On the first day of March, the shortlist for The Bookseller YA Prize was announced. It’s World Book Week this week – originally a day, but sort of expanded – which means that many children’s and YA writers are shuttling between schools, being sliced at by the wind and tripped up by the ice. Consequently, I missed the original announcement. I’ve come to learn that all schools are constructed from mobile signal-proof materials and no tweet will ever make it in, or out.
As I slowly defrosted over the bus from Ham to Richmond, I checked my phone.
Indigo Donut has been shortlisted for this year’s prize along side last year’s fellow shortlistee, Alex Wheatle and many wonderful authors. (I actually already have five of those books and the rest were on my to-buy list). There was also a very well-deserved special award for Stripes publishers for the A Change Is Gonna Come anthology.
Last year, my debut YA book Orangeboy won the prize. I was stunned, grinning and downright overjoyed. I also hoped that it would push the door open even wider for stories written by and about young men and women of colour. Marlon’s story is just one of thousands. However, with less than ten books by UK YA writers of colour being published in the UK this year, the door feels a little stuck. I am constantly reminding young people that their voices are important. The fact that the English exam curriculum does not celebrate a diversity of voices should not make young people think that they don’t matter. They do. They are funny and creative and full of their own stories.
Orangeboy shouted. Indigo Donut is quieter. It is about enduring love, belonging, trust and grief. The characters have families with roots around the world, just like the people I see every day. ‘Race’ isn’t explicit, but there will be readers who completely get the moments when who you are makes a difference from the exoticism projected on to mixed heritage people to the humour that young Muslim people may use to negotiate a sometimes hostile world. Though, most of all, it is about being a Londoner.
I am startled and downright pleased to be on a shortlist that includes Philip Pullman and Patrick Ness, writers that I read long before I had a hope of being published. But once more I hope that Alex Wheatle and I and publishers like Stripes can help push that door open even more.