Books by Maggie O’Farrell, Kit de Waal, Kate Tempest and Francesca Simon are among those shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Book Awards, in a strong year for women writers.
Three former Costa/Whitbread Award winners have been nominated in the Novel Award category -Maggie O’Farrell for This Must be the Place (Tinder Press), about a New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland with his reclusive ex-film star wife, Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus), a “pitch perfect and humane” book, written in three movements; and Sebastian Barry for Days Without End (Faber & Faber), a western about two brothers-in-arms through the Indian wars and Civil War whose lives are changed by a young Indian girl. The final book nominated in the Novel Award category is Sarah Perry’s Victorian-set novel The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail), exploring the relationship between a well-to-do London widow/amateur naturalist and the local vicar amid rumours that a mythical serpent has returned to Essex.
Kit de Waal and Susan Beale have been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, alongside Guinevere Glasfurd and Francis Spufford. Beale, originally from Cape Cod, and a recent graduate of Bath Spa’s MA in Creative Writing, is shortlisted for The Good Guy (John Murray), about the romantic fantasies of a car tyre salesman in 1960s suburban New England; de Waal, a former criminal and family lawyer from Birmingham, makes the list for what the judges called a “perceptive and compassionate read”, My Name is Leon (Viking); Glasfurd appears for The Words in My Hand (Two Roads), the reimagined true story of Helena, a 17th century Dutch maid; and Spufford is shortlisted for Golden Hill (Faber & Faber), a “spirited, wonderfully witty novel” which the judges said “sets sparkling characters and a lively plot against a richly-realised backdrop”.
Altogether women account for 16 of the total 20 writers shortlisted between the five award categories, recognising the “most enjoyable" novel, first novel, poetry, biography and children’s book published in the last year.
The shortlist for the poetry category is all-female, and includes spoken word artist and playwright Kate Tempest for her new long poem, Let Them Eat Chaos (Picador). The “magical book”, so-described the judges, is intended for live performance, having come from lyrics on Tempest’s album of the same name. Tempest is joined on the poetry shortlist by Alice Oswald - 2002’s winner of the T S Eliot Prize and 2013's winner of the Warwick Prize for Writing - for Falling Awake (Jonathan Cape Poetry); as well as by 2014 Next Generation Poet Melissa Lee-Houghton for her “necessary, raw and hypnotic” collection Sunshine (Penned in the Margins). Lee-Houghton, from Manchester, was this year awarded a New Writing North Award for Fiction, while her poem “i am very precious” was shortlisted by the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. The shortlist is completed by a second Picador author Denise Riley, professor of the history of ideas and of poetry at UEA, for Say Something Back (Picador), a “moving document of grieving and loss” that was praised by the judges as “robust in its fragility”.
And here they are - our 20 terrific shortlisted books. Something in there for everyone to enjoy.... pic.twitter.com/TB2xSWgFkg— Costa Book Awards (@CostaBookAwards) November 22, 2016
The Biography Award shortlist counts Hisham Matar among its number, who recently won the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize and was in the running for the Bailie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016, for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Viking). The book is a memoir of the author's journey in search of answers behind his father's abduction by Colonel Gaddafi 22 years earlier when Matar was aged 19. Keggie Carew, interviewed by The Bookseller in May, is meanwhile shortlisted for Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory (Chatto & Windus), “a bravura tale of derring-do” that the judges called “stylish, unconventional and utterly hilarious”. John Guy’s Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years (Viking), chronicles a time in the life of Elizabeth I when she was "fallible, increasingly insecure and struggling to lead Britain”, and pop journalist Sylvia Patterson’s “giddy music biography with real swagger and heart”, I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (Sphere), completes the list.
The Children’s Book Award shortlist includes the author of the bestselling Horrid Henry series, Francesca Simon, for The Monstrous Child (Faber & Faber/ Profile) about an ancient anti-heroine, imbued with “a fierce modern voice, in a story of gods, monsters and growing up. Debut children’s writer Ross Welford is shortlisted for Time Travelling with a Hamster (HarperCollins Children’s Books) with Patrice Lawrence for “topical thriller” Orangeboy (Hodder Children’s Books) and Brian Conaghan for The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury).
The judges between them sifted through 596 entries for the 45th Book Awards. Judges on 2016’s panels included writers Nicci Gerrard, Andrew O’Hagan, Mary Loudon, Matthew Dennison, journalist Anna James, vlogger Jen Campbell, and author-illustrator Cressida Cowell.
Winners will be announced on Tuesday 3rd January 2017. Each winner will receive £5,000, and the ultimate Costa Book of the Year accolade is worth £30,000. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, published by Macmillan Children's Books, was crowned the surprise winner last year as the first children's book to claim the prize in more than a decade.
Dominic Paul, managing director of Costa, said: “I'm certain that readers of all tastes will find something to enjoy in this fantastic selection of books. My thanks go to the category judges who read so extensively and chose so carefully, and many congratulations to the shortlisted authors. We’re very proud of our heritage and connection with the Book Awards at Costa and we wish them all great success."
The Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the public, will also be announced at the ceremony; the shortlisted stories are to be announced later this month.