Jessica Townsend chipped away at her children's fantasy novel – between working at the Australia Zoo, copywriting and selling insurance – for nearly a decade. It was a slow, steady and private project.

The whirlwind came when she finished Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – the major publishing houses vying for the rights, the six-figure deal, the acquisition of film rights by 20th century fox and a long book tour.

Author Jessica Townsend was inspired by the London Tube when she wrote her debut novel Nevermoor.

Photo: Louie Douvis

And it still hasn't stopped. Townsend, 33, was the major winner at the 2018 Australian Book Industry Awards on Thursday night, nabbing the overall Book of the Year as well as the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year and Book of the Year for Younger Children (ages 7-13).

The other winners were: Jimmy Barnes, who was awarded Biography Book of the Year for the second year running for his hugely popular second autobiographical instalment Working Class Man; Michael Robotham, who won General Fiction Book of the Year for his thriller The Secrets She Keeps after missing out on the prize four times in the past, and Sarah Schmidt, who was awarded Literary Fiction of the Year, for her re-imagining of the Lizzie Borden murders in See What I Have Done.

Nevermoor is only the second children's book to be named Book of the Year since the award was launched in 2006 (The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won in 2015). It also became the first to be named overall winner in the 10-year history of the Australian Independent Booksellers' Award in March.


​According to Townsend's publishers, more than 110,000 copies have sold in Australia and New Zealand. Nielsen has also reported the book as the fastest and no.1 highest-selling kids debut, locally or internationally, since BookScan figures began.

Hachette Australia's joint managing director Justin Ractliffe​ said the company had mounted a huge, multi-platform campaign for the book, which is aimed at 9 to 12 year olds.

But while Townsend had 10 years to finesse her debut, she has just a year to write the sequel. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow will be the real test of whether she can lock in the young minds captured by the magical world and feisty heroine of her debut.

Townsend, who lives between the Sunshine Coast and London, will start editing the sequel next week before it is published in September and she embarks on a two-month global book tour. Her publishers flew her to Sydney earlier this week so she could attend the ABIAs.

"It feels really like I am being not particularly gracious when I say it was hard, but it was hard," Townsend says of writing her second book in the wake of the huge buzz and success of her debut.

"Writing the first book I had no audience. I had an audience of one and it was me and then sort of starting the second book now I am conscious of thinking, 'what my editors and readers are going to think of this?' It is a kind of weird mind game to play with yourself but I guess that has been the challenge is just trying to shut out everything and focus on the story."

Townsend is still learning how to structure her life around writing, and if her plan to publish a book every year and a half is to be realised she said she will need to find balance She had been working at a call centre, selling car and home insurance, until her agent kindly suggested she might quit to focus full time on her writing.

t is a kind of weird mind game to play with yourself but I guess that has been the challenge is just trying to shut out everything and focus on the story.

"It doesn't come with a book of instructions. There is no one to be like, 'you have to give yourself some boundaries and work to a schedule'," Townsend said.

"I've just had no boundaries and I have just been working all the time and if i am not working I have been berating myself for not working which is such an unproductive thing."

As well as nine books planned for the series series, a film is in the early stages. Drew Goddard, who wrote and produced The Martian and started his career writing for Buffy and Angel, is on board for the adaptation.

Australian Book Industry Award winners:

ABIA for Book of the Year: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Jessica Townsend

Biography Book of the Year: Working Class Man, Jimmy Barnes

General Fiction Book of the Year: The Secrets She Keeps, Michael Robotham

General Non-fiction Book of the Year:The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, Sarah Krasnostein

Literary Fiction Book of the Year: See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt

Illustrated Book of the Year: Maggie's Recipe for Life, Maggie Beer and Professor Ralph Martins

International Book of the Year:Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo

Small Publishers' Adult Book of the Year: The Australian Bird Guide, Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack and Kim Franklin

Small Publishers' Children's Book of the Year: It's OK to Feel the Way You Do, Josh Langley

The Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year:Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend

Book of the Year for Older Children (ages 13+): Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer, Lili Wilkinson and Danielle Binks

Book of the Year for Younger Children (ages 7-13): Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend

Children's Picture Book of the Year (ages 0-6): No One Likes a Fart, Zoë Foster Blake

Audiobook of the Year: The 91-Storey Treehouse, Written and Illustrated by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

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Melanie Kembrey

Melanie Kembrey the Spectrum Deputy Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.

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