Search This Blog

Sunday, January 01, 2012

YA Book Judging: An Interview with Miffy Farquharson

Since I became a teacher-librarian and a writer for young people, I have always taken a keen interest in writing competitions. Judging, as you will see in the interview below, is not easy. It's a huge task and not everyone will agree with your choices. I thought it about time that a CBCA judge had a chance to explain the process to those of us who only see it from the other side ;-) 

.Some of it is up on the CBCA web site, but there's nothing like asking someone who has been at the coalface. I asked Miffy Farquharson because she is a veteran not only of the CBCA Awards but of a number of others - and still, somehow, manages to keep her library running like clockwork. AND she blogged about it! Thank you, Miffy, for answering these questions! I hope my readers enjoy reading your answers as much as I did.


SB: You’ve been a judge in the Aurealis, the CBCA and the WA Premier’s Literary Awards. How did you come to be involved in each of these?

MF: a. The first award that I was involved in was the CBCA awards as the Victorian Branch representative. I was chosen to be the judge after answering a request for ‘Expressions of Interest’ that was published in the branch newsletter. I was invited to an interview and had to present to the Vic committee as to why I would be a good choice to be the next judge. And I got the gig. So that was two years (2007 and 2008 for the 2008 and 2009 awards) that I lived, ate and breathed CBCA awards. You can only be the CBCA judge for two years (which is a good thing, as there are so many books to read across the three age-related categories) and cannot apply for another four years after your last year.

b. After the reading finished for my second year, I was still doing talks for CBCA in 2009 and was still in contact with the judges from ACT and NSW. The NSW judge sent me an email that had the contact details to apply to be an Aurealis judge. We were all going to apply, but in the end I was the only one who got the gig. I was a panellist for Young Adult in my first year, and then convenor of YA in my second year. I am now the convenor of the Children’s Panel. You can keep working for Aurealis indefinitely, but you can only do two years in any one category. So I did two years in YA, and have done one year (so far) in Children’s.

c. And finally. As a result of being involved in the Aurealis Awards I met Tehani Wessely, who contacted me early in 2011 to see if I wanted to be involved in the WA Lit awards on the Children’s panel, as they hadn’t had enough people apply for the panels. WAPBA is a three-year gig.
(SB: Tehani Wessely is a super-teacher-librarian who also publishes through her press, Fablecroft, was a major member of the Andromeda Spaceways Co-operative, reviews books for various SF and education publications, blogs, judges various book competitions, walks on water...)

SB: How are judges usually chosen for these awards? I notice there seem to be more women than men. :-)

MF: See above. Something I forgot to say is that the panel changes every single year, as four judges retire and four new ones start their two year stint. So WA, Vic, NSW and ACT are one 'bloc' and SA, NT, Tas and QLD are the other 'bloc'. In my first year, the SA, NT, etc. judges were in their second year, and in my second year, SA NT, etc. were the newbies. This is part of the reason why the lists can change from year to year, as the range of judges can be so disparate. And you are right, the majority of judges are women. The ACT judge during my time, Michael Janssen-Gibson, was a lone male on the panel, and I don't think that there has been a bloke on the panel since then. Very sad.

SB: How many entries did you have to read for each set of awards – and how did you manage to do this and still have a life outside of reading?

MF: 400 plus for the CBCA per year.
Less than 150 for each of the Aurealis and WABLA.
You need to have very understanding family/ husband/ employer. My husband is also a teacher-librarian, so that really helps. My kids love me getting the books – they get to read them too! And both places I’ve worked while judging (both independent schools) have been very supportive of me taking time off to do talks and attend judging panels and awards ceremonies.

And the key to reading for awards is to read for excellence – as a t-lib I read lots of books that aren’t great, but I read them so that I know what’s out there so that I can recommend them to my students. As a judge, excellence is what you are looking for.

SB: As a children’s writer and a teacher-librarian, my particular interest is in the CBCA Awards, so here are some questions about this award in particular:

What is the process you and your fellow judges go through in the judging? For example, do you each prepare a short list you discuss with the others?

MF: Each of the judges receives boxes of books from the co-ordinators – about 25 titles per box, and across the age-related categories. You have about 3 weeks to read the titles, and each judge writes a confidential report on each of the books which indicates its potential as a notable or shortlist book. The reports are sent back to the coordinators, who compile the reports for each box and return them to the judges so that all the judges can see each other’s opinions.

Once all the books are read, each of the judges compiles a ‘long list’ of their favourite titles – which is in no way set in concrete!

The eight judges all meet in the coordinating state (SA at the moment – it cycles) to decide the shortlists and the winner and honour books in each category. A category is decided each day, with the Picture Book category decided on the last day. Each and every book is put up for inclusion for discussion as a shortlisted book, and these books form the basis of the notable list, the shortlist and the winners and honour books. The actual number of votes needed for either notable or shortlist is on the CBCA website (I can’t remember the numbers right now).

SB:     Do you meet at any stage or is it all done by email/chatroom?

A bit of both. Most discussion is through the reports and the judge’s conference, but some discussions are held outside that via email and teleconference.

SB:      What are some of the criteria you have to address when judging the entries?
MF: All the criteria are on the CBCA website, but in short, they are: is the title age-appropriate (for the EC, YR and OR categories), and is the writing excellent? For PB category, do the text and illustrations complement and extend each other?

SB:     Do you, as is done in other awards, concentrate on one area, say older readers?

CBCA is ALL submitted titles

SB:    As you’re a teacher-librarian, do you invite any of your students to read some of     the books and give their opinions?

This year we will be doing that across the school. To combat the secondary school ‘reading is uncool so I’m not going to put my hand up’, we are nominating Reading Ambassadors and they will be reading the titles this year.

SB: If it’s not too personal a question – what did you DO with all those books you read? :-)

MF: I kept all the shortlisted books, the notable books that I loved, and anything else that I really enjoyed but which didn’t make the cut. The rest of the CBCA books went to church charities in Bendigo. We took up about 12 green bags full of books. The minister almost died! 

Since we’ve moved to Melbourne I donate all the books I don’t want to keep to a disadvantaged school that is supported by my sister’s partner. They are very grateful, and I wish that I had time to donate to them to get their library up to scratch. Maybe if I win Tatts!

SB:      Would you do it again?

MF: In a flash! It is a HUGE task, but so enjoyable. I made some lifelong friends in the other judges over the two years, and had an insight into the process behind Australia’s most prestigious award for books for young people.

SB: Thanks again for your fascinating insight into this process!


Stephanie said...

Wonderful interview. I have so much respect for these judges and their passion for literature.

(Stephanie from Read in a Single Sitting)

Lan said...

Sounds like judging is a huge job. I can barely read 50 books a year let alone 400! Thanks for the great insight.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Lan, I think, to do this job, you have to be able to put other things on hold, including reviewing anything not on the list. (and actually, you couldn't review those either, because you're not allowed to comment on anything you're judging).

But you'd get so much out of it, that in the end it would make you better at the other things.

Stephanie, you'd HAVE to have a passion for books to do the job, wouldn't you? :-) I've judged short stories, myself, and seventy-five short STORIES was enough to exhaust me, let alone hundreds of books!