The Waterstones Children's Book Prize Blog: Liz Hyder
Congratulations to Liz Hyder, whose stunningly realised dystopia Bearmouth has triumphed in the Older Fiction category of this year's Waterstones Children's Book Prize. In this exclusive piece, Liz reveals the one book that unlocked reading for her as a child.
I’ve always read a lot. Ever since I can remember, I’ve devoured anything with words on it, gulping up sentences and stories in greedy, breathless binges before emerging back into real-life, blinking and a bit dazed. Before I went to school, I read the Peter and Jane books in the ‘classroom’ of soft toys that my older sister Sue set up in our shared bedroom. Then, when I was a bit older, I read Enid Blyton and CS Lewis, raced through The Hobbit and Flossie Teacake and disappeared off on adventures with the Borrowers, the BFG, the Psammead and the various inhabitants of Green Knowe. I read everything I could get my hands on including, and, looking back, this does now seem a bit odd for a nine year old, Joyce Grenfell, who I developed a bit of an early obsession with (look her up if you’ve never heard of her, George Don’t Do That remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever read).
And then, one day, when I was ten, my life changed. Mr Frowde, my then teacher at Longshaw Primary School, regularly used to read to us – short extracts, a poem or a short story. But that day, he chose someone I’d never heard of before, a writer called Michael Rosen and a book called Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here. I can’t now recall which extract he read but I remember, sitting cross-legged on the slightly worn and itch-inducing brown carpet, the heart-thumping feeling of someone having seen into my very soul. The next day I went to the library and got the book out, reading it in a single sitting, all with the slightly worrying sensation that this ‘Michael Rosen’ fella had been spying on me. There was a tomboy called Lizzie who liked playing football and hanging out with the boys. There were things I did, secret things, like narrating David Attenborough style documentaries to myself whilst in the bath or doing commentary to raindrops falling down the window as if they were in an Olympic race. How did this man know me so well? HOW?
I still have my battered old copy that was given to me that year as a birthday present so I could re-read it as often as I wanted. The cover is worryingly loose now and the pages are yellow but it’s like meeting an old friend every time I pick it up. Every single story and poem in there is an absolute gem. It’s one of the most perfect books you’ll ever read. From the chocolate cake story to Eddie’s various misadventures and to the dinosaurs in the snow, it’s a book to race through and a book to linger in. It’s a book to return to and treasure. I’ve handed copies to many a person over the years, read bits out for inspiration at numerous workshops, and select punchlines from the book have even become family catchphrases, embedded as shorthand into our conversations.
Many years later, I worked at Radio 4 in the publicity department. I interviewed Michael over email for a press feature and spoke to him a fair few times on the phone but I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell him just how much that book had meant to me. A book in which girls did their own thing and weren’t ‘making the high tea’ whilst the boys did the fun stuff, a book in which friendship, kindness and storytelling itself were all celebrated. A book which felt utterly, overwhelmingly real and which opened my eyes to a new way of telling stories.
I’ve been lucky enough to read hundreds of brilliant books over the years, books that have inspired me, made me laugh out loud, gasp with surprise or shiver and look over my shoulder in the dark but Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here will always be one of my very favourites. And, as a writer myself now, I think, in all honesty, discovering that book is where my long journey to becoming a published author really set sail. So thank you Michael Rosen. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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