On being a judge.

Tuesday night, after seven months of reading, countless biscuits and hours of discussion my tenure as a judge for the Bisto Book of the Year came to an end. The final deliberations lasted more than three hours and were far more excruciating than I had ever anticipated. So… what have I learned from seven months of prescribed reading?

It is far easier to criticise a judges decision from the outside.
Last year I criticised the shortlist for omissions. I would probably make similar complaints this year - had I not seen how the process came about. There might be some merit in CBI publishing the longlist, to show how close the judges came to including other deserving books.

Reading a book is one thing. Judging it for an award is something altogether different.
Reading a book 3 or 4 times and discussing it with some of the most well-read people in children’s lit is a far cry from one would-be writer reading his favourite stories. At times the thought of facing the other judges was as daunting as the huge amount of reading.

Talking about a book you love is much harder than one you don’t.

When it did come to facing the other judges it was infinitely easier to talk down the books I felt didn’t deserve to win over those that did. It was a struggle to find the words that defined some of my favourite stories - and there are only so many times you can say ‘this book is just indefinable’.

The notebook is your bible.

It was suggested by everyone involved to keep notes throughout the judging. That notebook became my bible - and I became a gibbering idiot without it.

The unexpected can make the most impact.

Reading everything by Irish authors means coming out of your comfort zones. And it was often the books that I would never have picked up that impressed me most - some authors have found a new lifelong reader, some have lost one…

Integrity and fairness. There is no argument…
Every book submitted is read by the judges and the system developed to decide a winner is as fair as any alternative I can think of. The most deserving books made it onto the shortlist - and the best were fairly recognised. The competition organisers were meticulous in maintaining the integrity of the awards throughout - at times painstakingly answering judges questions from all perspectives.

The judges.

Apart from reading so many books - the most enjoyable aspect of the awards was meeting the other judges. Sharing ideas, stories and jokes with the seven other judges (as well as Keith and Paddy) was as rewarding as the judging. Thanks to Valerie Coghlan, Rachel De Barra, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Mark O’Sullivan, Korky Paul, Eileen Phelan, Maire Uí Mhaicín, Keith O’Sullivan and Paddy O’Doherty for a fascinating and eye opening seven months.

So… after all my balthering on… who are the winners?

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Written by david. in: awards | Tags:


  • It sounds like a fascinating thing to be involved in. Be interested in hearing how it’s impacted on your own writing… do you find yourself plotting how to write ‘the Bisto-winning novel’? ;)

    Comment | March 4, 2009
  • See now that’s interesting. Brings it down to a much more understandable level. I look forward to having a gawk at that notebook!

    Comment | March 5, 2009
  • @Claire Thanks for dropping by. I don’t know about finding the formula for writing a winner but judging the awards did make me change some ideas - mostly on what wouldn’t work… been cutting paragraphs left, right and centre ever since.

    @Darragh That notebook is kept under lock and key in the rusty basement safe at AIB Grafton Street, guarded by the ghost of Jimmy Kelly, the man who died from a thousand paper cuts. Only he knows the secret of this years winner.

    Comment | March 5, 2009
  • [...] Wha?! Oh no, wait… they’re not being announced until 11 this morning. Until then I guess you’re just stuck with my navel gazing at being a judge. [...]

    Pingback | March 11, 2009

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