Many of you probably know that Ian Rankin beat me for the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards last night – no doubt exacting his revenge for my having beaten him last October in France for Le Prix Polar International!
I have heard that the result last night was incredibly close between the two of us, and I want to say to you all how immensely touched I have been by your generosity of spirit in voting and spreading the word to vote, so enthusiastically – we very, very, very nearly won. However, it was an immense honour just to be shortlisted – and in such great company – alongside former Whitbread Prize winner Kate Atkinson, and Richard and Judy choice runaway bestseller, Sam Bourne, as well as Ian.
I want to thank all of you who voted for me, and in particular the wonderful support of two of my very favourite booksellers, Mark Farley, Bookseller To The Stars, of Waterstones, Notting Hill Gate, and Paul and Inger of City Books of Brighton & Hove.
And I take heart in the fact that Ian Rankin wrote 9 Rebus novels before he was even shortlisted, and was then shortlisted seven times before he won! So we are well ahead of the curve and I will keep everything crossed for the future!
Going to any awards ceremony as a shortlisted contender heightens your perceptions in strange ways. You are part of the proceedings, yet you are detached, in your own world of reading the body language of others around who may or may not know, and struggling to cobble together some kind of acceptance speech, yet knowing to do so is to tempt fate. And crucially having to remain sober, just in case you win and have to go up to the podium, doesn’t help the nerves!
I went to the first ever Nibbies, many years back, and dreamed of what it might feel like to be shortlisted – and to win. Well, last night the first part of that dream had come true, at any rate. I bumped into two of my three other shortlisted rivals for Crime Thriller of the Year at the swell drinks party before the awards ceremony, where Galaxy had provided alcohol free chocolate Martinis and copious quantities of dangerously good quality champagne.
Sam Bourne, aka Jonathan Friedland, was looking a lot more relaxed than I felt, as we wished each other good luck. Someone whispered into my ear that Ian Rankin couldn’t possibly win because he had such a horrible tie on that it would look ghastly on TV!!! He and I walked the walk down the stairs into the grand ballroom together, the immensely charming Ian telling me he was certain he had not won and how tired he was of writing. I’ve noticed a lot of hugely successful writers seem to get to this point. I talked to William Boyd (whose work I really like) during the evening, who had just lost, as I had – we recently did a joint reading event in Dortmund in Germany – and he said wearily “gosh, I’ve written 20 books – and that means I’m probably going to have to write another twenty before I’m done!”
But as Richard and Judy jointly said tonight was the one night of the year when we shy, retiring and reclusive writers could crawl out of our shells into the limelight… I sat next to the other shortlisted Macmillan author, Jackie Kay, with divided loyalties, as she was shortlisted for the Decibel prize, for which my friend Gautam Malkani was also shortlisted. She was great to be with, we held hands, first she wishing me luck as the Crime Thriller nominations appeared, then me wishing her luck. And, she won!!! Clearly sitting next to me at the Nibbies is a good omen – two years ago I sat next to the shortlisted children’s author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, and she won!
The Nibbies are getting more and more celebrity studded and all the better. How wonderful to have a programme about books on prime time television. As John Grisham, receiving his Lifetime Achievement award, sharply and graciously observed, there is no award ceremony in the USA to remotely compare with this “they are full of dreary books and stuffy old goats getting the same prizes” (at least, I think that is what he said verbatim!)
Last night Cheri Blair was among the great and the good presenting the prizes, and told us all that when she was a child she had read every single book in her local library, including all the Enid Blytons and had to be given a ticket to another library further away. Sadly, the prize she was presenting was won by a footballer called Steve, who could not attend (no reason given) and the dullest acceptance speech of the night was given by another footballer on his behalf. But don’t get me drawn on my opinion of the public profiles of professional footballers.
I love the Galaxy British Book Awards above all the other awards in the UK because to me they are truly about celebrating the joys and riches of reading for pleasure. So many people sneer at the word “page turner” implying that a page turner must by definition be unworthy of being called literature – and they forget that Charles Dickens was one of many of the greatest ever authors who wrote page turners. Every book last night shortlisted for these awards was, in its own way, a page turner. And as the public, who voted for them showed, none the worse for that.