Sebastian Barry wins Costa Novel Award

Sebastian Barry wins Costa Novel Award

Irish novelist Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Novel Award for a second time with Days Without End (Faber & Faber).

At the same time, Francis Spufford's novel Golden Hill (also Faber & Faber) has been crowned the Costa First Novel Award winner, while YA author Brian Conaghan has won the Costa Children's Book Award for The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury).

Barry's "miracle of a book" beat competition from Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent (Serpent's Tail), recently crowned Waterstones Book of the Year, as well as Maggie O'Farrell's This is the Place (Tinder Press) and Rose Tremain's The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus) to win the category award. He first took the prize for The Secret Scripture (Faber & Faber), which went on the win the overall Costa Book of the Year award in 2008. The book, which has been described as stylistically similar to The Secret Scripture by the Guardian, follows 17-year-old Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms John Cole as they go to fight in the Indian wars and the US Civil War during the 1850s. The judges said it "manages to create spaces for love and safety in the noise and chaos of history".

Faber also had success in the First Novel Award category with Spufford's historical novel Golden Hill. Set in a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island in 1746, Spufford's first fiction title after a career of writing non-fiction explores New York in its infancy and the reinvention of a young man with a fast tongue fresh off the boat from England. His novel follows five non-fiction titles, spanning science writing, historical writing, politics and theology, which have earned him prizes including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Writers Guild Award for Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year, the Somerset Maugham Award and a longlisting for the Orwell Prize.

YA author Conaghan, born in Coatbridge in Scotland, now based in Dublin, won the Costa Children's Book Award for The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury). His win is the fruit of perseverance shown at the start of his writing career when he received 217 rejections before landing his agent and book deal. The Bombs That Brought Us Together is his third novel, touching on issues such as nationalism, war and refugees through the eyes of his 14-year-old protagonist Charlie Law. The judges remarked that the title was "timely yet also hilariously funny". 

"Bombs is a necessary take on modern life in extraordinary circumstances," they said.

Penguin Random House claimed titles in both the Biography and Poetry Costa categories with Chatto & Windus' Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by debut non-fiction writer Keggie Carew winning the Biography Award and Falling Awake by multi-award winning poet Alice Oswald winning in the Poetry category.

Dadland - part detective story, part memoir and part history - is about Carew's father's colourful life as a war hero, a member of an elite Special Operations Executive unit during the Second World War, framed by her own experiences of him now suffering with dementia. The judges gave it a ringing endorsement calling it a "hilarious and heartbreaking book" adding "you'll be so glad you read it". It triumphed over Libyan writer Hisham Matar's The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, which was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and won the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize at the end of last year.

Oswald, winner of the Costa poetry category, was also shortlisted in 2016 for the TS Eliot Prize for Falling Awake, following her win in 2002. The collection of poems is meant to be read aloud and is said to "attend to the organic shapes and sounds and momentum of the language as it is spoken as well as how it's thought: fresh, fluid and propulsive, but also fragmentary, reptitive". The judges said they were "all in awe of this book".

Dominic Paul, managing director of Costa, said: “We’re very proud and excited to be announcing this year’s Costa Award Winners, a collection of terrific books. Five wonderful reads and something here for all readers’ tastes - just what the Costa Book Awards are all about.”

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be selected by a panel of judges chaired by Professor Kate Williams, comprising authors and category judges Nicci Gerrard, Charlotte Heathcote, Matthew Dennison, Kate Kellaway and Cressida Cowell, joined by Graham Norton, Sian Williams and Robert Bathurst, and announced at an awards ceremony hosted by presenter and broadcaster Penny Smith at Quaglino’s in central London on Tuesday 31st January 2017.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 11 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, six times by a biography, seven times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge, 2015's Costa Book of the Year, was the first children's book to have won the award since Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass did so in 2001.

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 Friday 13th January, until which time the identity of the three shortlisted authors remains anonymous.