Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to be here with you all this evening to wish the Orange Prize a very happy 15th birthday. As a passionate reader myself, I have been a huge fan of the Prize for some time and, each spring, look forward to the shortlisted titles which have introduced some wonderful new writers, not only to me, but to tens of thousands of readers around the world.
Any award that honours the power of the written word is to be celebrated, and over the past fifteen years, under the leadership of its inspirational co-founder, Kate Mosse, the Orange Prize has provided a hugely important platform for international women’s writing. The Orange Prize has also worked closely with libraries to promote reading more widely, and supported numerous educational initiatives and research projects.
I firmly believe in the importance of igniting a passion for reading in the next generation. My father was a fervent bibliophile, and brilliant storyteller too. Every night, he would read to us children – Enid Blyton and Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and Baroness Orczy. And we would sit transfixed, disappearing up Faraway trees, down rabbit holes, across Romney Marshes, through the stalls of Barchester Cathedral and into the depths of the Bastille. The power of a captivating story – a well-honed sentence – or a beautifully crafted character is immense, not only taking the reader – or listener – to different worlds, but broadening and stimulating the mind too. A world without books is too hideous to even contemplate.
I’ve yet to embrace the joys of the Kindle and iPad, but good writing is timeless, regardless of the medium upon which it is printed. Although it must be said that the old-fashioned book is blissfully unaffected by battery life!
In April, I was delighted to invite the six members of this year’s Orange Prize Youth Judging Panel to Clarence House – Fergus, Conrad, Pooja, Kate, Hazel and Kirsty, all aged between 17 and 19, were given the task of reading all fourteen past winners of the Orange Prize and choosing their favourite.
I gather it was a very close run thing, but after two sessions of fine argument and good-humoured banter, they made their decision and, therefore, it gives me the greatest pleasure to announce that the Youth Panel's Orange Prize Winner is “Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels, the winner in 1997. Sadly, Anne Michaels is not able to be here with us tonight, and so her publisher, Liz Calder, is here to accept the award on her behalf.