A picture book about pirates by an Aardman Animations artist has beaten an award-winning funny book and a topical teen read to win the Waterstones children's book prize.
The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle triumphed over a shortlist of picture books dominated by animal stories and then beat the 5-12 and teen category winners to become the first picture book to win the £5,000 prize, which is voted for by booksellers.
Duddle's tale features the Jolley-Rogers, a family of swashbuckling pirates who move to the quiet seaside town of Dull-on-Sea. Their neighbours are dubious about the newcomers to the town, until they discover the buried treasure the pirates leave behind.
"The Pirates Next Door is full of the anarchic wit and invention children love in a picture book. It's fresh and fun," said Melissa Cox, children's buyer at Waterstones.
Duddle has a track record of pirate art having worked on the new Aardman film starring Hugh Grant, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, and the Pirates of the Caribbean computer game. The Pirates Next Door is his second book. His first, The Pirate Cruncher, was longlisted for the Kate Greenaway medal.
Speaking down the line from the ceremony in London, shortly after learning of his win and declaring himself to be "still in shock", Duddle said that the preponderence of pirates in his life was accidental and slightly baffling.
"I worked on a replica square rig vessel for a year, touring the UK dressed as a pirate, teaching kids. But only because it happened to be given to me by a job centre in Bristol. Then I worked for a computer company and they just happened to give me Pirates of the Caribbean to work on. I went for a job at Aardman, not knowing what I'd be working on, and ended up spending four years on the Pirates film. I went to my publishers with an idea for a book about space, following my first book, and they asked if I could do another pirate book instead. I'd scribbled a few ideas down in my sketchbook months earlier, and they developed into this book."
It was inspired by his daughter who had complained that The Pirate Cruncher was "too boysy". Duddle admits that a picture book without "cute things or children or animals, only gnarly old pirates" was quite unusual. "So I wrote this one more for her, " he explained. "We were moving house and she was worrying a little bit about who we would live next to and who her friends would be so I drew on that and included a little girl and a pirate boy. Unlike my first book, this one is set in the modern day and I think it has a universal aspect – all children are concerned about who their friends are and who they will be living next to and the idea of pirates living next door is quite exciting."
Duddle's next book will be about "space and robots and aliens and no pirates at all," he said firmly.
The winner of the fiction 5-12 category was Liz Pichon's The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, a diary-based story which won last year's Roald Dahl funny prize. Jenny Downham won the teen category with You Against Me, which tackles teenage love across the class divide against the backdrop of a sexual assault court case. Cox described it as a "unique story, sensitively told. Downham is not afraid to tackle risky, topical themes, and she does so with poise and skill."
The category winners picked up cheques for £2,000 at the ceremony at Waterstones Piccadily, while Duddle garnered an extra £3,000 for his overall win. Last year's winner was Sita Brahmachari with Artichoke Hearts. Previous winners include Julia Golding, Sally Nicholls, Michelle Harrison and Katie Davies.
To be eligible for the prize, authors must have no more than one previously published fiction title or, in the case of author-illustrator partnerships, have had no more than four previously published picture books.
The contenders in full
No! by Marta Altés (Child's Play)
I Don't Want to be a Pea! by Ann Bonwill & Simon Rickerty (Oxford University Press)
The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)
A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton (Walker)
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Walker)
Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (Jonathan Cape)
The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook (Faber and Faber)
Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley (Chicken House)
Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis (Oxford University Press)
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by L. Pichon (Scholastic)
Milo and the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg (Simon & Schuster)
Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith (Hodder Children's Books)
You Against Me by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books)
Being Billy by Phil Earle (Penguin)
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (Simon & Schuster)
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (Orion)
Divergent by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins Children's Books)
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin)
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