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19 June 2013

Stoke Newington author wins Carnegie Medal for children's fiction

STOKE Newington author Sally Gardner has joined a prestigious list including C S Lewis, Arthur Ransome and Terry Pratchett in winning this year’s Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction.

In claiming the prize she will be inducted into the Children’s Books Hall of Fame. For someone once dubbed ‘unteachable’ and written off due to her dyslexia, this is an opportunity to inspire young people and to tell them how she views it as a gift and not a disability.

She says: “I think of it as an incredible gift which influences the way I see and the way I feel about words; it gives me a different angle on life and time.”

Her latest book, ‘Maggot Moon’, which also scooped the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Award, stands outside of time being set in a neo-Nazi state in an alternate 1950s.

Described by many as ‘dystopian’, Sally rejects this term, but acknowledges the subject is very challenging for young readers. She says: “What’s become clear is that my book was the ‘Marmite’ book on the shortlist – which some loved and others loathed.”

The dark subject material makes it more suitable for young adult audiences, and Sally’s books have gradually targeted an older audience, despite her having started out as a children’s books illustrator.

She says: “I have a lot of stories which I would like to tell without bracketing them for specific audiences. I’d be fascinated to know what would happen if Dickens walked into a modern publishing house and how they would present his work. Perhaps: ‘Oh heck, it’s got children in it, but it’s not young adult’.”

Sally was 11 when she was first told she was ‘word blind’, being diagnosed as dyslexic at age 12, and learning to read at 14. Indeed, she has shared her experience of learning to read and becoming an author with schoolchildren – most recently in Hackney, on the eve of receiving her prize.

Of the experience she says: “I had a phenomenally lovely day visiting an amazing group of youngsters. I didn’t succeed at school – didn’t do well or get the exams – so it’s important for me to inspire people to make the best use of their gift.”

Having won the Carnegie prize she will receive £500 of books to donate to her local library in Stoke Newington. She says: “I’m right next door to the library and go past it every day. I visited the library recently as part of Stoke Newington Literary Festival and it’s a lovely building full of the most amazing books you would ever find.”

It’s fitting that Stoke Newington Library should receive these books, having received funding in the early 1900s as part of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s plan to establish free libraries, with more than 2,800 built across the English speaking world.

Sally is settled in Hackney, having been brought up in neighbouring Islington and living as a student in Dalston. She enthuses: “I love it here – it is very multicultural. Hackney is an extraordinary success story of migration and of people living well together. It has such a heart beating within it and I love being here watching the world go by. No other part of London does it so well.”

And on winning the Carnegie medal, she concludes: “I have a smile as wide as Church Street – it’s the biggest achievement of my life, like the moment when people set their handprints in concrete in Hollywood. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Stoke Newington resident Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal

Stoke Newington resident Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal

Stoke Newington resident Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal

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