Showing posts with label Costa Book Awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Costa Book Awards. Show all posts

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Andrew Miller wins 2011 Costa Book of the Year

A star-studded party, buckets of champagne and some of the most talented writers in the business vying for the prestigious Costa book of the year prize.

The presentation ceremony for the 2011 Costa Book Awards was never going to be any old bash. Held at Quaglino’s, the chic London restaurant, hosted by TV presenter Penny Smith (looking resplendent in a long silver dress) and with guests including Maureen Lipman, Esther Rantzen, Natasha Kaplinsky, Jacqueline Wilson, Simon Mayo and Fiona Philips, the party totally lived up to expectations. Even better, Andrew Miller’s brilliant novel, Pure, scooped the top award.

When I reviewed the five Costa category winners (novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children’s book) for a newspaper last week I wrote: “If it was down to me, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Andrew Miller’s novel and Matthew Hollis’s biography of Edward Thomas – two captivating books that both deserve a wider audience.”

The judges, who included comedian Hugh Dennis, actress Dervla Kirwan and broadcaster Mary Nightingale, clearly thought the same.

Announcing the winner, chair of the judges Geordie Greig admitted that the 90-minute judging session that afternoon had been a “tussle” between two books - Miller’s Pure and Hollis’s Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas. “There was quite bitter dissent and argument to find the winner,” he said. “The debate was prolonged with passionate views over two books.”

But in the end Pure triumphed and a slightly stunned-looking Miller stepped on stage to accept his prize – a £30,000 cheque to add to the £5,000 Costa novel prize he’d already won. “You spend three years in a room on your own,” he said, “and by the time you give a book to your publisher you never really know what it is any more.”

Andrew Miller caused a stir earlier in the year when he beat Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes to take the Costa novel prize. But his book is one that stays in your head long after you’ve finished reading. Stylish, compelling and beautifully written, it’s the story of an 18th century engineer charged with the “delicate and gross” task of demolishing an ancient, crumbling cemetery in the heart of Paris.  

Even though Matthew Hollis didn’t take the overall prize, his biography is one of this year’s must-reads. Engrossing and impeccably researched, it's the account of the five years leading up to Edward Thomas’s death at the war front in 1917 – including his inspirational friendship with American poet Robert Frost, his tricky marriage and his move (encouraged by Frost) from writing prose to poetry.

The other three category winners are remarkable books too. I was one of the judges for the Costa first novel award and out of 87 contenders we chose the gripping Tiny Sunbirds Far Away. Written by paediatric nurse Christie Watson, it’s the tale of Blessing, a 12-year-old Nigerian girl who swaps a privileged upbringing in Lagos for an impoverished life in the Niger Delta following the break-up of her parents’ marriage. At times hilarious, it's an uplifting and moving novel from a writer to watch.

The winner of the Costa children’s book prize was Moira Young’s stunning Blood Red Road, which I reviewed on the blog a couple of weeks back, while the poetry prizewinner was poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy for The Bees, a vibrant collection of love poems, political poems and the moving Last Post, written for the last surviving soldiers to fight in the 1914-1918 war.

PS. As if all this wasn’t exciting enough, Costa managing director John Derkach announced at the party that the the Costa Book Awards are to introduce a new short story award (it won’t be judged alongside the five other category winners.) More details will follow later in the year. 

PPS. Andrew Miller and Christie Watson are both University of East Anglia creative writing graduates – proof once again that creative writing courses really do work! 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday book review - Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I’m a huge fan of the Costa Book Awards. They’ve helped me discover loads of fantastic books over the years and when the organisers asked me to be a judge for the 2011 first novel of the year prize I was so excited I could hardly speak. The five 2011 category winners (novel, first novel, poetry, biography and children’s book) were announced last week and I can’t wait to discover the overall winner at the award ceremony in London on January 24.

But in the meantime I was thrilled to see that the winner of the children’s category is Blood Red Road by Moira Young.

I read the book last year and was so stunned by it that I immediately chose it as one of my top reads for teenagers in a Christmas round-up I wrote for a newspaper. As I said at the time: “The writing in Blood Red Road is so assured that it’s astonishing to find that this is Moira Young’s first novel.”

The Costa children’s book judges were similarly impressed, remarking that “she kept us reading and left us hungry for more. A really special book.”

So if you’re looking for a gripping read for a teenager (or yourself in fact), this is an amazing story, with hints of Cormac McCarthy. Set in a strange future world, it’s the powerful tale of Saba, a headstrong 18-year-old girl who sets out across the barren landscape beyond her remote desert home to find her kidnapped twin brother.

The first of a trilogy, the epic adventure is told in Saba’s own (and very unique) voice and will appeal to girls and boys alike. Saba, who’s accompanied on her quest by a clever crow called Nero, is a tough cookie, but as she encounters violence, cruelty and death, she refuses to give up hope.

Young, a former actress and singer who was born in Canada and now lives in Bath, used to be PA to the editor of the Bath Chronicle. She’s now a full-time writer and is working on her second book (I can’t wait for the next instalment!) Not only that, the film rights for Blood Red Road have already been snapped up by Ridley Scott’s production company. I’m not surprised – it really would make a great movie.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Marion Lloyd Books, £7.99)
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