBA) ceremony, which took place last Friday – and despite the best efforts of storm Jorge, some 300 students from schools around East and West Sussex attended.

Four of the final five shortlisted authors attended: M A Bennett (The Island); Siobhan Curham (Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow); Malcolm Duffy (Me Mam, Me Dad, Me) and Nicky Singer (The Survival Game) – Sarah Crossan (Moonrise) was unable to attend due to a prior engagement. Chris Riddell, local legend and a past Children’s Laureate entertained the audience throughout the evening with his amazing on point drawing, eliciting both laughter and respect whilst he drew the characters and settings as each author read aloud from their story. Last year’s winning author, Will Hill hosted the event and was a relaxed, genial master of ceremonies.

Year 9 pupils from participating schools had been reading the five books over the preceding months with a vote taking place in early February, and this is part of what makes the SSBA so special. The award confirms to young adult authors that their intended audience – teenage students – decide on the winner, and therefore it is an award very close to the authors’ hearts.

Will Hill introduced each of the finalists, then invited them to the stage to read a short excerpt from their book. M A Bennett read a poignant section from the start of The Island where Link, the bullied main character, finds himself alone (or so he thinks) on the archetypal desert island. Siobhan Curham, whose book is set in Sussex, asked a member of the audience to call out a random page number from Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow and the choice of page 17 actually encapsulated one of the main messages of her book, in which the father of Hafiz, a Syrian refugee, tells his son that each of us has our own story to tell. Malcolm Duffy read his excerpt from Me Mam, Me Dad, Me, in a genuine Geordie accent; this book about domestic violence has its serious side but Danny also has some comedy moments – some of the readers found the Geordie phrases in the book quite interesting. Nicky Singer spoke about The Survival Game which is set in 2050 and depicts a world ravaged by climate change. All the while, Chris Riddell sketched and his visualiser projected the images behind the authors so the audience could watch and react. Sarah Crossan sent a short video message which was played to the audience.

Students from different schools asked each author in turn a question from the floor before Will Hill announced the winners: Highly Commended for Siobhan Curham’s Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow and M A Bennett won with The Island.

Event supporter Book Nook, an independent bookstore from Hove, hosted tables laden with books written by all attending authors – including Will Hill and Chris Riddell – so that each student could choose their favourite in exchange for the book token they received for taking part.

After the ceremony there were drinks and SSBA themed cupcakes provided for the students while they were waiting to meet the authors and have their books signed. I would like to thank St Paul’s Catholic College for hosting us this year Dominique Collins, Head of Library