The late Helen Dunmore has been awarded the Costa Poetry Award posthumously for her 10th and final collection, Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books).
Comprising poems focused principally on mortality and "the borderline between the living and the dead", it was saluted by the judges as "an astonishing set of poems" and "a final, great achievement". Dunmore, who was also a novelist and writer of short stories and children’s books, died from cancer in June of last year at the age of 64.
The remaining Costa Awards - celebrating "the most enjoyable books" in categories of first novel, novel, biography and children's book - were respectively scooped by Gail Honeyman, Jon McGregor, Rebecca Stott and Katherine Rundell. The announcement marks a hat-trick of wins for HarperCollins, which publishes Honeyman, McGregor and Stott.
Honeyman claimed the Costa First Novel Award for her debut, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins). The book, which took Honeyman two years to write while working full-time in administration at Glasgow University, became the subject of a fierce eight-way auction on the eve of 2015's Frankurt Book Fair and is now soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon. It centres on Eleanor, a socially awkward 31-year-old woman who leads a simple, carefully timetabled life, involving wearing the same clothes to work every day, eating the same meal deal for lunch every day and buying the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend - until something happens to make her wonder: "Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely anything is better than...fine?"
In interview with The Bookseller's Alice O'Keeffe in 2017, Honeyman reflected: "It was fun to write someone who isn’t charming ... She’s not a people-pleaser, she’s not someone who people naturally warm to. But that creates quite a lot of dramatic potential for everyday encounters." Judges Sandeep Mahal, BBC presenter Sophie Raworth and Simon Savidge praised the novel as "completely fantastic. The end."
McGregor triumphed in the Costa Novel Award category with his fourth novel, Reservoir 13 (4th Estate). Described as an "anti-thriller" by the author himself, it opens with the disappearance of a 13-year-old in the hills of the north of England - a girl who goes missing and, unusually for the trope, stays missing. The "hypnotic, compelling and original" novel, in the words of the judges, succeeded on a shortlist that had comprised Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus), Stef Penney's Under a Pole Star (Quercus) and Sarah Winman's Tin Man. "This stunning novel simply blew us away," the panel said.
Historian and author Rebecca Stott was meanwhile hailed "a stand-out winner", taking home the Costa Biography Award for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate). The book is her memoir of growing up in and breaking away from a fundamentalist Christian sect called The Exclusive Brethren, a community of believers in a world ruled by Satan. Following Keggie Carew's win with Dadland (Chatto) in 2016, 2017's winning book sprung from a conversation Stott had with her father on his death bed, asking her to help him tell his story.
Rundell's adventure story set in the Amazon rainforest, The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books), seized the Costa Children’s Book Award. Triumphing over books by YA Book Prize-winner Sarah Crossan, Lissa Evans and Kiran Millwood Hargrave, the judges described it "a glorious read and a timeless voyage of wonder that will be enjoyed by readers aged 8 to 80". Rundell's success follows that of Rooftoppers (Faber and Faber), which was crowned the overall winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize back in 2014.
Charlie Redmayne, c.e.o. of HarperCollins UK, said the company was "proud" of his publishing teams responsible for three of the five Costa category winners. “Congratulations to Gail, Jon and Rebecca – I am delighted for them. I am also very proud of our publishing teams; to win in three categories of such a competitive and prestigious award is a huge achievement and clearly shows the strength and breadth of our publishing,” he said.
The winner of the Costa Book of the Year - which to date has been won 12 times by a novel (last year by Sebastian Barry, the first novelist to have won twice) - will be announced at an awards ceremony hosted at Quaglino’s in central London on 30th January 2018.
The panel of judges, led by novelist Wendy Holden, will comprise authors and category judges Moniza Alvi, Simon Garfield, Freya North, Raworth and Piers Torday, joined by British Vogue contributing editor Laura Bailey, author and presenter Fern Britton and actor Art Malik.
The winner of the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the general public, will also be announced at the awards ceremony. Voting is open until 12th January.