A Derry-based author has been shortlisted for a Carnegie Award which was previously won by literary greats such as CS Lewis.
In the opening line of Sue Divin’s debut novel, Guard Your Heart, her lead character Aidan says “It was more miraculous than the virgin birth, me finishing sixth form…”
And Sue said this is pretty much how she’s feeling about being shortlisted for the 2022 Yoto Carnegie Medal.
The Yoto Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s longest-running and best-loved children’s book awards, recognising outstanding reading experiences created through writing and illustration in books for children and young people.
The Carnegie is awarded annually by librarians for an outstanding book written in English - from anywhere in the world - for young people.
Previous winners include Arthur Ransome, CS Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Noel Streatfeild, Sally Gardner and Elizabeth Acevedo.
Sue was at a literary event for Women’s Aid in Belfast when she heard the news.
“I was blown away when I heard I was one of only eight shortlisted,” she said.
“When I realised this was an award of the significance that CS Lewis won, I actually found it quite hard to process that I’d been shortlisted. It’s extremely rare for a debut novel to reach this far in the competition.”
Guard Your Heart is a story that has appealed to adults and teenagers alike.
A gritty contemporary novel set in Derry in summer 2016, at face value it’s a Romeo and Juliet featuring protagonists Aidan and Iona, two 18-year-olds both born on the day of the Good Friday Agreement.
At a deeper level it engages with issues around the legacy of the conflict and the complexity of peace.
Sue added: “Local readers tell me it’s a page-turner and feels authentic. It’s really important to me that it resonates locally. Though I’m originally from Armagh, I’m a long-term blow in to Derry, having been here over 20 years.
“This city matters to me – and I believe that’s reflected in the writing. Derry is a place of hope, with a story to tell. I’m delighted to be part of a supportive, creative community here.”
On World Book Day earlier in March, the Waterside author’s novel won the Great Reads Award (Ireland).
That award, which aims to highlight new authors and diversify the reading of young adults, is shortlisted by Irish school librarians but voted for exclusively by students.
Sue explained: “It was like Christmas only with all the celebration and none of the stress. I was thrilled Guard Your Heart had been listed in the final, but I never expected to win.
“Major novels like Boys Don’t Cry and The Gilded Ones had much higher profile and are stunning reads.
“I’m truly humbled that Guard Your Heart created that empathy and connection with teenagers, and adults, across the island of Ireland.”
Alongside the Carnegie runs an international reading for pleasure initiative which engages thousands of young people in reading the books on the shortlist via groups in schools and public libraries with dedicated educational resources and promotional materials to support each shortlist.
Each year, young people who take part in the scheme are invited to vote for their favourite books to win the Shadowers’ Choice Awards, which are announced alongside the Medal winners at the annual winners ceremony in June.
Sue said: “It’s not confirmed if this year’s awards are in person or online, but it’s likely all shortlisted authors will be invited to London in June.”
Sue’s second novel, Truth Be Told, will also appeal to adults and teenagers. Set to be launched in Holywell Trust on Bishop Street on April 14, there are still free tickets available on Eventbrite to the event.
Truth Be Told is the story of two 16-year-old girls, Tara and Faith, who meet on a youth trip for the first time and discover they look virtually identical. “Imagine Parent Trap meets Derry Girls,” Sue said.
The novel is not a direct sequel to Guard Your Heart but is a similar style and uses fiction as a way to provoke thought on contemporary issues.
Sue said: “It’s more of a quest than a romance this time. It’s set against the real backdrop of events in Northern Ireland in autumn 2019. Readers should expect laughs, tears, smiles and a rollercoaster of a read. I hope they enjoy it.