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Frank Cottrell Boyce wins the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize

25th October 2012 - 12:4 Noon

Frank Cottrell Boyce has won the 2012 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for his 'magical' novel The Unforgotten Coat.

The victory caps off a memorable year for the author, who played a key role in planning the opening ceremony for the London Olympic Games alongside Danny Boyle.

Cottrell Boyce said he was not expecting to win awards or 'sell loads of copies' of the book, which was inspired by a visit to a primary school, where he met a young Mongolian girl named Misheel.

Soon after the meeting, Misheel was taken away by authorities and deported back to Mongolia, leaving her coat behind at the school in the process - something that formed the basis of the story.

Cottrell Boyce said he was 'haunted' by the image of the forgotten coat and the concerns of Misheel's former classmates that she may be cold in Mongolia without it.

Told from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl named Julie, The Unforgotten Coat follows two brothers from Mongolia who arrive at a school in Merseyside and make many new friends with the local children, before being forced to return to their homeland.

'It wasn't a commercial book at all - it came from a very different place,' Cottrell Boyce explained of the book, which was initially commissioned by the Liverpool-based charity The Reader Organisation for a limited 50,000-copy run.

'The Reader Organisation promotes reading to all kinds of different groups, from kids with difficulties to alcoholics, and they were looking for a book which would cross all the groups. They found it very difficult to find, so I wrote this as a gift,' the author said.

In scooping the GBP 1,500 award, Cottrell Boyce joins an esteemed list of past winners including Dick King-Smith (The Sheep-Pig, 1984), Philip Pullman (Northern Lights, 1996) and Jacqueline Wilson (The Illustrated Mum, 2000).

'I love the Guardian prize; the fact it's given by other writers and that it's gone to books I loved reading like The Owl Service,' he commented on receiving this year's award.

'It's fantastic to win it anyway, but to win with something so exuberant, that was not trying to win any awards, is really great. This is a book that was written for fun and for friendship.'

Guardian's children's books editor Julia Eccleshare, who judged the 2012 award alongside authors Cressida Cowell, Tony Bradman and Kevin Crossley-Holland, said The Unforgotten Coat contains a 'very profound message' encapsulated by a 'magical, original, humorous story'.

She added: 'It absolutely captures the feel of being a child of that age. It's not a big blockbusting novel with obvious themes of dystopia and apocalypse - instead it's a heart-warming, imaginative, funny story with a very serious message at its heart.'

Cottrell Boyce follows in the footsteps of Andy Mulligan, who won last year's Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for Return to Ribblestrop; the second book in his Ribblestrop trilogy that was described as 'just the right combination of warmth, originality and hilarity' by the 2011 judging panel.

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