Lizzie Ryder, one of this year’s Carnegie Greenaway judges, joins us to tell us what it’s really like judging this prestigious prize – and to reveal this year’s shortlisted books!
People often ask: ‘what’s it like being a Carnegie Greenaway judge?’ The easy answer is that it’s wonderful! But as with all good stories there’s a little bit more to it than that…
First of all, being a Carnegie Greenaway judge is not just a job title – it very quickly becomes a way of life. You live, breathe and sometimes dream the awards for two whole years and even then I don’t think you ever let go. From first introductions through to the medal ceremony and the culmination of a year’s hard work, the books and your fellow judges become an integral part of your life. I’ve spoken to judges at the end of their two years who were half-seriously considering setting up support groups to help with withdrawal symptoms and I’ve listened to past judges, and indeed Chairs, reminiscing about ‘their year’ and the book that won with the same kind of affection reserved for firstborns. This is serious stuff!
It should give you an indication of the passion, dedication and reverence which the judges bring to their role. In many ways this is a necessity: the shortlisting process is incredibly intense. From the announcement of the nominations in October/November we have around three months to make our way through the longlist. No mean feat as this year’s nominations totalled 107 books! With so many books to remember we arrive at our first judging meeting armed with reams of notes. These are vital not only as a quick memory jog (I’m terrible at remembering characters’ names!) but as a way of summarising salient points ready for discussion. It’s a little like revising for an exam – that is until the talking gets underway and it’s clear that this isn’t about individual endeavour but a real collective effort.
The strangest and, in many ways, the most marvellous thing about our discussion is that rarely do we all agree. We’re a big group (one judge from each region of the UK) and, naturally, each of us has different tastes. This, however, is precisely where the CKG magic happens; we’re not making decisions based on our favourite books or ones we know we’ve enjoyed or even books that we think will be popular. We have a very clear set of Medal criteria which form the backbone of our discussions and inform our eventual selections. Unlike other prizes, these criteria are published and everyone can see them – it’s actually a very transparent process and one which allows the shortlisting to happen almost organically. It’s extraordinary how the books which fulfil these criteria naturally make themselves felt throughout the process.
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