Author shortlisted for award

Author shortlisted for award

A CASTLEWELLAN author was shortlisted this week for a national literary award.

As an alternative to the Man Booker prize, the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’ lists 150 must-read novels from around the UK, with a public vote deciding the final top five.

Sheena Wilkinson’s Street Song was one of three female writers from Northern Ireland in the mix — the others being Sharon Dempsey and Bernie McGill. Yesterday, the Guardian announced the final five, and while none of the Northern Ireland authors made it through to the very end their exposure in the competition was a major coup.

Set in Belfast, Street Song explores many issues through its main guitar-playing character Ryan, reinvented as Cal, such as X-Factor-style instant fame, addiction, sexual grooming and homelessness. And despite the seriousness of some of the issues, it is essentially a coming of age story about friendship and finding your place. 

A former English teacher at Methodist College, Sheena is now one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers of fiction for young people. Since the publication of her first novel, the multi-award-winning Taking Flight, among her accolades are four Children’s Books Ireland awards. And when she’s not writing or reading she can be often be found unwinding in Castlewellan Forest Park.

After the announcement of the five finalists in the ‘Not the Booker Prize’ on Tuesday, a wildcard will be chosen by a judges’ panel to bring the total up to six.

Sheena said she was not expecting to hear that’s she’s made the final cut and was delighted to have made it so far.

“It’s lovely to be included, I’m very pleased,” she said. “I thank whoever nominated me. 

“Three books from Northern Ireland listed — and all written by women.”

Street Song is published by Black & White Publishing, and the promotion of Sheena’s book across the water has paid dividends — reaching number two on WH Smith’s children’s book chart.

“I saw the charts at Birmingham airport at the start of June and took a picture,” she said. “David Walliams was in the number one spot.

“It seems to be selling quite well at airports.”

“It’s still in their charts,” she continued. “I do not know how these things work but I got bigger publicity this time from a UK publisher with Street Song.

“Small publishers often struggle to get into mainstream book shops. Big retailers sell at discounts that small publishers can’t afford.

“I would frequently have gone into shops and not seen my book, which can be disheartening.”

After a “really, really busy year” with several projects are coming to fruition, there is good news for  fans of historical fiction. And it looks to be an epic one.

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“I have a new book coming out at the end of October,’ said Sheena. “It’s a historical one about women voting for the first time in 1918 and continues on with the flu pandemic sweeping the world.”