UK: The 49th Costa Book Awards Name Category Winners

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The five category winners of the 2020 Costa Book Awards are announced, with the ‘book of the year’ honor to come later this month.

In London’s Regent Street, December 20, as No. 10 Downing Street introduced Tier 4 COVID-19 spread mitigation restrictions. Image – iStockphoto: VV Shots

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Two of Five Winners Published by Faber
Overnight in London, the five category winners of the Costa Book Awards have been named, the teeming United Kingdom awards action picking up right where it left off before the holidays. Two of the five winners—those for first novel and children’s work—are published by Faber & Faber.

The Costa program, named for its coffee-company sponsor, asserts that it’s among the Top 10 most influential prize programs in this market in which the awards organizations themselves compete with each other perhaps even more energetically than publishers and authors do.

And these are, in fact, the Costa’s 2020 winners, though 2021 mercifully has begun. Because of its timing, the winners’ announcements lag the year for which they’re awarded. And in addition to these five category winners we report on today (January 5), there’s then an additional “book of the year” prize for 2020, to be named January 26.

The big winner will be selected by a jury chaired by Suzannah Lipscomb, joined by category jurors Jill Dawson, Sadie Jones, Horatio Clare, Zaffar Kunial, and Patrice Lawrence as well as Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell, Simon Savidge.

Jill McDonald

The sponsorship is generous enough to make that book of the year honor welcome in any year. Those who come out on top in these five categories each will receive £5,000 (US$6789). The overall winner of the Costa Book of the Year, then, will receive an additional £30,000 (US$40,783) for a total handsome £35,000 (US$47,528) in caffeine-powered funds.

In a prepared comment, the CEO of Costa Coffee, Jill McDonald, is quoted, saying, “Five outstanding books and five very worthy award winners—what a wonderful way to start the year.”

Costa Book Awards 2020 Category Winners

In our listing, we include each category’s shortlisted works, the winner moved to the top of each list. Books that were eligible for entry in the 2020 competition had to have been published in the UK or Ireland between November 1 of last year and October 31.

Costa First Novel Award 2020 

  • WINNER: Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Faber & Faber)
  • Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray Publishers)
  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ)
  • All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (Two Roads)

Costa Novel Award 2020

  • WINNER: The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree)
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Peace Talks by Tim Finch (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker)

Costa Biography Award 2020 

  • WINNER: The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (Sphere)
  • The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
  • Dear Life by Rachel Clarke (Little, Brown)
  • Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadow Play by Jeff Young (Little Toller Books)

Costa Poetry Award 2020

  • WINNER: The Historians by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
  • The Air Year by Caroline Bird (Carcanet)
  • My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long (Picador)
  • Citadel by Martha Sprackland (Pavilion Poetry)

Costa Children’s Award 2020 

  • WINNER: Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber & Faber)
  • Wranglestone by Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
  • The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
  • The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury Publishing)

As you may remember from our shortlist story, there were 708 entries for this round of these awards. There are three jurors per category.

And the way this program works, one of these books will then be named the “book of the year” for the big purse near the end of this month.

Since the introduction of the “book of the year” honor 1985, it has been won 12 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a biography, eight times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The 2019 Costa Book of the Year was  The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz (Penguin Random House / WH Allen).

There’s yet another category. The Costa Short Story Award is put up to a public vote, and readers can find the three shortlisted candidates for that category on the Costa site with voting open through Friday (January 8).

While internationally recognized, the Costa prides itself on being “the only major UK book prize open solely to authors resident in the United Kingdom and Ireland.” This may be satisfying, one assumes, to critics of the Booker Prize Foundation, for example, which in 2013 “evolved” its program to be open to the world’s authors.

While the award was originally established in 1971 by Whitbread Plc, Costa announced its takeover of the sponsorship in 2006.

The Coronavirus in the UK

As the Costa program was announcing its 2020 category winners on Monday evening (January 4), the UK’s Boris Johnson was announcing his rationale for imposing a new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic lockdown to last at least to mid-February.

The BBC’s report at the onset of the new regulations noted that Scotland had issued a new stay-at-home order as Wales closed schools and colleges until January 18.

Technically, Johnson’s new rules take effect early on Wednesday (January 6), but the prime minister is advising citizens to adopt them urgently now. Residents can leave home only for specific purposes, all schools and colleges in England are closed, outdoor sports venues including outdoor gyms, golf courses, and tennis courts must close, restaurants are limited to takeaway service.

At this writing, the 8:22 a.m. ET (1322 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 2,721,622 cases in the UK’s population of 67 million, with 75,547 fatalities.

These figures place the United Kingdom at fifth in the world for caseload behind the United States, India, Brazil, and Russia. In deaths, the United Kingdom is sixth in the world, behind the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Italy.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Costa Book Awards is here, and more on publishing awards in general is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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