As our 2021 judges – Yvonne Battle-Felton, Louise Doughty and Peter Kalu for the Jhalak Prize, and Candy Gourlay and Kiran Millwood Hargrave for the inaugural Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize deliberate, and yes agonise over selecting our shortlists for the year, we share their views on reading for the prize, on picking the longlist, and the books they love….that you need to read:
Yvonne Battle-Felton: Judging the Jhalak Prize has introduced me to works I may not have otherwise read. Imagine! I wouldn’t have met some of the characters, stories, phrases, lines, thoughts, facts, scenes, landscapes, topics, and more that left me - a lover of words - reduced to one: wow. The longlist is a stunning achievement. How did it feel to be a judge for this wonderful prize? Emotionally, I am lit up: filled to the brim with stories, characters, and a range of emotions. One of them is gratitude.
Louise Doughty: I've been a previous judge for the Booker Prize, the Costa Novel Award, the Desmond Elliot Prize and numerous others, and never have I found it so hard to narrow the entries down to a longlist. The standard was amazingly high and inevitably the personal preferences of the judges had to come into play - but no writer should feel disheartened by missing out in this fifth anniversary year, the competition was fierce.
Peter Kalu: Judge Not (that you be not judged). Is a daisy more beautiful than an orchid? This is the task judges are faced with. Did we get it right here? For now, no-one knows. Time will judge the judges. Yet if I fell onto a desert Island and had the Jhalak 2021 Longlist as my only reading, I know I would have a stay filled with wonders, nightmares, speculations, provocations and a beautifully strong sense of what it is to be human and among other humans. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process. Though I’ve twisted and turned these last few nights at some of the amazing books that have been left off. The winner is not among the longlist. The winner is literature itself.
Candy Gourlay: It was humbling to read this treasure chest of entries, a revelation of talent! Our list puts on display the best an author for children can offer, always perfectly pitched to the young reader, whether an illustrated book to read aloud or a young adult with all the burgeoning emotion that involves. I was especially excited by the untold histories now finding their way into books, the unheard voices singing from their pages.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave: Judging any prize is always a mix of joy and tough decisions, and the quality of the entries to the Jhalak CYA Prize this year made it an especially exciting experience. We have settled on a longlist that foregrounds and rewards storytelling in all its forms, from picture books made to be seen and shared aloud, to fantastical, moving middle grade, and YA that grips and confronts. It's an extraordinary longlist, and I can recommend every book on it with my full and whole heart.
The shortlists for both prizes will be announced on 13th April 2021.