Last Thursday was the day of the Oxfordshire Book Awards, held at Abingdon School. I attended as part of a team of volunteers/well-bribed peoples (Sally Poyton and Gabby Aquilina) to help the brilliant Mostly Books independent bookshop sell books to the children / teachers / librarians in attendance.
The Oxfordshire Book Awards have been running for a few years now - the books are voted for by the students of local schools - both primary and secondary - in three categories:
Primary picture book
Check it out - a cake of Axel Sheffler's winning book, Zog!
The day started off well - I arrived in time for lunch, which is always good, then helped load the books into a car to go to the school. I won't try to estimate how many boxes of how many books we carried, but I can tell you that my spine changed trajectory between starting and finishing. We also had a fun game of Dodge the Car Whilst Not Dropping Box or Being Able to See Your Feet.
Whilst the ceremony was going on in the Amey Theatre, we set about constructing our makeshift bookshop. Cue lifting of tables that realistically women of 5 foot 2 shouldn't have been lifting and then the shuffling of those tables into something resembling practical. It turns out that this is an effective way to realign your spine after all that box carrying.
There were several authors in attendance, including two of the winners - Malorie Blackman (Boys Don't Cry - secondary book, which incidentally I've just read and it's flipping brilliant) and Axel Scheffler (Zog, with Julia Donaldson - primary picture book). Sally Nicholls, Jo Cotterill and S.L. Powell were also there. (Michael Morpurgo was the other winner for his book Shadow, but was unfortunately unable to attend, although he was there last year.) All were doing book signings after the ceremony.
So, picture this, if you will...
A school canteen. (Still smelling suspiciously like canteens did in the 1980s. You know - bleach and custard.) Four long (and heavy) tables lined up, and covered with cloths (because nobody likes a dirty book) (jokes on a postcard). Three tables set at jaunty angles for author signings. Books set out on various stands, in order of target age range, separate stands for the winners and authors in attendance, series fiction in order (harder than you'd think).
Peace and quiet reigns. Just calm old us and the books.
Wait a minute... Oh my God, they're all heading straight for us! Man your stations!
300 children, all with pocket money stashed away in folded-up envelopes and stuffed in their pockets. All wanting the same books. Mayhem! Soon there were pound coins flying everywhere, kids whose pocket money fell fifty pence short of the book they really wanted, a plastic bag shortage and a penny piece catastrophe.
And SO much fun.
It's so great as a (wannabe) writer to see 300 children running at you, looking for nothing more than the latest, bestest book. How on earth those lovely authors coped with sitting there with mere canteen tables standing between them and so many excited kids, I will never know, but they all looked incredibly relaxed and calm!
Malorie Blackman hard at work!
I love getting involved in stuff like this - it's great for reaffirming your belief in kids' love of books (if you're not left hiding under the tables first). There will be more on volunteering at events like this on Notes from the Slushpile in a couple of weeks, from Mostly Books' Nicki Thornton, but until then I'll just say that it's a great thing to do for anyone, but especially if you're trying to become a writer.