by Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter for The Times
The nominees for best author include Doris Lessing, Khaled Hosseini and Ian McEwan but nobody in the book world wants to talk about Nobel prizewinners or writers of cultured international bestsellers right now.
It is an author in the children’s section whose work is being fiercely discussed at every publishers’ cocktail gathering and writers’ dinner party before the Galaxy British Book Awards next month.
Price’s Perfect Ponies: My Pony Care Book has been shortlisted for the prestigious WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year award at the “Oscars” of the book trade – a decision that has whipped large sections of the literary world into a ferment of disapproval because she did not write it all herself.
According to her publishers, Price, one of the most commercially successful writers in the country, is a “brand” and it is impossible to quantify how much of the book she wrote.
The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members. Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: “I’m shocked. I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up. If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted. I am disappointed by the judges.”
However, the current Children’s Laureate has leapt to Price’s defence. Michael Rosen said that Roald Dahl was a rarity among children’s writers in producing books that were purely his own work. “We get too hung up about authorship. None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children. The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it. If Jordan or any of her helpers have written a very good book then absolutely good luck to them.”
The British Book Awards, referred to in the industry as “The Nibbies” because winners receive trophies in the shape of a golden pen nib, are intended to reward a combination of success and quality. Previous winners of the children’s award include Dahl, Phillip Pullman and Raymond Briggs. This year’s shortlist was decided by children voting in branches of WH Smith from a longlist drawn up by publishers, booksellers and past winners.