England: Christine Pillainayagam, Leah Thaxton Win the Branford Boase

In News by Porter Anderson

Honoring both a debut author and his or her editor, England’s Branford Boase Award is in its fifth year in its 2023 edition.

Image: Branford Boase Award

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Real Deal’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the Branford Boase Award in the United Kingdom does something rare among the many, many book and publishing contests in that market: it honors not only the author of a debut novel for children but it also honors that author’s editor.

Book publishing’s editors may be infrequently seen or heard, but they are read. Like the work of the best stage lighting designers, you may never accurately identify an editor’s important efforts, you may not know where an editor’s intelligence corrected, enriched, and even saved a text. But the notion of an author who “needs no editor” is a myth.

Having announced its shortlist on April 27, the Branford Boase this evening (July 13) at the Center for Literacy in Primary Education, has named Ellie Pillai is Brown, a book by Christine Pillainayagam that’s edited by Leah Thaxton and published by Faber for readers aged 13 and older. For the win, Pillainayagam receives £1,000 (US$1,311). She and Thaxton receive engraved trophies.

Christine Pillainayagam

Talking about writing her book, Pillainayagam is quoted, saying, “A few years ago, an editor I admired was nominated for the Branford Boase Award. At the time, I had a rough manuscript, no agent and nothing close to a book deal. To win this award—my very first—is so surreal, and so hugely important to me, because it validates that stories like mine belong, bringing a mirror to readers who may feel they’ve never seen themselves before.

“I’m so delighted to share this with my brilliant editor Leah, who not only took a chance on me as a first-time writer but gave me the courage to tell the story I needed, without compromise.”

Leah Thaxton

Thaxton, for her part, says, “When I first read Christine’s novel I pinched myself—it couldn’t possibly be a debut; or this thought-provoking and funny. Christine is the voice of a generation. My journey with Ellie Pillai is Brown has been an honor and a blast, because Christine is the real deal and gorgeous with it too.

“She writes for readers who absurdly haven’t yet seen themselves in novels—what marks her out as exceptional is that she does so with such style, intelligence, and charm, citing universal truths that have stayed with me and all who read her novels long after reading. She has the ability to nail character in a sentence, and to write dialogue that sings. I’m just so happy to have been along for the ride.

“Thank you for the honor of this award but the credit is all Christine’s, it honestly is. But I’ll take the praise, anything to hang on to her coattails.”

The book is about coming to terms with what begins by feeling like a misfit and includes songs the titular character writes. Using QR codes in the book, readers can listen to Ellie Pillai’s songs which “describe what she’s going through.”

The jury this year was made up of Maisie Chan, author and winner of the 2022 Branford Boase Award; critic Joanne Owen; Darren Matthews, a primary advisory teacher at the Center for Literacy in Primary Education; and Sajeda Amir, English teacher at Levenshulme High School, Manchester. Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival, was again the jury chair.

Julia Eccleshare

Commenting for the jury on its selection, Eccleshare is quoted, saying, “Children’s books, like everything else, are changing very fast and the latest threat from technology is much in everyone’s minds. But some things remain constant: the desire to create the best stories for children is one of them.

“The Branford Boase Award has a past that grew out of sadness. Its foundations are a tribute to the great work of an author and an editor who together made wonderful books. Its legacy is tonight at this celebration of the winners of the 2023 Branford Boase Award, two gifted and creative individuals, a writer and her editor, are a brilliant embodiment of the commitment all of us in this room have to continue to create the best stories for children and young adults.”

The Branford Boase is named for author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, a co-founding editorial director of the UK’s Walker Books. Branford and Boase worked together on several books, and both women died with cancer in 1999. The award program was established in 2000 to recognize emerging talent in young people’s literature.

The 2023 Branford Boase Award Shortlist

The Branford Boase Award has a partnership with the Authors’ Licensing  and Collecting Society (ALCS) and this year has been supported by Walker Books, which had a title in contention on the shortlist.


More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, more on publishing and book awards is here, and more from us on the United Kingdom’s market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.