Lauren Ace: My characters are as different as they are the same

Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie accepting the Waterstones' Illustrated Books Award 2019. Picture: Izzy R

Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie accepting the Waterstones' Illustrated Books Award 2019. Picture: Izzy Romilly. - Credit: Archant

Dalston-based writer Lauren Ace has taken home one of Waterstones’ most coveted child fiction awards for her debut book: The Girls. We spoke to the author about the book’s themes of friendship, female empowerment and celebrating our diversity.

The cover for The Girls, which was released last year. Picture: Jenny Lovlie.

The cover for The Girls, which was released last year. Picture: Jenny Lovlie. - Credit: Archant

If you were shortlisted to win an award, would you practice your acceptance speech in the mirror beforehand?

At the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize ceremony last Thursday, Hackney-based author Lauren Ace decided that no – she wouldn’t draft a speech in case she won the Illustrated Books Award trophy for which she was nominated.

Naturally, her debut book The Girls – a joint-project with illustrator Jenny Lovlie – was duly announced as the winner, and so began the walk of glory down to the stage to accept their prize.

“We hadn’t planned anything,” she says. “It had occurred to me that because there were two of us, maybe we should plan who was going to say what if we did end up winning!

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“And then I thought: I’m not going to tempt fate. So we got up there and I said to Jenny ‘so… shall I speak?!’ It was very surreal.”

Ace’s story is of four little girls who meet under an apple tree, sharing secrets, dreams, worries and schemes as they grow older and reach adulthood together. Written for children aged between four and six, Ace says that two of the book’s key themes are “friendship and female empowerment.”

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“One of the lines in the book is: ‘the girls were as different as they were the same’, which I think is a good message for our times,” she adds.

“I’d written the text and then we found Jenny to illustrate it via Instagram. She totally got it. When she first did the sketches of The Girls I just thought: that is what they’re supposed to look like, how did you know?! For the most part, she got it in one. Now we’ve become friends and will work together again.”

Ace and Lovlie’s picture book was honoured at Waterstones flagship Piccadilly store on March 21. Winners are selected by the company’s own booksellers and the prize is worth £2,000, as well as continued support for the authors and illustrators in their respective careers.

For Ace, landing a Waterstones prize is even more special given that it’s where she started her own career.

“I was a Waterstones bookseller; before I came in to publishing I started there as a Sunday worker when I was at school, and worked there throughout my time at uni. I was involved in the voting for the awards when I was a bookseller – so to now be on the other side of it is mind-blowing.”

Originally from Swansea, Ace studied Drama at the University of Exeter before moving to London, where she works in publishing. The author has been based in Dalston for four years, and says the book is inspired by “a mish-mash of my own friends.”

“The characters aren’t fully that person, but they have the same characteristics and traits. The Girls is inspired by my friends who have been with me throughout my life and are now having children of their own. It was like a gift for them to share with their kids.”

So after the award-winning success of The Girls, can we assume that Ace will soon pen The Boys?

“We have started working on that,” she says. “Some people have responded saying ‘my little boy likes it too, he understands that it’s about friendship’, but generally children want to be able to relate to the characters.

“It will have that same message; we want it to be an antidote to toxic masculinity. In the world that we are living in at the moment, the only way to make things better is for children to learn to work together.

“We always talk abut accepting difference and becoming more tolerant; it shouldn’t be those words. It should be about celebrating difference; being interested in and learning from someone who has a different experience to you.”

The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie costs £6.99 and is published by Little Tiger. More details are here.

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