The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, published by Macmillan Children's Books, has been crowned the surprise winner of the £30,000 2015 Costa Book of the Year: the first children's book to claim the prize in more than a decade.
The winner was announced by broadcaster Penny Smith at an awards ceremony at Quaglino’s in central London tonight (26th January), fighting off competition from winning books across Costa's four other award categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography and Poetry.
Hardinge's The Lie Tree, unfancied by the bookies, is the first children's book to have won the award since Philip Pullman took the prize for his third novel in the Dark Materials trilogy The Amber Spyglass in 2001.
Hardinge's seventh novel, described as "part horror story, part detective, part historical", is set in the scientific, male-dominated society of Victorian England, where women were to be seen and not heard. The plot follows 14-year-old Faith, a budding scientist with a naturalist father, who resolves to uncover the truth about his death, and discovers a tree that is fed by lies.
The Lie Tree was held up by chair of the judges James Heneage as an "important book" for what is "not only a great narrative and a great characterisation" but for its "incredibly important theme".
"I think this brilliantly articulates what is in a clever 14-year-old girl's mind, particularly one that has a deep interest in science," he said. "The Lie Tree is a fantastic story, great characterisation with great narrative tension and a fabulous ending."
Heneage, who was the founder of the Ottakar's chain of bookshops taken over by Waterstones in 2006, said that the "bookseller in him" hoped the book would be a bestseller.
Accepting the prize, Hardinge, who has been with Macmillan throughout her publishing career, said: "From my point of view this win is completely lovely - from a less selfish point of view, I would also see it as a recognition of the wonderful work done out there [in children's and YA]. There's a lot of experimental work done out there, a lot of understanding of diversity."
She added, of the book's theme: "Female education is very important to me. I always have a problem with any prejudice that allows people to treat others as inferior. I don't write a manifesto and wrap a story around it, but while I'm writing a story, I do have a few bees in my bonnet."
She said she had "no idea" what she would do with the prize money - "This wasn't going to happen. I was standing there waiting to find out which of the other people had won so I could congratulate them" - but thought it likely she would spend "a portion of it on champagne."
Hardinge's editor Rachel Petty said: "We always knew she deserved something like this. It's important for children's books that they get this recognition - it draws attention to one of the most profitable categories in the TCM, and a treasure trove of storytelling that ties in really well with Costa's mission to get people reading. There are so many kids out there with a thirst for new worlds."
The Lie Tree beat bookies’ favourite, debut novelist Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney (John Murray), which won the First Novel category, as well as Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins (Doubleday), winner of the Novel category, Andrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science (John Murray), winner of the Biography Award and Don Paterson, who won the Poetry award for 40 Sonnets (Faber).
Also judging were writer, comedian and actress Katy Brand; actress, author and entrepreneur Jane Asher; and TV presenter, writer and former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis.
The biography category won Book of the Year for 2014 with H is for Hawk (Vintage) by Helen Macdonald, recounting her experience training a goshawk as a way of dealing with grief following her father’s death.
Over 630 books were entered into this years Costas, awarded to the “most enjoyable” books in their categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book.
£5,000 was awarded to each category winner, with the “ultimate prize” - the 2015 Costa Book of the Year - worth a further £30,000.
Meanwhile Daniel Murphy won the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the public, for his short story "Rogey."