Costa Book Awards are dominated by newcomers

Two 2011 Costa Book Award winners were debuting in their genres, while writer Andrew Miller surprised some by beating out Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes for the best novel prize.

Costa biography prize winner Matthew Hollis is new to the genre with his book "Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas."

The winners of the 2011 Costa Book Awards – one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes, awarded to writers based in the UK and Ireland  – were announced today and appear to be dominated by newcomers.

The Costa Book Awards, which were titled the Whitbread Literary Awards until 2006, are awarded in five categories: novel, biography, poetry, first novel and children’s book. The winners in each category will now compete for the title of Costa Book of the Year, which will be announced Jan. 24.

Author Andrew Miller won the prize for best novel against writer Julian Barnes, who was awarded the Booker Prize in October for his novel “The Sense of an Ending.” The literary community was surprised when Miller was left off the longlist for the Booker Prize for his book “Pure,” which tells the story of an engineer living in Paris before the French Revolution.

Writer Matthew Hollis won the biography prize for his book “Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas,” the first biography Hollis has written, which focuses on the poet who was inspired to write by his friend Robert Frost and who was later killed in World War I. Moira Young, the winner of the Children’s Book prize, had written her first novel with “Blood Red Road,” the story of a girl who tries to track down her kidnapped twin brother in a mysterious future world. 

The winner for the debut novel category, Christie Watson, received the award for her book “Tiny Sunbirds Far Away,” a novel about a girl whose life is thrown into upheaval after her father leaves the family. Watson, who works as a nurse, wrote the novel while on maternity leave, only starting to write five years ago.

“The reasons why I got into nursing and writing are the same,” Watson told the Daily Mail. “It’s about the human condition – life, death, grief, loss. Both professions are interested in the same questions.”

Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy won the poetry prize for her work titled “The Bees.” A work of poetry won the title of Costa Book of the Year in 2010 when writer Jo Shapcott snagged the prize for her book “Of Mutability.”

Each Costa winner receives a prize of 5,000 pounds, and the author who wins the Book of the Year award is given an extra 30,000 pounds. There are three judges in each category that evaluate work.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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