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Fiction Friday: An Excerpt from South African-born Author Rosie Rowell’s Leopold Blue – Winner of the 2015 Branford Boase Award

Leopold BlueSouth African-born author Rosie Rowell and her editor Emily Thomas have been announced as the winners of the 2015 Branford Boase Award for Leopold Blue, published by Hot Key Books.

The Branford Boase Award – which is in its 16th year – is given annually to the author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children.

The winners were announced on Thursday, 9 July, at a ceremony at Walker Books in London. Former UK Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson presented Rowell with a cheque for £1,000, and both winners received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

Chair of judges Julia Eccleshare, who is the children’s books editor of The Guardian, called Leopold Blue “a work of originality, power and intelligence that seems surprisingly to have escaped the notice it deserves”.

“The characters and setting are brilliantly observed and described,” Eccleshare said, “and all readers will recognise something of themselves in Meg. The background gives it particular depth and it transcends the coming-of-age genre. We are delighted to name Leopold Blue as the outstanding debut of 2015.”

Rowell said: “Winning this wonderful award is an enormous honour. It is a confirmation that our stories matter. Everyday people, struggling in their own ways, whether they are stuck in dead-end tiny towns or trying to find their way in big cities are no less important than the heroes that dominate the news. We all have a story that is worth telling.”

Leopold Blue is described as “a tense and moving South African coming-of-age story about family, friendship and first romance”.

In an interview with The Bookseller, Rowell chatted about how her home country inspired the book: “Growing up in South Africa, I spent three years in a town that’s basically Leopold. We were the only English-speaking people in this tiny town, which had a very conservative Afrikaner population.

“I had a similar experience to Meg of wanting to be normal and I had a lot of the same struggles, knowing that the feeling of wanting to fit in isn’t right but feeling it nevertheless. It’s also a love story to those small towns that are disappearing as populations get bigger and the world gets smaller.”

* * * * *

For Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Leopold Blue:

‘This is exactly,’ Mum waved the carving fork at the TV, ‘the kind of reporting that incites violence. And hatred.’ She jabbed again at the unfortunate TV reader. This time she was
going for his heart.

‘Turn off the TV before your mother sends her fork through it,’ Dad said to Beth.

‘It’s downright irresponsible,’ said Mum to the suddenly quiet room, as she delivered the butchered chicken and vegetables to the table.

‘Yes, Vivvy.’ Dad looked tired.

‘It is,’ she insisted as she sat down.

As we began to eat, she sat up and glanced at the yellow clock above the door. She pushed her chair away from the table and looked at Dad. ‘It was exactly a week ago.’

‘I know,’ he replied. He put down his knife and fork and closed his eyes.
‘What?’ I asked into the silence. When no one replied, I repeated: ‘What?’

* * * * * * *

About the book

Meg Bergman is 15 and fed up. She lives in a tiny town in rural 1990s South Africa – a hot-bed of traditionalism, racial tension and (in Meg’s eyes) ordinariness. Meg has no friends either, due largely to what the community sees as her mother’s interfering attempts to educate farm workers about Aids. But one day Xanthe arrives – cool, urban, feisty Xanthe, who for some unknown reason seems to want to hang out with Meg.

Xanthe arrives into Meg’s life like a hurricane, offering her a look at a teenage life she never knew existed. But cracks quickly begin to show in their friendship when Meg’s childhood friend Simon returns from his gap year travels. Leopold Blue is an emotionally taut and beautifully written story from a debut author with a mesmerising voice.

About the author

Rosie Rowell was born and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. After completing a BA degree in English and Economics at the University of Cape Town, Rosie arrived in the UK on a short working holiday and never quite managed to leave. She now lives in in the wilds of West Sussex with her husband and three children, but returns to South Africa as often as the bank balance will allow. She has recently completed a MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University of London. Her first novel, Leopold Blue, was published by Hot Key Books in 2014.

Book details


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