PENZANCE-based author Anna Wilson has been shortlisted for the prestigious James Cropper Wainwright Prize 2023 in the children’s writing on nature and conservation category.

The nomination comes for her picture book celebrating the natural world called Grandpa and the Kingfisher.    

Illustrated by Sarah Massini, it follows the journey of a kingfisher family and powerfully links the intergenerational bonds and life cycle similarities between birds and humans.    

Anna has been writing and having children’s books published for nearly 25 years, but this latest one has been the most emotional she’s written.     

Speaking to the Voice, Anna explained: “Initially I wanted the book to honour my dad because it’s basically about him. He passed away eight years ago and he loved the river. He took part in rowing and sculling when he was 13 and did canoeing and kayaking. He was never happier when in a boat.     

“He used to take us in boats and he really encouraged me to row and canoe as well. He used to inform us to always look out for the Kingfisher and we would never see it, causing him to roll his eyes telling us that we’d missed it again. As he became progressively ill through cancer, all he used said was that he wanted to go back on his boat and it always became an obsession to get back on the river.”    

Her father’s love for kingfishers was another part of the inspiration behind Anna’s book. She said: “I found an old book of his in our family home called Martin the Kingfisher written by Pere Castor, who wrote these beautiful picture books and this was his favourite book.     

“My dad’s name was Martin which is why my dad’s mum bought it for him and Martin is a word for kingfisher. In my mind, I was already making these connections with my dad, the river and the kingsfisher. At his funeral, my sister and I used bits of this old book as part of the eulogy.”      

Anna’s aspirations for the book ran further than just to honour her father and his interest in kingfishers, she also wanted the book to provide an explanation to children about the natural order of life. 

She said: “I had a niece who was three or four at the time when he passed away and we couldn’t find the words to tell her that he’d gone.     

“It just seemed so hard and I thought there must be a gentle way of explaining that everyone has to pass away and it’s part of the natural order of things. And so the three things came together, the kingsfisher, my dad’s love of the river on one hand, and then wanting to tell my story of what happens to us all in the natural world.       

“I wanted the book to be as hopeful and comforting as it can be as well, I tried to explain that there isn’t enough room for us all and that’s why new people and things come after us as that’s the way it goes.”      

The choice of illustrator Sarah Massini was one that excited Anna as she had been familiar with her work previously. Sarah has had a varied creative career as a corporate graphic designer, a children’s book art editor, and now as the acclaimed illustrator of many picture books.    

“They chose Sarah who’s fantastic and so in demand, she does two picture books a year which is actually a phenomenal amount of work when you think about the quantity of artwork that is and she really wanted to do it thankfully,” she said. “She’s very well known in the picture book world in the UK and abroad as well.     

“Her artwork is stunning because it’s very painterly and accessible for children but on top of that is extremely beautiful and poetic. I knew what she could do, in fact when I was an editor in house I remember her name being banded around and her artwork being brought to meetings and everyone cooing over.”      

Anna’s nomination for her book came as a complete surprise, she had been nominated for awards before but not one that is this respected.      

“I was at home hosting a writer’s retreat at the time and I opened my emails and just burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t believe it now. I’ve had nominations for library awards before that have been voted for by children which means a lot because it’s the readers who are choosing it, but I’ve never won a prize and I’ve never been shortlisted for anything as prestigious as this.”  

This year is the 10th anniversary of the prize, which is named after much-loved nature writer Alfred Wainwright and aims to inspire everyone to connect with nature and embrace the outdoors.     

This is the second year that the prize has provided an award for children’s books which to Anna makes the nomination more special, as she states: “I’m one of those people who have constantly tried to push for children’s books to have more coverage than they do get in the media.”  

  For the first time in the prize’s history, women have dominated the shortlists, with 13 female shortlisted out of 19. Prize winners will be announced on September 14 at an exclusive festival-style celebration in Kendal in the Lake District where Wainwright worked and lived.    

The winning authors across the three categories that they will share an increased prize pot of £10,000 to honour the prize’s 10th anniversary.    

• For more information on Anna’s work visit her website: