Sunday, 22 May 2011

Spitting at the Evil Eye

Sunny Angus..
Last week was an astoundingly good week for me. A week full of exciting news and slaps on the back. I’ve actually never had a week anything like it. So many good things happened that I’m wondering whether there’s anything in astrology – any other happy Pisceans out there?

It’s actually very difficult to know what to write about it, because I was brought up to be very aware that the Evil Eye, would trip up boasters and braggers. My grandmother would never praise or compliment any of us without a muttered ‘kenayna hara!’ a kind of Yiddish superinjuction against the Evil Eye, followed by a highly sylised ‘Pah! Pah! Pah!’ - her way of spitting in said eye. My mother does the same thing. And (silently) so do I. I'm not a very Yiddish person (extraordinary how three generations can reduce a language to a handful of words, and that those words are things like 'rag', 'mad religious person', and 'grudge relating to wedding invitations') but fear of the Evil Eye goes deep.

So – kenayna hara! – I am thrilled that When I Was Joe is on the shortlist for the Branford Boase award, especially because it's the one award which is shared between writer and editor. I am so happy to see Maurice’s contribution honoured in this way. He’s got a completely magic touch as an editor - able to guide a writer without ever telling her what to do. I've been extraordinarily lucky to work with him. I'm also delighted that my friend Candy Gourlay is on the shortlist too, for the superb Tall Story, which deserves to win every award going.

Four short-listed authors with the fab Angus organisers
And - Pah!Pah!Pah! – I was stunned and delighted that When I Was Joe won the Angus Book Award this week. The Angus Book Award was the first regional award to be chosen by teenager votes, and it is a shining example of what these awards can be. We four short-listed writers (the others were Nicola Morgan for Wasted, Paul Dowswell for Auslander and Robert Williams for Luke and Jon; all three books destined to become classics) were moved beyond words by the films made by pupils about our books; by the book reviews and alternative covers created, and by the way the Angus Book Award was obviously valued as something very special by the whole community. The whole event was fantastically well-organised, and we authors were cared for like kings. When the lovely lady who ran our hotel in Forfar gave me a hug goodbye, she summed up the special warmth of the occasion.

The award itself - modelled on a Pictish stone
Trying to write books for publication involves persistence and a thick skin. When lovely things happen, it goes a long way to heal the scars of rejection that inevitably come your way. I’ll probably never have another week like this one - I’ve been trying to just relax and enjoy it.

But of course, it never works quite like that. I’ve been worrying about my current work-in-progress – for which I wrote not one word last week - am I on target (no), is it any good (hmm), can I settle down and concentrate on it sometime (hope so)? I’ve been vaguely angsting about what comes next – can I even come up with more ideas? And as always I’ve been attempting to balance my writing life with the demands of family and other work. In fact (it's midnight) I must go and clean the kitchen.

This week won’t be full of awards and shortlists. It’ll be a week to immerse myself in the latest book, thinking about the characters, the way their stories weave together, the right words to choose. If it goes well, that’s the most exciting thing of all. Kenayna hara. Pah! Pah! Pah!


  1. Congratulations on what I'm sure is a hard-won success. Naturally, there is always more to write.

  2. You earned all this - congratulations!

  3. Woo hoo! Well done Keren! :-)

  4. PG TG ABW, there will be many more occasions like those of last week. (PG TG ABW = Please God, Thank God, All Being Well).

  5. Well done Keren! You definitely deserved the award! And the shortlist! Congratualtions!

  6. I've only just spotted this post Keren. And just to say: Well done...Kol Hakavod! I too am ruled by the Evil Eye and all its attendant superstitions. I have blue beads and Hamsas all over the place and do that spitting thing too.

  7. Congrats, that's a cool looking award!