The novel had earlier been named Debut Book of the Year at the virtual ceremony. It saw off competition for the overall Book of the Year trophy from Bernardine Evaristo whose Booker-winning Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) landed the Fiction prize. It was a double triumph for Evaristo, who was also picked as the British Book Awards Author of the Year.
David McKee, known for the creation of beloved children’s character Elmer, was named Illustrator of the Year.
Elsewhere, there were awards for Pinch of Nom (Bluebird), Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and crime novel My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic). First -time author Holly Jackson won Children’s Fiction Book of the Year with The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (Egmont).
The awards, known as the “Nibbies”, are marking their 30th year, and also had a special “30 from 30” prize in honour of the occasion. It was won by J K Rowling whose Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury) was picked from a shortlist of previous award winners selected by readers and trade figures.
Carty-Williams' tale of the life and loves of Jamaican British woman Queenie Jenkins was praised by judge and The Bookseller books editor Alice O'Keeffe for being “by turns funny, wise and heartbreaking”. At their meeting on 4th May, the judges concluded it best met their criteria of quality writing, innovative publishing vision and excellent sales. Judge Stig Abell, formerly editor of the TLS, said: “This is a novel of our time, filled with wit, wisdom and urgency; and unafraid to tackle life as it is being experienced by a young, single black woman in the city. This shouldn’t be filed away as simply a funny debut by a brilliant writer (though it is that); this is an important meditation on friendship, love and race.”
The book has sold 79,726 copies in total for £683,917 through Nielsen BookScan, excluding books sold during lockdown. It was previously named Blackwell's Book of the Year 2019 and was a runner-up for the Costa First Novel Award.
Carty-Williams said: “I don’t quite know how I feel about winning book of the year; I’m proud of myself, yes, and grateful to the incredible team that helped me get Queenie out of my head and onto the shelves. I’m also sad and confused that I’m the first black and female author to have won this award since it began. Overall, this win makes me hopeful that although I’m the first, the industry are waking up to the fact that I shouldn’t and won’t be the last.”
She added: "The last words I wrote in Queenie were 'Black lives matter', and it feels really important to say that again here and say that as part of my acceptance speech because I'm really proud of who I am, and I'm proud of where I've come from and against all the odds, I've managed to get to this place and I just hope that more people like me get to do that."
Earlier in the night, Queenie had been revealed as winner of the Debut Book of the Year, supported by the Zoella Book Club. It beat off competition from Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Wildfire), The Binding by Bridget Collins (The Borough Press), The Familiars by Stacey Halls (Zaffre), Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Bluemoose) and The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (Viking).
Evaristo beat joint Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood's The Testaments (Chatto) to Fiction Book of the Year, supported by the TLS. Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth (David Fickling Books) and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (MJ) had also been in the running alongside Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (Bonnier Books UK) and Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks (HQ).
Judges described Girl, Woman, Other as “an incredible piece of publishing”. They said: “The author’s ambition to debunk deeply embedded misconceptions, and the publisher’s determination to break Evaristo’s writing out to a much wider audience, presented a huge commercial challenge which means that success, when it came, had been harder fought for and more emphatically delivered.”
Atwood's novel took the Audiobook of the Year award, supported by Times Radio, beating its predecessor The Handmaid’s Tale (Penguin Random House) to the top spot. Pullman was also nominated for The Secret Commonwealth alongside Louis Theroux's autobiography Gotta Get Theroux This (Macmillan), The Body by Bill Bryson (Audible), My Sister, the Serial Killer (W F Howes), The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray (Bloomsbury) and The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Bonnier).
Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer won Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, supported by Stylist, beating 2019’s Author of the Year Lee Child who was shortlisted this year for Blue Moon (Transworld). She was also up against Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party (HarperCollins), and books by Val McDermid, L J Ross and Alex Michaelides.
Lisa Taddeo’s hit Three Women (Bloomsbury) won Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year, supported by the Daily Telegraph. It triumphed over Elton John’s autobiography Me (Pan Macmillan), Adam Kay’s Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas (Picador), Lady Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting (Hodder), Bill Bryson's The Body (Doubleday) and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (Vintage).
It was described by judges as a “landmark book”, with one saying: “I am sure it will become a classic of the oral history genre as well as of feminist writing. Its evident personal impact on readers, including me, is surely as significant. It struck me as genuinely original, utterly committed, daring, formally innovative and important.”
Pinch of Nom by Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone (Bluebird) bagged the Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year. It had been up against Instagram cleaning guru Sophie Hinchcliffe’s Hinch Yourself Happy (MJ), Charlie Mackesy’s New York Times bestseller The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (Ebury) and The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry (Penguin Random House), Jamie Oliver's Veg (Michael Joseph) and Dishoom (Bloomsbury).
Holly Jackson won Children’s Fiction Book of the Year, supported by World Book Day, for The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (Egmont). She had been up against David Walliams’ The Beast of Buckingham Palace (HarperCollins, illustrated by Tony Ross), The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury), Onjali Q Raúf's The Star Outside My Window (Orion Children's Books), and books by Michelle Harrison and Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler scooped Children’s Illustrated & Non-fiction Book of the Year, also supported by World Book Day, for The Smeds and The Smoos (Scholastic). It won from a shortlist featuring books by Bryony Gordon, Alice Oseman, Sabina Radeva, Tim Marshall and Nathan Bryon with Dapo Adeola.
Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, said: “The winners showcase how books are at the forefront of conversations that have only grown in importance during the lockdown; in looking back to 2019-published books, as well as the past winners from 30 years of the British Book Awards, we can see how stories rise to meet their times, with the best of them proving to be timeless. Publishing will need to celebrate these winners, but also reflect on what they mean at an incredibly important moment for us all.”
For the full list of this year's award winners go to: British Book Awards website.