HE WAS so convinced it wouldn’t happen, he never even wrote a winner’s speech.

But to his shock, Rob Jones walked away from a glittering London ceremony with a People’s Book Prize award, at the age of 26.

The Abingdon-based illustrator beat 11 other finalists from across the UK, receiving the accolade of ‘Best Children’s Book’ for his first book, Bernard, last Wednesday night.

He said: “We all had to stand onstage and I was just looking up at the ceiling, thinking ‘Don’t look too upset when you lose’.

“They read out my name and I just said to the audience ‘I’m really sorry, but I didn’t even write a speech’. I’m still amazed now.”

The People’s Book Prize, backed by master thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, invites the public to vote for winners in five categories: Children’s, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Best Achievement, and Beryl Bainbridge First-Time Author.

The 2014-15 winners were announced at a black-tie event at London’s Stationers’ Hall, covered by ITV News.

For Mr Jones the victory was especially sweet, as Bernard has been about three years in the making.

The plot follows a misunderstood hound who is feared by local villagers, when all he really wants to eat is strawberry jam.

Mr Jones said: “I wanted to do a project about misunderstood monsters. Bernard is loosely based on The Hound of the Baskervilles “I like to think there’s a lesson in it – don’t judge a book by its cover.

“A lot of friends send me videos of their children reading it. Three-year-olds have memorised it. It’s nice to think that there are children growing up with my books.”

After a string of hand-printed copies, Mr Jones was finally signed to a new company, Beast in Show Books, last year. He gave his first reading of the book to youngsters at Peachcroft Pre-School in Abingdon, which he attended as a boy.

Visitors to Oxford’s Story Museum were also in for a treat over half term, as Mr Jones brought his gouache paints, pencils and pens to the Pembroke Street museum to work live in its Draw Me a Story exhibition’s Illustrator Zoo.

He said: “It was a bit strange at first. A lot of illustrators work alone in the studio. But when I start talking, it’s very difficult to stop.”

Now with a major award to his name, he hopes to garner more national attention and has started work on a new book, this time about a cat.