Last night I spent a hugely enjoyable evening at the launch of the Paddy Power and Total Politics Political Book Awards in central London.
It was an enormous privilege for me to be in the company of the great and the good from the worlds of politics and publishing at the event staged at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo.
The two co-sponsors were united in their determination to highlight excellence across all areas of political publishing. It is long overdue that the brilliant work of our political authors was more widely acclaimed.
The Day Parliament Burned Down by Caroline Shenton, published by Oxford University Press, won the Political Book of the Year at the event, hosted by Gyles Brandreth, the author and broadcaster.
Gyles was at his mischievous best: entertaining – and occasionally even offending – many of the guests (almost 500 in number) with his unique sense of humour, and his recollection of seemingly endless first-hand stories that he has stored away over the years.
However, his passion for politics and books shone like a beacon, which made him the perfect compère for the evening. It was certainly good to see men and women of all political persuasions sitting shoulder to shoulder in order to champion artistic talent.
I had the honour of presenting a cheque for £10,000 to the winning author of the Political Book of the Year prize. One of the judges, Professor Mary Beard, accurately described the winning book as “microhistory at its absolute best”.
The book dramatically tells the story of the “forgotten fire” of October 1834, using a gripping re-creation of the suspense and drama of the occasion. Caroline Shenton writes vividly, informatively and in an entirely accessible style – and her book is formidably well researched.
Patrick Kennedy, the Chief Executive Officer of Paddy Power, presented a cheque for £3,000 to Ian Cobain, author of Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture (Portobello Books), which won the Debut Political Book of the Year.
Owen Jones, an author and columnist on The Independent, won the award for Young Writer of the Year. Fiona Phillips, the former GMTV presenter, presented him with his cheque, also for £3,000. The full list of prize winners can be read here.
As one of the judges and the sponsor of three of the prizes, I was delighted to have played a small part in supporting the launch of this new venture. I am confident that – after the undoubted success of last night – the awards will become a prestigious annual event in the publishing calendar.
My fellow judges and I considered that the standard of entries has been breathtakingly high. This had the knock-on effect of making the judges’ task of singling out a winner for each category all the more difficult.
The co-sponsors of last night’s awards were Paddy Power, one of the first bookmakers to have offered betting on politics, and Total Politics magazine, in which I have a controlling interest.
All the authors nominated for their work deserve credit for combining the hard graft, dedication and raw talent that are needed to produce a book of merit. Iain Dale, the publisher of Total Politics, should be congratulated for coming up with the idea for last night’s awards. Many other people worked extremely hard to make the event possible.
I have no doubt that in the years ahead these awards will encourage new authors and reinvigorate veteran authors by celebrating and rewarding their literary skills.
In fact, I am looking forward to the Political Book Awards 2014 already…