For many recipients of the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Medals, the phone calls from the award committees come while the first pot of coffee is brewing or the kids have just been sent off to school. Not so for this year’s Printz winner, Nick Lake, who lives near Oxford, England, where he’s publishing director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Lake, who won the Printz on Monday for his novel In Darkness (Bloomsbury), had been working at home for hours when the phone rang: “There was an American voice on the other end, and I thought, ‘That’s strange,’ ” he told PW by phone on Tuesday. When the Printz committee informed Lake that he had won, he said, “My reaction was one of utter disbelief. I asked them if they were sure they didn’t want to give it to someone else, which evidently authors do not usually ask. It was pure shock and surprise in the middle of a working-from-home day.”
Lake knew in the back of his mind that the ALA awards were being announced on Monday, but “it never, never crossed my mind at all that I might actually win.” And he isn’t unaware that others might share his surprise: “I’m conscious of being the dark horse,” he said. “I thought, ‘Am I eligible for this? Has some ghastly mistake been made?’ ” But unlike the Newbery and Caldecott, U.S. citizenship isn’t required to receive a Printz, and one of this year's Honor authors, Terry Pratchett, is British as well.
Lake’s wife was the first person he told that he had won the medal – she was in the next room, after all. “In the manner of all great wives, she likes to keep my ego in check. She said it was probably a hoax.” (Lake added that his wife was actually “very happy and kind of shocked as well.”)
Given the way the ALA announcements dominated Twitter on Monday, it’s no surprise that Lake’s Twitter feed exploded shortly after the live announcement of the award. “I picked up like 100 Twitter followers in about an hour, and have yet to respond to most of the tweets.” Part of the reason for the delay: Lake’s two-year-old daughter commandeered his laptop to watch Eric Hill’s Spot. Lake did manage to regain control of his computer long enough to tweet, “Now to have a very stiff drink and a sit down.” Being “quite partial to Scottish single malt,” he said, Highland Park did the trick.
In Darkness is set in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, and that event and the subsequent news coverage were the main starting points for Lake, who is also the author of the Blood Ninja series. Lake said that Toussaint l’Ouverture, an 18th-century slave who led a successful revolt in Haiti, had already been in the back of his subconscious; In Darkness melds l’Ouverture’s story with that that of a 15-year-old boy trapped in the rubble of a hospital after the earthquake. “Someone who’d been interviewed on TV said that when they were trapped in the rubble in the darkness, they had lost the ability to distinguish between when they were speaking aloud and when they were thinking in their head,” said Lake. “I was obsessed by the idea of what it would be like if world fell down around you. Trapped down in the darkness, what would that feel like? The only way to explore it was to start writing it.”
The novel was originally published by Bloomsbury in the U.K., where it was acquired by Sarah Odedina (before she moved to Hot Key Books); in the U.S., the book was acquired by Bloomsbury’s Melanie Cecka (before she moved to Knopf). While Lake said he met some passionate fans of the book when he was in the U.S. last year and that the book “had been nicely reviewed in the press,” the Printz win represents a shift in his career as an author so far. “Fundamentally I’m not a well-known author,” he said, “so this is a crazy thing that’s happened.”
The writer’s next book, Hostage Three, about a girl whose family yacht is captured by Somali pirates, has just been released in the U.K. and is due out in the U.S. in the fall. With a Printz Medal under his belt, Lake’s profile may be a bit higher from now on.
For an interview with 2013 Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate, click here.
For an interview with 2013 Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen, click here.