HE TOLD Philip Pullman to take the boring bits out of Northern Lights and spotted a best-seller when he read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Now David Fickling has become the first person ever to win the Branford Boase literary award for a third time.
And, after 36 years, he is taking his publishing business independent. On Thursday, Mr Fickling was presented with the 2013 Branford Boase award for editing illustrated children’s fable A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, written by Cambridge author David Shelton.
He received the award jointly with Mr Shelton. Mr Fickling also won the award for editing Before I Die by Jenny Downham in 2008 and Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry in 2007.
He says the key to his success is being surrounded by talented local authors.
“It is so lovely to be here in Oxford doing it,” he said. “You have got to recognise things, and if I like something, I do something about it.” The Branford Boase award was set up in memory of prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, editorial director and a founder of Walker Books, both of whom died of cancer in 1999.
The award is specifically to encourage new writers and to highlight the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. Mr Shelton said: “I am especially delighted to win the award because of the way it draws attention to the important role of the editor in the writing process, especially in the case of first novels. David Fickling’s gentle editorial hand ensured I never quite lost my balance.”
Now 60, Mr Fickling has been editing in Oxford since in 1977. He started his career at Oxford University Press, editing children’s books under his mentor Ron Heapy. One day a manuscript landed on his desk by an Oxford teacher called Philip Pullman, called The Ruby in the Smoke, beginning a winning publishing partnership. Together, the pair went on to give the world Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, the first of which was made into Hollywood blockbuster The Golden Compass. “Philip says I did a lot on His Dark Materials,” said Mr Fickling.
“I might have said some things drag a little or I didn’t understand certain bits, but I always say an editor is like a building scaffold – once gone it should be forgotten.”
For the past 10 years he has run his own imprint, David Fickling Books, under Random House, but yesterday announced his company was going independent. He celebrated last night with a party at his offices in Beaumont Street joined by Philip Pullman and Oxford author Mark Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
David Fickling’s favourite book is The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton. He said: “No-one gave it to me, I found it myself in the library in Havant. I was about five years old. I had been learning to read but I was on this terrible reading scheme called Janet and John, it was so dull.
“I started reading and it was like a bomb going off in my head – suddenly I was reading.
“The story is about children going to an island with a parrot, it just seemed so full of adventure, it was the most amazing book in the world.
I haven’t read it in 55 years, but it is the first thing that really made me go ‘wow’.”