Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Carnegie Judges Blog Tour 2016- The mixed feelings stop.

Hi- Checking in as the Carnegie not-voice-of-dissent but also not love-in-facilitator either...I have mixed feelings about the Carnegie and its place within the book prize landscape. I get that it's prestigious; it represents the best of the best...I get that it's an almost impossible task, that prize lists are notoriously tricky, that the criteria is wide and very broad, that longlists and shortlists are never going to please everyone, that people like different things, that a book not being selected does not mean that it wasn't loved by all...I get all of those things, I really do. BUT. I have noticed a bit of a recurring presence from several names over recent years. That isn't to say I don't love these authors (because I do- I will never not love Patrick Ness) but there are authors that seem very likely to appear on the shortlist (or in the last 2 years, the longlist and then the shortlist) if they have released a title that year. There's very little new blood in the gene pool.

I'm sorry if I seem overly critical. Perhaps it's the openness about the process that makes me go "Hey, wait a minute..." and actually think about the process, rather than just being presented, no questions asked, with a Shortlist, like other prizes. Please don't take my moans too seriously judges, I'm know you're all lovely people and we all just want the same thing at the end of the day- kids to read and to love books.
All the best

So here were my questions for the judges- I've tried to stick with a different colour for each judge's answer, but blogger isn't the most spectrum embracing platform...

Is there any element that would get a book straight in the no pile? Even if it is otherwise an excellent book? By element I guess I mean a particular theme, an expletive, non-expletive but still considered bad taste language or a specific event in the plot.

No not at all, all a nominated book has to do is meet the criteria. Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YL Wales

Which books end up in the no pile is all down to how well, under scrutiny, they hold up against the criteria. An expletive on its own won’t be reason unless it is completely out of character or out of keeping with the overall style and effects the overall enjoyment and impact for the reader. The same consideration is given to plot, if for some reason there is an event that makes no sense in relation to the overall it may be considered not to be flowing and therefore put in the no. However, not all criteria have to be met, they may not all be relevant, but an outstanding book will tick the majority of them. All books that have been nominated will meet some of the criteria and deserve consideration. Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges

Do you think familiar authors are more likely to get short-listed year and year again because they're well known, fail-safe librarian recommendations?

No, we judge the books that are nominated and whether they are debut or established, everything is judged fairly and equally. Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YLG Wales

I don’t believe that the familiarity of an authors or illustrators work is necessarily a guarantee that they will be shortlisted. This year there are several authors and illustrators who have been shortlisted in the past as well as past winners, however as Chair it is my role to make sure that this is not a consideration. The fact an author has been shortlisted is only a testament to the fact that they continue to write or illustrate books of a high quality. I would also argue that despite being familiar this year’s shortlisted authors have developed their styles e.g. Patrick Ness or Frances Hardinge, and taken their writing to new levels. There is also a debut author on the Carnegie, The Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. There were many familiar authors who didn’t make the longlist let alone the shortlist. This year the standard of the nominated titles were exceptionally high and getting the list down to eight was not an easy task. At the end of the day it’s down to the writing and how well it matches the criteria. Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges

Do *you* think that there are some authors that seem to show up year after year? Marcus Sedgwick is like Carnegie's Leonardo Di Caprio.

The award only showcases what librarians from around the country nominate, what we as judges analyse depends completely on what is nominated. If people want to see more debut authors or younger books on the list then they have to nominate them. If a librarian thinks that the new Marcus Sedgewick meets the criteria and deserves to be nominated then that is completely up to them. Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YLG Wales

Some authors are prolific writers that succeed in producing high quality work over and over, however this is not a guarantee they will be shortlisted let alone win. Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges.

Absolutely and I think as readers we should be delighted and thankful for the existence of authors and illustrators who consistently write and illustrate outstandingly. However, our strict adherence to the CKG criteria ensures that all nominated titles are considered only against that and that previous works or reputations do not prejudice decisions. Being shortlisted before is no guarantee that an author/illustrator will be shortlisted again. But if a previously shortlisted author/illustrator continues to produce outstanding work that meets the CKG criteria then we should be grateful for their continuing genius, not bemoan seeing their name again. Amy McKay, CKG National Coordinator.

Is there a difference between what you personally, as a reader not a librarian, would consider an excellent book and the books that you put forward for the shortlilst? For example do you really like an author's work but just think they're not appropriate for the Carnegie?

It’s not a case of what is appropriate or what isn’t, it’s about if that individual book meets all the criteria. As a judge you have to divorce your personal feelings about a book and judge it fairly by the criteria only. Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YLG Wales

There are many interesting and exciting authors around at the moment. From a personal point of view, yes I think that there are novels I’ve read and enjoyed but haven’t considered them for shortlisting or even nominations. It’s usually because the novel might be strong on characterisation but weak on plot and style or any combination of these. Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges

Is there any particular book from the last 5 years that made it to the shortlist that you think was hands down robbed? If so, which book? (For me this is Midwinterblood)

I would not dare to disagree with past judges knowing how rigorous the judging process is, in the past I was disappointed that nominations I made did not always make it through but as a judge I feel the right decision is the decision that has been made. Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.

Having been a judge and understanding just how hard these decisions are and how much work goes into selecting winners, I’d never disrespect past judges by suggesting they made the wrong decision. There of course though books from recent years that I’ve loved and I can completely understand why they made the shortlists. My personal favourites include - My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher 2012 & Wonder by RJ Palacio 2013. They were both beautifully written and have left such an impression on me, that I am always recommending them to my students! When I look at the books, I always have a little sigh to myself and get goosebumps! Tracey Frohawk, CKG Judge for East Midlands

*Just jumping in to say that there's always room for disagreement, really.* Leanne

When was the last time the Carnegie was won by a newbie? I think it might be David Almond in 1998 but not 100%. I know it's not an award for burgeoning talent or new writers, but you'd think that every now and again, an Arctic Monkeys style scorcher of a début might come through and blow everybody's minds? Have you noticed a tendency for an author to have to pay their dues with a few shortlistings before they win?

No not at all. Again, the award can only showcase what librarians from around the country nominate, what we as judges analyse depends completely on what is nominated. If people want to see more debut authors or younger books on the list then they have to nominate them, just because they are a debut author or a book for a younger reader doesn’t mean it won’t long/shortlisted it has a fair chance of getting through as everything else that is nominated as we as judges analyse everything according to the criteria. Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YLG Wales

Jennifer Donnelly won in 2003 with ‘A Gathering Light’. Set in 1906, it was inspired by the real ‘lady in the lake’ murder case and would qualify as a scorching debut. Sally Gardner’s powerful dystopian novel ‘Maggot Moon’, featuring a dyslexic protagonist, won in 2013, giving her richly deserved recognition as a talented author. If an author appears on the shortlists multiple times it is indicative of the quality of their writing. Tanja Jennings, CKG Judge for YLG Northern Ireland.

Frank Cottrell Boyce was the last debut novelist to win the Carnegie with Millions in 2004. Debut novels are given the same consideration as any other novel during the judging process as they are all judged against the same criteria. Robin Talley is a debut novelist shortlisted for Lies We Tell Ourselves and has just as much chance of inning this year’s award as two times winner Patrick Ness. If authors appear over and over again on the shortlist it is a testament to their talent and quality of work. Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges.

Do you prefer the newer method of releasing the L/L first, rather than just the S/L as in previous years? If so, why?

It is a brilliant idea as jumping straight from a nominations list to a short-list caused so many excellent books to be over-looked by those that follow the awards and the long-list is a way of high-lighting good books that may not otherwise have been discovered by readers. Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.

I do prefer this method as it gives the judges the opportunity to create a long list from the nominations list which can be very long and full of fantastic books. It means that we can recognise more of the books and have time to consider the short list from the long listed titles. Lucy Carlton- Walker, CKG Judge for YLG North East.

Yes, I think longlisting and shortlisting is better. As there are so many amazing books nominated for the prize, it’s brilliant to highlight some of the books that are being considered to be outstanding for the prize. Elizabeth McDonald, CKG Judge for YLG South East

Yes, I think to narrow the nominated list to a short list is quite harsh as there are so many excellent books are on the nominated list. The long list recognises the authors who have written beautiful books and is an achievement for them to be on the long list, they will then appreciate their work has been recognised and appreciated by the Judges. Tracey Frohawk, CKG Judge for East Midlands.

Having been a judge using both systems I do prefer the new system of releasing a long list before the short list. It means that we break the process into smaller steps which makes it less overwhelming as a judge. It also means that we produce a long list of books of excellent quality that is of use as a more manageable list of recommendations for guidance in schools and libraries. Tracey Acum, CKG Judge for YLG Yorkshire & Humberside.

In their answers the judges talked quite a lot about the Criteria. This is the criteria as publised on the Carnegie shadowing website

Criteria: Carnegie Medal
The book that wins the Carnegie Medal should be a book of outstanding literary quality. The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards. 
All criteria will not necessarily be relevant to every title nominated. Where appropriate, consider and assess the following:
Is the style or styles appropriate to the subject and theme?
How successfully has the author created mood, and how appropriate is it to the theme?
Do dialogue and narrative work effectively together?
How effective is the author's use of literary techniques and conventions?
How effective is the author's use of language in conveying setting, atmosphere, characters, action etc.?
Were rhyme or rhythm are used, is their use accomplished and imaginative?
Where factual information is presented, is this accurate and clear?
The plot 
Is it well-constructed?
Does the author appear in control of the plot, making definite and positive decisions about the direction events take and the conclusions they reach?
Do events happen, not necessarily logically, but acceptably within the limits set by the theme?
Is the final resolution of the plot credible in relation to the rest of the book?
Are the characters believable and convincing?
Are they well-rounded, and do they develop during the course of the book?
Do they interact with each other convincingly?
Are the characters' behaviour and patterns of speech consistent with their known background and environment?
Do they act consistently in character throughout the book?
How effectively are the characters revealed through narration, dialogue, action, inner dialogue and through the thoughts, reactions and responses of others?

Now, I ponder this Criteria every year, and every year come to the same conclusion. That it's kind of vague, repeats itself, and basically boils down to two points;

1) Is it good? REALLY good?

2) Does it make sense, consistently, in accordance with its own logic, the characters and plot.

So I'm still in two minds really- the judges are obviously limited to the nominations made by CILIP members (I was going to say 'librarians' then, but it *is* just CILIP members...) and they stick rigidly to the criteria, which is, of course, admirable and not inherently restrictive. But then not all of the criteria points have to apply to all books, as some judges have stated and as the Carnegie organisers also acknowledge...and the criteria is kind of waffly and by its own admission not 100% applicable to 100% of books 100% of the time. I especially wonder at the one that asks if the author is "in control of the plot" and can only imagine the story that resulted in this choice of criterion.

For the record, my colours are nailed firmly to the The Ghosts of Heaven mast, however the judging goes.


1 comment:

  1. I think you've raised an interesting point, but it's pointed in the wrong direction. CILIP members can nominate any books they like, but - in times of reduced budgets for publishers, schools (and auto buy in public libraries), how do new books by new authors make their way into the hands of librarians? Proofs aren't being sent out anywhere near as much, and libraries can rarely afford to buy unknown books...

    Also you might not be a CILIP member, but you can have an influence - find one and tell them about that amazing book you read. Each YLG Committee also nominates - so email your Regional Chair and let them know. Some committees run training mornings looking at the criteria where you can tell the committee what your books to nominate are... You may not be able to make the nomination yourself, but it doesn't stop you from getting involved. As a Regional Chair and a past CKG Judge there is something terrifyingly beautiful about having to make a single nomination when there's three books you think deserve it! Make life hard for us - let us know about all the fab books you've read too!