Author Jo Cotterill has won the Tower Hamlets Book Award 2017 for her novel, A Library of Lemons.
Cotterill, 41, lives in Oxford with her husband and daughters and was an actress, teacher and fireworks technician before she became a children’s book writer. She has been writing for 18 years.
Cotterill told East London Lines: “I wasn’t expecting to win at all. The children cheered when my book was announced, I nearly cried.
“There are lots of fantastic books out there; to be recognised is a great honour,” she said. “When you sit at home to write, you just want to write the best story but not plan to win things. This book was turned down by several publishers, you won’t think a lot of people would notice it.”
The award ceremony in Tower Hamlets last Friday was her first visit to the borough. “Tower Hamlets is really different from Oxford, which is a very white middle class area,” she said. “There are a lot of different religious and cultural backgrounds here. The kids are brilliant, excited, and have lots of fantastic ideas.
“To reach children you have never met before and for them to feel close to your characters and get excited about your ideas, it’s the best feeling ever really,” she said. “Nowadays, we hear that children aren’t reading books because they’re all looking at screens, but they are absolutely reading books, which is amazing.”
Pupils from 33 schools in Tower Hamlets, aged 10 to 13, voted “A Library of Lemons” from six shortlisted novels from 2016-2017, as their favourite book in a ceremony at East Wintergarden last Friday.
The Tower Hamlets book award has been running for eight years. It is designed to encourage children to read and bring them together, to enable debate and discussion about books and share the pleasure of reading.
“A Library of Lemons” is a story about Calypso, a young girl whose father is struggling to cope with the death of her mother. Over the years, he encourages Calypso to push away potential friendships and be self-reliant. However, when Calypso meets a new girl, Mae, at school, it sets off a chain of event that will change Calypso’s life.
Cotterill’s other books include “’The Sweet Heart” series for Random House and the critically-acclaimed “Looking at the Stars”, which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.