Eleanor Oliphant wins Books Are My Bag Book of the Year

News - Prizes Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Last night's BAMB awards also saw Pam Ayres win her first ever award; Philip Pullman, Vivian Archer and The Secret Barrister also honoured

To Foyles, where the Books are My Bag Readers Awards were last night awarded for the third year running. The only book awards with shortlists curated by high street booksellers, they are voted for by book readers – in record numbers this year, with over 55,000 votes cast in seven categories.

Nic Bottomley, current president of the BA, introduced the evening by saluting the strength of high street bookselling, with bookshops acting as "high street heroes", bringing vibrancy to town centres up and down the country. In fact, he revealed, at the Houses of Parliament earlier in the day the Best Small Shop in Britain had been announced. Not only were three of the finalists bookshops but the winner of the Best Small Shop in Britain was as well: Ros de la Hay’s Main Street Trading Company in St. Boswells.

The evening was expertly compered by June Sarpong, one of the best-known faces on TV. "Storytellers are our oldest magicians," she said, "and our oldest primal instinct is to listen to them. We are beholden to the talented few who can bring those stories to life…and tonight we celebrate those writers."

Bea Carvahlo, newly promoted head of Fiction buying at Waterstones, presented the first award in the Novel category to Stuart Tuton for The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The author was clearly somewhat taken aback: "I would have got dressed up if I’d thought there was a chance I’d win – I only came for the free booze."

Pam Ayres, receiving the Poetry Award from Vivian Archer of the Newham Bookshop for The Last Hedgehog, revealed that it was the first award she’d ever received. She also noted that at the current rate hedgehogs were going to be extinct in 10 years; she hoped that this Award would help raise awareness of their plight.

Peter Donaldson, of the Red Lion Bookshop in Colchester, pointed to the welcome resurgence of non-fiction publishing before presenting the Non-fiction Award to The Secret Barrister by The Secret Barrister, with a surprise appearance being made by a masked, bewigged stand-in who took a "Gwyneth Paltrow moment" to thank everyone at Macmillan on behalf of the real author, whose identify remains a secret.

Vanessa Lewis of the Book Nook in Hove presented the Young Readers’ Middle Grade Award to Catherine Doyle for The Storm Keeper’s Island, with Fleur Sinclair from the Sevenoaks Bookshop – who thanked the BA for being "the best trade association ever" – announcing the winner of the Young Adult Award as Philip Pullman for The Book of Dust. His publisher David Ficking, accepting the Award on behalf of the author who is currently concentrating on writing words rather than speaking them, took the opportunity - as one of only three people who have read it so far - of plugging the "astonishing" second book in the Book of Dust series.

Uli Lenart of Gays the Word presented the Award for Beautiful Book of the Year to Yehrin Tong and Hannah Wood, illustrator and designer respectively of the gorgeous Virago Modern Classics 40th anniversary series.

Nic Bottomley took to the stage again to present the Breakthrough Book of the Year Award. Sarah J. Harris, author of The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, thanked her husband for reading "countless drafts". Alex Call, head of marketing at WHSmith, commended the taste of readers for choosing Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine as The Reader’s Choice Book of the Year; it had also won the WHSmith Book of the Year in 2017.

The final award was a new one: Outstanding Contribution to Bookselling. Presented by Vaseem Khan, author and long-time resident of Newham, this went to Vivian Archer, who has managed the Newham Bookshop for 31 of the 40 years it’s been in existence. "Bookshops", Vaseem said, "are like the Viet Cong, relying on the generosity and support of the local population." His local bookshop, enjoying huge local support, had been an institution "before Amazon was an itch in Bezos’ trousers."

Pictured: Pam Ayres; A Secret Barrister

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