November 28, 2016
A strong showing for female writers on the Costa Awards shortlist
by Nikki Griffiths
The Costa Book Awards, which pick outstanding books of the year written by authors based in the UK and Ireland, have announced their shortlist, and fourteen out of the twenty authors listed are women. This is the weakest showing for male authors since records were first compiled in 1995.
Originally launched as the Whitbread Literary Awards in 1971, they became the Whitbread Book Awards in 1985, with Costa taking over in 2006.
There are five award categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. The winner of each category will receive £5,000, with an overall winner from the shortlisted candidates to be awarded £30,000.
This year there were 596 entries, the shortlist being chosen by a panel of judges including Andrew O’Hagan, Cressida Cowell, Nicci Gerrard, Anna James, Mary Loudon, Matthew Dennison, and Jen Campbell.
In the Novel category we see three familiar faces—Sebastian Barry, Maggie O’Farrell, and Rose Tremain—who have all won the category before.
Barry won the overall Costa book of the year in 2008 for his novel The Secret Scripture, telling the Guardian, “Winning the Costa changed my life. I was able to send my kids to university with that prize. To be at the cadet stage again, that is so exciting.”
O’Farrell won the prize in 2010 for The Hand that First Held Mine and has been nominated three times. She told the BBC, “It’s amazing — it’s such a lovely phone call to get. Every time feels different because every book feels so different.”
And Tremain won in 1999 with Music and Silence. The only newcomer in the Fiction category is Sarah Perry, for The Essex Serpent. Perry told the Guardian, “To have a panel of judges consider it one of the four best novels of the year is so extraordinary… I think it will give me greater courage and confidence to carry on writing.”
The poetry shortlist is made of entirely female authors, including rapper and novelist Kate Tempest, who is a previous Mercury Music Prize nominee and a former Ted Hughes Poetry Society prize winner.
Dominic Paul, managing director of Costa, told Katherine Cowdrey of The Bookseller:
“I’m certain that readers of all tastes will find something to enjoy in this fantastic selection of books. My thanks go to the category judges who read so extensively and chose so carefully, and many congratulations to the shortlisted authors. We’re very proud of our heritage and connection with the Book Awards at Costa and we wish them all great success.”
Winners in the five categories will be announced on 3 January, and the overall 2016 Costa Book of the Year will be announced at the at the London award ceremony on 31 January. If I were going to plump for a winner, I’d pick The Essex Serpent…
Costa Book Award Shortlist
Sebastian Barry for Days Without End (Faber & Faber)
Maggie O’Farrell for This Must Be the Place (Tinder Press)
Sarah Perry for The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail)
Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus)
Susan Beale for The Good Guy (John Murray)
Kit de Waal for My Name Is Leon (Viking)
Guinevere Glasfurd for The Words in My Hand (Two Roads)
Francis Spufford for Golden Hill (Faber & Faber)
Keggie Carew for Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory (Chatto & Windus)
John Guy for Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years (Viking)
Hisham Matar for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Viking)
Sylvia Patterson for I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (Sphere)
Melissa Lee-Houghton for Sunshine (Penned in the Margins)
Alice Oswald for Falling Awake (Jonathan Cape Poetry)
Denise Riley for Say Something Back (Picador)
Kate Tempest for Let Them Eat Chaos (Picador)
Brian Conaghan for The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury)
Patrice Lawrence for Orangeboy (Hodder Children’s Books)
Francesca Simon for The Monstrous Child (Faber & Faber/Profile Books)
Ross Welford for Time Travelling With a Hamster (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.