First-time novelist Nathan Filer has won the £30,000 Costa Book of the Year award for his "extremely moving" debut The Shock of the Fall (HarperCollins).
HarperCollins executive publisher Kate Elton said the win was "so brilliant for Borough Press", the newly launched literary imprint which brought out Filer's novel in paperback earlier this month.
"I'm thrilled for Katie Espiner's imprint Borough to have this debut win the Costa in its first month; to get off to such a strong start is brilliant," she told The Bookseller. "It also reaffirms your faith in why we are all in publishing. Everyone knew we bought The Shock of the Fall in a very big auction [Eleven publishers were involved]. We took a big bet on a book we utterly believed in and a writer we loved - we had faith that his work would resonate with people. That's the joy of what we do - finding new writers we believe in and whom we believe we can make a difference to in taking his work to lots of people. This gives him an extremely strong platform to share his talents."
The novel is narrated by a young man, Matthew, descending into schizophrenia as he confronts his role in the death of his brother 10 years earlier. Filer, 33, is a qualified mental health nurse and worked for many years in the Bristol mental health service before his present role as a lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa university.
At the award ceremony held in central London on Tuesday night (28th January), chair of the judges Rose Tremain acknowledged that it was "always a risk" choosing a first novel - "Is it a one-book wonder? You don't know" - but said that The Shock of the Fall was "astonishingly sure-footed" for a debut work.
"What impressed me most was the almost perfect alignment between the voice of the narrator and its subject; it covers age five to the early 20s, the voice changes and alters," she said.
Tremain added: "Someone in the course of the [judging] meeting said 'Isn't it a marginal subject?' But it's not just about schizophrenia, but grief, and we all have experience of that. It's about grief and coming to terms with grief. It's extremely moving."
She added that there was "genuine excitement about this author" among the judges, as well as about the fact that the prize win would "change his life".
However she said that the other four shortlisted titles - bookies' favourite Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday), The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (Fourth Estate), Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children's Books) and Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape) - had also been strong contenders. "It was a very good list this year, but this book stood out," she said, although acknowledging that the judges had been "not quite unanimous."
Accepting the award, Filer said: "It was a real honour to be considered among such writers. I feel a bit emotional - I'm allowed to." He thanked his wife Emily saying he was "absolutely certain" he wouldn't be "standing here now" without her help, later divulging that the two had only married last Saturday (25th).
He also said of his novel: "I certainly didn't set out to write a campaign book or to write about mental illness or schizophrenia, I set out to write about this character [Matthew]. Having decided schizophrenia would be part of this character, I felt a responsibility not to propagate the myths around the illness." He still does shifts in hospital, he revealed, with one due just next weekend. "I do think there's something to be said for having more to your life than writing," he observed. "I've just re-registered [as a nurse] for another year, I'm proud to be a nurse, I think it's very important."
The Costa Short Story award, also given at yesterday's ceremony, went to Angela Readman for her tale "The Keeper and the Jackalopes".