And the winner is . . .

Hooray! Richard Byrne won the picture book category of the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Award for The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. Richard’s editor, Helen Mortimer gives us a run-down of the award ceremony.

The trophies

A rewarding afternoon for picture-book maker Richard Byrne

Although 360 children from 20 schools across the county were squeezed into the Amey Theatre at Abingdon School for the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Awards, when Richard Byrne picked up his marker pen to draw some instant dinosaur art, you could have heard that proverbial pin drop. Rather than make an acceptance speech, Richard chose to let his pictures do the talking. The whole audience was spellbound as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur took shape over four flip-chart sheets. First the tail, then the back end, the front end, and finally a smiling face with a ‘thank you’ speech bubble for all the children who voted Richard’s story about prehistoric friends, jellybeans, and sharing as their favourite picture book of 2013.

flip chart big dino-1

Flip-chart art as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur takes to the stage with Richard Byrne and pupils from Oxfordshire schools

Richard’s hastilysketchedosaurus was then the subject of an on-the-spot raffle and was won by Burford Secondary School where it is destined to take pride of place on their library wall.

R.J. Palacio – who won the primary book category for Wonder – had recorded a heartfelt video message for the children of Oxfordshire from her New York home.

And Anne-Marie Conway who won the secondary book category with her novel Butterfly Summer gave an entertaining insight into her life as an author. When asked what had been her dream job as a child Anne-Marie revealed that she had always wanted to be on the stage but that now, actually being on a stage, was proving rather daunting. But if she was nervous, she really didn’t show it, and she engaged the audience in a fascinating question and answer session.

Anne-Marie Conway

Anne-Marie Conway

A warm tribute

The audience was also treated to a warm tribute given by Piers Ibbotson in memory of his mother, Eva. He talked about her book The Abominables and how the manuscript was discovered after her death in 2010. It was published last year.  His words were utterly encouraging for any budding writers listening as he explained how his mother held a firm belief that children have a gift for telling stories and losing themselves in imaginative worlds. A gift that is all too often lost as we grow up. But not lost by Eva, who was writing up to the day she died and whose richly-imagined stories always recognize how brave, funny, and resourceful children are.

Piers Ibbotson

Piers Ibbotson

Pupils steal the show

But if I had to choose my favourite part of the afternoon it would be the pupil reviews for the winning books. Alex from Glory Farm School, Bicester loved the ‘bright pictures’ in The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. He also liked the ‘way the words go with the pictures’ and said he would give this ‘funny book’ five stars. He ended his review with three well-chosen words: ‘laugh out loud’. And the audience did!

Looking forward to 2014

The ceremony finished with a now traditional mass countdown to launch the selection process for next year’s award and an invitation to ‘let the reading begin!’

And finally . . .

Everyone then left the auditorium and headed over to the dining hall where Richard and Anne-Marie signed for their fans.

Top-drawer author!

Top-drawer author!

Fuelled by coffee and chocolate cake, by the end of the afternoon Richard had doodled over 160 Finlays.

signed book

Worth the wait: a proud owner of a just-signed book complete with a unique dinosaur doodle

And he got to meet Lucy and Caitlin from Watlington Primary School who had earlier been on stage to introduce Richard to the audience.

richard with caitlin and lucy

Richard with Caitlin and Lucy from Watlington Primary School

The whole afternoon was a wonderful and celebratory event and thanks are due Lynne Cooper, Jacky Atkinson, and all the committee for making it happen.

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur is out now.

really big dinosaur

The First Rule of Time Travel: Don’t Kill Grandad!

Polly Shulman shares the challenges of writing her time-travel novel, The Wells Bequest, a story full of fantastic objects from popular science fiction stories and packed with fascinating time-travelling conundrums!

I thought the hardest part of writing a time-travel novel would be getting the historical details right. I was wrong. The hardest part was dealing with the paradoxes.

The Wells Bequest

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

In The Wells Bequest, my characters work at a very unusual library—one that lends out not books, but objects. Want to try playing a tuba or see how you would look in Marie Antoinette’s second-best wig? You can borrow them from the New York Circulating Material Repository. Hidden in the repository’s basement are several Special Collections. One houses working, magical objects from fairy tales (this was the subject of my previous novel, The Grimm Legacy). The Wells Bequest involves the repository’s collection of working gadgets straight out of science fiction: starships, shrink rays, invisibility potions, and so on. But the star of the story is the time machine from H.G. Wells’ classic novel. My characters use it to visit Nikola Tesla—the world’s greatest (real-life) mad scientist—in his New York City lab in 1895, on the eve of the fire that destroyed it.

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Getting the historical details right was very important to me. I searched 19th century newspapers for stories about Tesla and his contemporaries, read biographies, hunted up old restaurant menus, pored over photos and train schedules, and stalked through Tesla’s neighborhood with antique maps to see how the streets had changed. I even interviewed a transit historian to find out how people got around town back then. What were the fares for horse-drawn omnibuses? How about trolleys? Where did you buy a ticket for a ride on the elevated railroads, and did the ticket clerk punch it and give it back to you or just keep it? Even if nobody else ever noticed, I wanted to get things right!

But all that research was a walk in the park compared to keeping the time-travel paradoxes straight. The most famous one is the Grandfather Paradox: Suppose you use a time machine to travel back a few decades and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother. Then your mother will never be born, so you yourself will never be born, so you will never use a time machine to travel back in time and kill your grandfather. That means your mother will be born after all, and so will you, which means you will be able to use that time machine after all and kill Grandad, so you won’t be born, so you will be, so you won’t be…

H. G. Wells’ novel was no help with this particular paradox. His character uses the machine to go forward in time, not backwards. Going forward in time doesn’t raise nearly as many difficulties—after all, we’re all traveling forward in time all the time!

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Related puzzles kept popping up all over my story, driving my editor crazy. We would have dialogues like this:

My editor: Wait! How could Leo and Jaya find the time machine in London in Chapter 13? I thought it was in the repository in New York the whole time! Is it a different time machine?

Me: No, it’s the same one. It’s just on an earlier trip. It’s crossing paths with itself.

My editor: How can it be an earlier trip, when they’re both there now?

Me: Time machines can be two places at once—that’s what time machines do.

In the end, all we could do was laugh—which is what I hope everyone will do when they read The Wells Bequest.

The Wells Bequest is out now.

The Wells Bequest

Polly Shulman profile picPolly Shulman has written about edible jellyfish, Egyptian tombs, infinity, blind dates, books, brains, centenarians, circuses, and cinematic versions of Jane Austen novels, for The New York Times, Salon, and many other publications. She edits news stories about fossils, meteors, the ocean, the weather, and the planets for Science magazine.

Polly collects Victorian jewellery, puts cayenne pepper in her chocolate cookies, and reads forgotten books with frontispieces.

She grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband and their parakeet, Olive.

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