Women dominate this year’s Costa book award shortlists, with Rose Tremain, Sarah Perry and Kate Tempest among 14 female writers of the 20 nominated across the awards’ five categories.
Three previous Costa winners are in the running for the best novel award: Maggie O’Farrell for This Must Be the Place, Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata and Sebastian Barry for Days Without End. Barry, who won the overall Costa book of the year in 2008 for his novel The Secret Scripture, told the Guardian he was excited to be nominated again. “It knocks your socks off every time, even in your 60s,” he said, describing how he celebrated after getting the call while at a restaurant with his wife. “Winning the Costa changed my life. I was able to send my kids to university with that prize. To be at the cadet stage again, that is so exciting.”
The fourth contender and only new face on the best novel list is Sarah Perry, for The Essex Serpent. Adored by critics and readers alike and a surprise omission from the Booker longlist, Perry’s novel follows an adventurous widow who investigates whether the folktale serpent has come to life and is haunting the Blackwater estuary. Perry, who is currently working on her third book, said she’d celebrate with a sherry. “To have a panel of judges consider it one of the four best novels of the year is so extraordinary,” she said. “I think it will give me greater courage and confidence to carry on writing. I wish I had rigid self-belief regardless of outside influence, but when someone enjoys my book, I go: ‘Oh, I’ll do another one then!’”
In the first novel category, Susan Beale, an American former competitive figure skater, is shortlisted for The Good Guy, along with Kit de Waal for My Name Is Leon, and Guinevere Glasfurd for The Words in My Hand, a fictionalised retelling of a real romance between a writer and the philosopher Descartes. Francis Spufford is also shortlisted for his debut novel Golden Hill, which marked a well-received departure from his usual nonfiction beat.
Spufford told the Guardian he was “utterly delighted” to be shortlisted. “One of my books was written in a Costa [cafe], so I’m getting something back for all those black Americanos I bought,” he said. “It is excruciating waiting to find out if you’ve won something but I’d much rather be in a state of anguish from being on a shortlist, than be in state of tranquility and not on it.”
Libyan writer Hisham Matar is in the running for the Costa biography award for his memoir The Return, just a week on from learning he had been pipped to the Baillie Gifford nonfiction prize by his friend Philippe Sands. (They had a pact to jointly donate their prize money to charity). Matar is joined by music writer Sylvia Patterson for her memoir I’m Not With the Band; Keggie Carew for Dadland, a biography of her war-hero father; and Tudor historian John Guy – a former winner in the same category – for Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years.
The poetry shortlist is entirely female, with rapper and novelist Kate Tempest nominated for her collection Let Them Eat Chaos, alongside Alice Oswald, Denise Riley and Melissa Lee-Houghton, who is published by independent press Penned in the Margins.
Author of the bestselling children’s series Horrid Henry, Francesca Simon is shortlisted in the children’s section for her first novel for teens, The Monstrous Child. She is joined by Carnegie-shortlisted author Brian Conaghan for The Bombs That Brought Us Together; Patrice Lawrence for her young adult thriller Orangeboy; and Ross Welford for his debut, Time Travelling With a Hamster.
The winners of each of the five categories will be awarded £5,000 when they are announced on 3 January. Those five winners will then be considered for the Costa book of the year, which will see the winner awarded £30,000 at a ceremony on 31 January.
The overall award has been won most often by novels – 11 times, since the category was introduced in 1985. The 2015 book of the year was the children’s book The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, only the second time that category has taken the top prize.
The awards are open only to authors living in the UK and Ireland. This year, 596 entries were whittled down to the five, four-book shortlists.
Costa 2016 shortlists
Sebastian Barry for Days Without End (Faber & Faber)
Maggie O’Farrell for This Must Be the Place (Tinder Press)
Sarah Perry for The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail)
Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus)
Susan Beale for The Good Guy (John Murray)
Kit de Waal for My Name Is Leon (Viking)
Guinevere Glasfurd for The Words in My Hand (Two Roads)
Francis Spufford for Golden Hill (Faber & Faber)
Keggie Carew for Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory (Chatto & Windus)
John Guy for Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years (Viking)
Hisham Matar for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Viking)
Sylvia Patterson for I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (Sphere)
Melissa Lee-Houghton for Sunshine (Penned in the Margins)
Alice Oswald for Falling Awake (Jonathan Cape Poetry)
Denise Riley for Say Something Back (Picador)
Kate Tempest for Let Them Eat Chaos (Picador)
Brian Conaghan for The Bombs That Brought Us Together (Bloomsbury)
Patrice Lawrence for Orangeboy (Hodder Children’s Books)
Francesca Simon for The Monstrous Child (Faber & Faber/Profile Books)
Ross Welford for Time Travelling With a Hamster (HarperCollins Children’s Books)