Sally Rooney's Normal People takes Book of the Year at British Book Awards

Sally Rooney's Normal People takes Book of the Year at British Book Awards

Faber emerged victorious at the British Book Awards 2019 on Monday evening (13th May), with Sally Rooney’s Normal People scooping the coveted Book of the Year award. The book had earlier won the Fiction Book of the Year prize, while Faber stablemate Leila Slimani’s Lullaby won the Debut Fiction category. The 90-year-old company also took the Independent Publisher of the Year gong in the trade section of the awards.

Irish writer Rooney triumphed in winning the top gong over Michelle Obama's Becoming (Viking), which secured two wins on the night: Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year and Audiobook of the Year. Rooney also fended off competition from David Walliams whose mammoth-seller The Ice Monster (HarperCollins, illustrated by Tony Ross) took Children’s Fiction Book of the Year.

Thriller writer Lee Child was named Author of the Year while Judith Kerr was named Illustrator of the Year at the awards, known across the trade as the ‘Nibbies’, at the ceremony at London's Grosvenor House.

Rooney’s tale of two college friends growing up in Dublin was called “beautifully observed and profoundly moving” by Alice O’Keeffe, books editor of The Bookseller, who revealed it was “unanimously praised” by the judges. “It really is an exceptional novel from one of the most exciting young writers we have,” O’Keeffe said. Fellow judge Brett Woolstencroft, manager at Daunt Books, described Normal People as “ that rare thing, a sublime work of literary fiction which appeals to all because it exquisitely renders a universal experience – being young, finding love, friendship and ultimately a sense of self. Add a wonderful cover and well-judged promotion, and you have a phenomenon.” Waterstones fiction buyer Bea Carvalho, another judge, called it "fiction at its brightest and most relatable: clever yet unpretentious, literary yet highly approachable...that rare gift of a novel which can be enjoyed by readers of all tastes."

The novel, Rooney's second, has sold 185,000 books for £2.3m according to Nielsen BookScan, also winning the 2018 Costa Novel Award and the Waterstones Fiction Book of the Year 2018.

Rooney said of her Nibbies win: “It’s an enormous privilege and an honour for me to receive the overall Book of the Year Award at the British Book Awards. I want to say thank you, specifically, because I feel I had an extraordinary lucky experience with this book. I’ve received such enormous support and generosity from my own publisher, Faber & Faber, of course, and also from the bookselling community generally, from libraries and librarians, and the community of people who love books. It has been a really privileged experience for me, and I do feel astonishingly lucky.”


Normal People by Sally Rooney (credit: Jack I Davies), winner of Fiction Book of the Year and Overall Book of the Year

Earlier in the night, Normal People was revealed as the winner of the Fiction Book of the Year, triumphing over Booker-winning Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber) and Jojo Moyes’s Still Me (Michael Joseph) among others.

Lullaby took Debut of the Year. The thriller, about a nanny in Paris, by winning Franco-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani and translated by Sam Taylor, beat novels including Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (Harvill Secker) and Ruth Jones’s Never Greener (Bantam Press) in a hotly contested category.

Across the Non-Fiction: Narrative category, Becoming beat Michael Wolff’s White House exposé Fire and Fury (Little, Brown) and Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love (Fig Tree) to take the Non-Fiction: Narrative award. The former First Lady’s memoir has shifted 653,000 copies for £9.7m, according to Nielsen BookScan, and “stood out head and shoulders above the competition as it powerfully shares both the personal and the political”, according to writer and critic Anita Sethi, a category judge.

The audiobook version of Becoming (Penguin Random House Audio) – narrated by Obama herself – won Audiobook of the Year. It triumphed over Ben Whishaw’s telling of the late Stephen Hawking’s final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (John Murray) and Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White, narrated by Robert Glenister (Hachette Audio). 

The Children’s Fiction category winner, The Ice Monster, was described as “gloriously, snortily funny” by judge Tina Gaisford-Waller, of Hunting Raven Books, and readers agreed – it took £5m through sales of 714,000, according to Nielsen BookScan. Gaisford-Waller said of Walliams that “the danger in overlooking Walliams on account of his celebrity is that he misses out on the critical recognition he sorely deserves on account of his talent”. Walliams beat fellow HarperCollins author David Baddiel, who was shortlisted for Head Kid (illustrated by Steve Lenton) as well as industry stalwart Jacqueline Wilson’s My Mum Tracy Beaker (Doubleday, illustrated by Nick Sharratt). Tomi Adeyemi had been nominated for Children of Blood and Bone (Macmillan Children’s Books).


Illustrator of the Year Judith Kerr and Author of the Year Lee Child

In the newly introduced Children’s Illustrated and Non-Fiction category, You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed (Wren & Rook, illustrated by Toby Triumph) took the crown, with a Highly Commended given by the judges to Usborne’s Politics for Beginners. Judge Dr Ranj described You Are Awesome as "accessible, practical and useful in so many ways", while he said of Politics for Beginners: "Complex concepts are beautifully illustrated and explained, making this title hard to put down." 

In Crime & Thriller, Louise Candlish’s mystery novel Our House (Simon & Schuster) beat heavyweights Ian Rankin and Jo Nesbo and controversial author A J Finn, a.k.a. book editor Dan Mallory. Candlish’s psychological thriller, about the dissolution of a marriage, marked a return to form for the author’s sales, selling 107,000 copies for £637,000 according to Nielsen BookScan.

Finally, the vegan cookbook Bosh! (HQ), by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, won Non-Fiction: Lifestyle, lauded as “an exemplary piece of publishing” by writer and broadcaster Jay Rayner. The YouTube presenters won the award in a starry category, beating chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Tom Kerridge, as well as titles with a more political slant, such as Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible (4th Estate) by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke. Bosh! sold 185,000 for £2.3m altogether, according to Nielsen BookScan. Writer and broadcaster Jay Rayner called HQ's work on the book "an exemplary piece of publishing", saying: "The team at HQ helped two unknown lads who had been investigating the joys of non-meat cookery to creative a massive, vibrant seller which isn't about appealing to niche dietary requirements, but just about great food."

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, said: “We are delighted with all of the winners in the book and author categories this year, which show-off the breadth and dynamism of UK publishing, from the commercial heavyweights such as David Walliams and Lee Child, to newer writers like Leila Slimani, Matthew Syed and Sally Rooney, to major breakthroughs from Michelle Obama and the team behind Bosh!, through to beloved writers and illustrators such as Judith Kerr and Louise Candlish, these are the books and authors that defined a great year in the book business.”

The British Book Awards 2019's Books of the Year winners

For more information, visit The British Book Awards website.