Malaysian author Nadia Mikail wins children's book prize in Britain

Nadia Mikail's debut YA novel, 'The Cats We Meet Along the Way', has been crowned winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023. Photo: Waterstones

Malaysian writer Nadia Mikail's debut novel The Cats We Meet Along The Way has won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023 in Britain.

The Kuching, Sarawak-born's book, which follows a family - and a stray cat - who embark on an apocalyptic road trip across the west coast of Malaysia, won the Older Readers category. The book was also named the Waterstones Children's Book Prize overall winner.

"This story is so dear to my heart. I put so much of me in it: so many memories, so much hope, a huge complicated mix of emotions. Receiving this award is life-changing, but knowing that you had such faith in it is also a warm, bright feeling that will stay with me forever," wrote Nadia, 26, in an Instagram post.

Apart from the British book retail industry accolades, she also won £5,000 (approximately RM27,200).

Nadia, a law graduate, is currently taking the solicitors qualifying exam (SQE) at King's College in London, and The Cats We Meet Along The Way, her first foray into mainstream publishing, was inspired by the uncertainties of life during the pandemic and being far away from her family.

The book was released in Britain last year.

"Apocalyptic novels are not generally renowned for their heartwarming qualities but it is a measure of the originality and compassion at the heart of (Nadia) Mikail’s luminous debut that The Cats We Meet Along The Way elegantly subverts expectations at every turn. With the end of the world imminent, Aisha and her richly drawn family and friends undertake one final road trip across Malaysia to reconnect with June, the sister she hasn’t seen for two years. Tender, moving and brimming with hope and positivity, (this novel) is a beautiful tribute to working out what truly matters when life as you know it threatens to vanish forever," reads a statement by Waterstones, a renowned British book retailer.

Nadia Mikail's debut YA novel 'The Cats We Meet Along the Way' is the winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023. Photo: Guppy BooksNadia Mikail's debut YA novel 'The Cats We Meet Along the Way' is the winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023. Photo: Guppy Books

The awards were voted on by Waterstones’ booksellers.

Florentyna Martin, Waterstones head of children's refers to Nadia's book as a "phenomenal debut", adding that her prose sparkles in the growing market for older readers.

"Booksellers were overwhelmed by the tenderness woven through each chapter; the moments of silence between the characters are as truthful and evocative as their conversations. Nadia has ultimately crafted a novel of hope, set against an eventful road trip, that encourages us to share stories and dreams," she says.

In 2020, The Cats We Meet Along The Way won the inaugural Young Adult competition held by independent children's publisher Guppy Books in Britain, beating over 400 entries received in response to its call for submissions.

"We are completely over the moon that Nadia’s The Cats We Meet Along the Way not only won the Older Readers Prize but was also the overall winner! Truly a dream come true. We were so lucky to come across this extraordinary novel in the summer of 2020, winner of our inaugural Open Submissions Competition, and so very very proud to be Nadia’s publisher," reads Guppy Books in a social media post.

The Waterstones Children's Book Prize is now in its 19th year.

Besides Nadia, the other winners this year are M.T. Khan for her fantasy adventure story Nura And The Immortal Palace (winner of the young readers category) and Kim Hillyard for Gretel The Wonder Mammoth (winner of the illustrated books category).

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