Book prize for orphan's tale of Georgian city wins prize

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The Independent Culture

A former diplomat and UN campaigner has won a prize for new children's authors with her tale of an orphan living in Georgian London.

Julia Golding, who beat nine others to win the second £1,000 Ottakar's Children's Book Prize for her debut novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane, hopes to reawaken interest in historical novels for children.

Packed with colourful slang, the book tells the story of Catherine Royal, Cat for short, who was found on the steps of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in January 1780 by the theatre owner, Mr Sheridan. Cat experiences the highs and lows of 18th-century society by hobnobbing with lords and ladies, actors and barrow boys.

Ms Golding, who has three children and lives in Oxford, said she was "completely surprised" to win. "It's a dream come true. Maybe now is the time for a historical children's book. We've had a lot of fantasy."

But the book carries a more serious message, drawing on Ms Golding's work for Oxfam, where she joined a UN campaign to reduce the number of arms in the Third World and their impact on children.

"We have so many cushions, such as the health service. There was none of that for my character, which is the situation facing many children today. Life is tough for most children around the world, and that's how my characters found it." Ms Golding also found inspiration in her former career in the Foreign Office in Poland, where her tasks included twinning towns in the Tatry mountains and inspecting a Silesian coal mine.

"I'm particularly interested in how people cope with historical moments in our life. I was thinking about the French Revolution and what was happening in London at that time, when to be outspoken could be a death sentence. It's not intended to be didactic, but there's a keen interest in politics which informed the book."

Another inspiration was the political cartoons of the time. "I wanted to recreate the life and unbridled exuberance of those cartoons, the nitty gritty of life on the streets, which is why there's boxing and gangs and the backstage of the theatre."

She is working on two follow-ups, one set against the background of the abolition movement in London and the other based in revolutionary France.