Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen won the 2021 Branford Boase Award for the year’s outstanding debut novel for children. Founded in 2000, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author.
It is regarded as one of the most important awards in children’s books and has an impressive record in picking out the most exciting new authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Liz Hyder, Marcus Sedgwick, M.G. Leonard and Frances Hardinge. Winning editors include JK Rowling’s editor Barry Cunningham, Philip Pullman’s editor David Fickling and Fiona Kennedy, publisher of Michelle Paver, Marcus Sedgwick and Sally Gardner.
Ben and Struan discuss their working relationship in this special blog post for WriteMentor.
Ben Horslen, editor
I remember it with crystal clarity first reading Struan’s manuscript. I had come home from the theatre and (like a bad man) happened to glance at my work emails and saw that I had received a new submission while I was out. The agent’s pitch was good, so I thought I’d dip into the first chapter, just for a look. It was so original, arresting and extraordinary that I ended up reading the whole thing, finishing at about three in the morning, which isn’t something that’s happened since!
As editor, I find the main things you find debut authors need help with varies very much by age category. With YA it’s often plot. With younger fiction, particularly humorous books, it can be finding the right blend of story and situation comedy. With middle grade like Orphans of the Tide, as Struan alludes to in one of his answers, it’s often judging the darkness of the content – it’s a fine line between ‘brilliantly scary’ and ‘too scary for your average ten-year-old’.
Orphans of the Tide is book one in a trilogy. Working on series is a particular joy because you get to explore the world and characters with the author in such depth. Obviously, the story is always theirs, but there’s a special kind of investment that you feel as an editor as you work together. Challenges? It can be harder to get away from your mistakes! I worked on one series where a really thorny plot/logic tangle in the third book arose directly from an editorial suggestion I’d made when working on the second. Past Ben thought he was being really clever. He was not.
Struan Murray, author
Ben’s got an amazing eye for world-building, and he always challenges me to think in a deeper way about the world my characters inhabit. He’s also got a great eye for tone: I always wanted Orphans of the Tide to go to some dark places, since, as a child, my favourite parts of stories were the dark parts, where I suddenly felt the author was treating me as an adult. However tone can be a tricky thing to balance. Ben has been so helpful at helping me inject the right amount of lightness and humour, and in the right places, to make sure the darker parts have a proper weight.
I find editing surprisingly liberating! First drafts terrify me — facing down the infamous blank page, desperately dredging up ideas from an (often) dry well of creativity, watching the word count stubbornly refuse to climb. With editing, on the other hand, the worst is far behind — the story can only improve, and it feels much more like having a shapeless lump of clay and moulding it into something new and special.
I’ve been thinking about the most difficult edit Ben asked me to make and there was a scene towards the end of Orphans of the Tide which I came up with very early on, which at the time was my favourite part of the whole book. However, it didn’t really work within the larger context of the story, which I didn’t see until Ben pointed it out. So I changed it, and in being forced to really think about why it didn’t fit, and what the story was really about, I was able to come up with something even better. That’s what working with a good editor does!
Visit the Branford Boase Award website for more information