Southern Schools Book Award 2022 Presentation Evening

Friday February 24th 2023, 6.00pm, Hurstpierpoint College

The excitement in the minibus driving the venue was palpable; students discussing the books from the shortlist and wondering whether their particular favourite would win… the buildup to the long awaited Southern Schools Book Award Presentation Evening was cranking up a gear!

Minibuses from the early arrivals parked and joined the steady stream of arriving schools, who were very politely shown over to the Library building where smiling staff and smartly dressed prefects showed schools to their allocated tables where packed teas were unpacked and the excited chatter grew as more and more students arrived.

Chris Riddell

As the start time neared everyone processed down to the Theatre and find their seats – Chris Riddell already in place on stage, drawing a character from each of the five books. Five empty armchairs in prominent position centre stage marked where the authors would soon take their places and a lectern off to the left for the host to direct proceedings just hid the vast array of books that would be for sale after the winner had been announced…


The Hurstpierpoint College Head of Senior School introduced himself, gave out the housekeeping messages and introduced Chris Riddell (still drawing away). He then spoke about how reading for pleasure is so important but also that reading for wellbeing was probably never more important than right now.

Onto the stage came Vincent Ralph, winner in 2022 for ‘Lock the Doors’ admitting that when he won last year he had cried onstage! He in turn introduced each of the five shortlisted authors: Tanya Byrne (Afterlove); Lauren James (Green Rising), Danielle Jawando (When our Worlds Collided), Sera Milano (This Can Never Not be Real) and finally Caroline O’Donoghue (All Our hidden Gifts).


Afterlove drawing
Each author in turn came to the podium to talk about why they had written the story in their book; Tanya first. She explained that Brighton was another character in the book; the story is set in the winter but was a love story that transcends death . She was inspired to write it after her mum passed away and she wanted to explore grief but the book became a story about life and love. Poppy and Ash’s love is a mixed race gay relationship but it’s not about that – it’s about first love being everlasting.


Green Rising

Lauren James has a science background and explained that she wanted to write about the climate emergency being fixed with the help of a teenage uprising. She wanted to give her characters a chance to make mistakes and be anxious about the things they are doing, so the teens try to fix the planet as the adults have failed to – but they keep going with focus and determination and eventually the beginnings of recovery start to be seen.


Danielle Jawando at the book signing

Danielle Jawando’s book is about the three main characters beginning to question the racism and attitudes they see around them after they witness a stabbing in the town centre where no adults come to help the victim. She wanted to raise awareness that police brutality and institutional racism isn’t just confined to the US: it happens over here as well. Danielle also spoke about how important it was that Marc, Chantelle and Jackson all find a kind of community in their growing friendships together, despite all coming from very different backgrounds themselves.



Sera Milano

Sera Milano at the book signing

Sera Milano wanted to write about the effects of a terrorist attack; she didn’t want to give any credence to the terrorists themselves, she has anxiety and ADHD so she fixes on negative things that happen and so would read the news and it was only ever about the terrorists – she wanted to know about the other side of the story and what happens to the ordinary/extraordinary people caught up in such a horrific event. The book’s message is that we live in a hard world and we all survive things all the time so we all need friendship and love to help us through.


Caroline O’Donoghue really didn’t like school; as a teen you’re dealing with body and face changes and she couldn’t navigate the social side of things at all, so she went for the tarot fad and was at the centre of things for a whole week! This taught her the first rule of storytelling – everyone likes to hear a story about themselves, so make the characters like yourself. She admitted that Maeve was a thinly veiled version of herself! Friendship breakup is a key part of the book and Caroline admitted she had experienced both a friend breaking up with her and that she also dumped an old friend – girls can be evil! So the tarot reading summons a demon and Lily goes missing.

Sir Robert Woodard Academy ask a question of Lauren James

A question for Lauren James

Vincent then handed over to the audience who asked each author a question. Sir Robert Woodard Academy asked Lauren James: “Where did the inspiration come from for the abilities possessed by the Greenfingers?”. Lauren spoke about being inspired by the book ‘The Power’. She began by considering superpowers but then this developed into plant power, as this tied in to the theme of climate change. She then talked about how trees talk to each other via a ‘wood wide web’ (really!) which stunned many of the audience.



Token collection


Chris Riddell handed out the book tokens to a representative from each attending school. There was much clapping and cheering from the audience as each person went on stage.




Instagram competition winner


After this, the lucky Instagram competition winner was announced and went to collect their set of signed books. And then it was time for the results! Drum roll…





Highly commended

Highly Commended (runner up) was Sera Milano for This can never not be real.

Thanking everyone, Sera said it was a ‘book of her heart’, and hoped it helped some people.



Caroline O'Donoghue

And the winner was Caroline O’Donoghue for All our hidden gifts.

The audience went wild – and Caroline O’Donoghue looked completely shocked to have won! She was delighted and spoke about how close we all become by reading and sharing books together. After the event she said “What an amazing first award to win!”. We look forward to her hosting the event next year.



Book signingAfter the authors left the stage to move to the signing room, half the audience went to the fabulous Book Nook bookshop tables to spend their vouchers and pocket money before queueing excitedly to meet each author in turn. The signing room was full of jostling students, and the excited hum became a buzz as everyone collected their goody bags. Refreshments were available for all in the theatre foyer and everyone had a chance to get some fresh air between buying their books and meeting the authors.


The feedback from attending schools was hugely positive:

“Our pupils really enjoyed the evening and the whole process of reading the books, voting and seeing who won. It was a very positive experience all round”

“We had a two-hour journey there and back, but it was totally worth it.”

“Our students LOVED the event and the amazing opportunity they had to hear from the authors, speak with them and get their books signed.”

“I am looking forward to next year’s event already!”

Caroline O'Donoghue speaking about her book