London was hot. Very hot. Arriving at Stationers’ Hall, a stone’s throw from Ludgate Hill, in the shadow of St Paul’s, I felt the first flutter of the ‘what am I doing here?’ nerves and wondered how long I could keep my cool.
We gathered in the foyer, all finalists. The men in black tie, the women, in an array of stylish dresses, from vibrant Nancy Mac to pastel Anthropologie. The shoes were as fabulous as the surroundings. There was tension in the air. Who didn’t want to win? But there was comradeship and celebration too.
Tatiana Wilson, founder and champion of the People’s Book Prize greeted us warmly and ushered us upstairs. We stood about chatting in the reception rooms while photographs were taken of us with our books. We were undoubtedly a friendly crew and one of the highlights of my evening was being in the company of other generous and talented authors.
After the first glass of wine, yes, I allowed myself just the one glass, I relaxed. I was keeping my cool. Guests arrived. We moved into the Hall and soaked up the beauty of its stained-glass windows and wood panelling, its white tablecloths and glittering place settings.
Then there was dinner itself. It did not disappoint and was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat. No way could I bring myself to spoil those delicate red nasturtiums that graced my starter by putting them in my mouth.
As dinner ended and proceedings moved to the prize giving, that flutter again. The First Time Author, the Non-Fiction and the Children’s prizes were all awarded. Fiction next I thought. But no, next came the announcement of the Best Achievement Award. It was a surprise to me. I really should have read the programme.
When Rupert, Master of Ceremonies, began to speak about the winning book, without first naming it, the flutter grew. Could this be my book he was talking about? I dismissed the thought. I knew nothing about this award. It had nothing to do with me. But by the time Rupert revealed the author’s birthplace and spoke of her work in women’s prisons, I knew it had to be me.
My cool flew up and out through the stained-glass windows. I somehow got to the stage. I hope what I said made sense. My prepared Fiction Prize speech which we were told to prepare in the event of winning no longer seemed to fit. I spoke off the cuff and felt very emotional. I still do feel very emotional.
If you read what was said about Sometimes a River Song, I’m sure you’ll see why:
An amazing, accomplished, beautifully written book.
Gorgeous, captivating, innovative lyrical prose.
The People’s Book Prize wants to recognise its inspirational content to women all over the world, that despite an unfair society one can lift oneself out of misery through the strength and love of the women who fight together for a better life.
A magical book that speaks to every sense and to your heart.
When I returned to my seat I downed a glass of white wine and ate four hand-made chocolates in quick succession, just to steady the nerves you understand.
Following the final award of the Fiction Prize I drank a cup of black coffee. I never drink coffee after midday but it seemed like the right thing to do. The Prizes were done and congratulations were followed by winners’ interviews for the Sky video. I said my Thank-yous, principally to Tatiana.
It was time for goodbyes.
When I stepped out of Stationer’s Hall into the night, I couldn’t deny that the air had cooled but I was still hot, very hot, and it felt to me like the ancient heart of London was on fire, shimmering and beating around me.