20 minutes early as per the rules my wife insisted I follow), there was nobody there! Finally Philip Roy (Submarine Outlaw) showed up, and we chatted in the empty backstage area and wondered whether they would go ahead with the awards with nobody in the audience. Gradually the noise level increased, other writers showed up and we were organized behind the stage by O.L.A. people and volunteer students into a group of authors with signs & student volunteers to introduce us. Kathryn Corbett, my former teaching colleague, was there. Kathryn had pulled some strings, moved a few mountains, and written quite a few letters to get my former students and now Red Maple qualified readers to come to this event. She also managed to get Mac Willock and Kaitlyn Noble, former students of mine, to be my 'introducers'. Mac held up a sign and Kaitlyn clutched the words to a speech she had prepared to introduce me. On stage each writer was introduced by students and we were allowed to speak for a minute. I was the only one to be introduced by a student who actually knew them! That was way cool! I've never had a large crowd of anybody cheer for me before, either, unless it was because I missed a fly-ball for the teacher's team of year-end 3-Pitch. While we waited I talked to Caroline Pignat who wrote Greener Grass and Hazel Hutchins who wrote After. They agreed this was a real top event. Someone spoke about finally publishing a story they had started some 20 years before. Caroline Pignat beside me said she was doing the same thing and I told her I was doing the same also. (So kids, don't throw out those old stories!)
When the top three were announced I was asked to stand again, along with Susin Nielsen who wrote Word Nerd, and Max Turner who wrote Night Runner. My wife Shirley was ready to burst and my friend Kevin, sitting with Shirley near the front, gave me a big thumbs-up. Kevin had a stroke years ago and has never been able to read (or drive a car) ever since. Kevin has been a faithful friend and encourager and I was glad he was there with us.
Susin won for Word Nerd and she deserved it. It was a very popular book everywhere I went. She is very nice in person, and we had a great talk after. Her mother even bought my book and had me sign it. I spent a long time book-signing and meeting people. It's one thing when your friends and family like your book. I mean, they're supposed to. It's like your mother saying you're good-looking... But when complete strangers come up to you and insist, "I like your book! I mean, I really like your book!" it means something special.
There was an 'industry reception' at Il Fornello after the event and I saw Tim Wynn-Jones again. He taught me visual arts at York University many years ago and I acted in a play he wrote. A big thanks to everyone who came and participated, especially Kathryn and the Stockdale kids.
In the photo Susin Nielsen is facing left with blonde hair, and Kenneth Oppel is above my head.