Elif Shafak, Raymond Antrobus and newly appointed Bloomsbury editor Kayo Chingonyi (pictured) are joined by eight debut authors in a Viking-dominated shortlist for the Costa Book Awards, following a record level of entries.
The annual awards, open solely to authors resident in the UK and Ireland, span 20 titles across five categories. This year celebrates the award's 50th anniversary. Of the 20 nominated titles, Viking claimed a quarter of the shortlist in a bumper year for the Costas - this year they the awards received 934 entries, a boost of more than 30% on 2020 and the highest number of entries received.
In the First Novel category shortlist, which featured 150 entries this year, there are two modern love stories, with journalist Emily Itami’s exploration of Japanese culture and societal pressures, Fault Lines (Phoenix), pitted against 27-year-old writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson’s "nuanced portrayal of the realities of race today", Open Water (Viking), which was the subject of a nine-way auction in 2019. Poet A K Blakemore’s "visceral, historical novel" The Witches of Manningtree (Granta) — which reimagines real 19th-Century Essex witch trials is also featured alongside actor and producer Kate Sawyer’s "immersive end of the world story" The Stranding (Coronet), following a woman hiding from the apocalypse inside a beached whale.
Four novels that explore survival in a hostile environment feature on the Novel shortlist. They include Shafak's 19th book, The Island of Missing Trees (Viking), a "lyrical meditation on grief, nature and inherited trauma" played out in a divided Cyprus, and The Fortune Men, a story of a Somali seaman wrongfully executed for murder in Wales in 1952, inspired by real-life events, by Nadifa Mohamed. The second novel from short story writer and novelist Jessie Greengrass, The High House, centred around a modern-day Noah’s Ark in a world devastated by climate change, is also shortlisted, alongside Claire Fuller's Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree), a portrait of twins living on the fringes of society. Judged by author Jessie Burton, journalist Sarah Shaffi and Blackwell's bookseller Charlie Bush, the novels were chosen from 233 entries.
The biography shortlist features The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War and Everest by Ed Caesar (Viking), which tells the story of Maurice Wilson, a British mountaineering legend who attempted to climb Everest alone. Also listed is Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston (Viking), a portrait of the media mogul turned MP, and journalist Arifa Akbar’s debut, Consumed: A Sister’s Story (Sceptre), "a haunting and powerful memoir" which explores the bond between sisters and the mythologies that surround tuberculosis. Completing the biography selection is Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi (Allen Lane), an "eye-opening" first-person account of coming of age in a country emerging from Communist rule.
Two poets with a background in education join the Poetry shortlist, including Hannah Lowe, whose The Kids (Bloodaxe Books) draws on a decade of teaching in an inner-city London sixth form for her collection of sonnets, and Antrobus, whose second collection All the Names Given (Picador) is an exploration of language and miscommunication. The second collection from recently appointed Bloomsbury editor and poet Chingonyi, A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus), is a "deeply personal" examination of HIV that tells a story of inheritance and homeland, alongside debut Irish poet, writer and teacher Victoria Kennefick, whose "harrowing and hilarious" first collection Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet) "explores all aspects of the body".
Shortlisted for the Children's Award is Maggie Blue and the Dark World by debut author Anna Goodall (Guppy Books) which explores concepts of identity and mental health, Manjeet Mann's The Crossing (Penguin), a verse novel about two refugee teenagers, The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery (Walker Books), " a hugely entertaining" adventure story set during the Blitz, and debut author Helen Rutter's The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh (Scholastic UK), which features a stand-up comedian with a stammer, and is inspired by her son Lenny.
Judges on this year’s panels included the authors, novelists and writers Burton, Andrew Wilson and Smriti Halls; novelist, memoirist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo; journalists including Shaffi; poets Rishi Dastidar and Ian Duhig; podcaster Manveen Rana; and booksellers from Waterstones, Blackwell’s, The Book Hive and The Little Ripon Bookshop.
Winners in the five categories, who each receive £5,000, will be announced on 4th January 2022. The overall winner of the 2021 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and will be announced at a ceremony on 1st February 2022. The winner of the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the public, will also be announced at February’s ceremony. The three shortlisted stories for the Costa Short Story Award, now in its 10th year, will be revealed on the Costa Book Awards website.
Jill McDonald, c.e.o. of Costa Coffee, said: “We are delighted to celebrate these 20 brilliant books as we mark a milestone 50th anniversary year for both Costa Coffee and the Costa Book Awards. My thanks to the judges for putting together such outstanding lists – there’s so much here for readers to explore, enjoy, recommend and share – and my congratulations to all of this year’s shortlisted authors.”