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Female writers are totally dominating at this year’s Costa book awards

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The shortlist for the Costa book awards has been announced – and most of the nominations have been picked up by women.

Fourteen female writers, including Maggie O’Farrell, Rose Tremain and the rapper and poet Kate Tempest (above), are in the running for one of the prestigious literary awards, after their books were selected from 596 entries. Six men have also been nominated.

There are five separate categories in the awards: novel, first novel, biography, poetry, and children’s book. The winner of each category will receive £5,000, before being considered for Costa book of the year – which carries a staggering £30,000 prize.  

maggie o'farrell

Maggie O'Farrell's novel This Must Be the Place tells the story of a man coming to terms with the death of a woman he loved 30 years earlier.

O’Farrell and Tremain have both been selected as contenders in the best novel category, for their books This Must Be the Place and The Gustav Sonata respectively. Both have won a Costa award before: O’Farrell in 2010 for The Hand That First Held Mine and Tremain in 1999 for Music and Silence.


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They’re up against newcomer Sarah Perry, whose second novel The Essex Serpent – the story of a widow investigating whether her local estuary is inhabited by a folktale snake – was released to critical acclaim earlier this year.

“To have a panel of judges consider it one of the four best novels of the year is so extraordinary,” Perry told The Guardian. “I think it will give me greater courage and confidence to carry on writing.”

sarah perry

Sarah Perry, 37, is nominated for her novel The Essex Serpent.

Perry added: “I wish I had more rigid self-belief regardless of outside influence, but when someone enjoys my book, I go: ‘Oh, I’ll do another one then!’”

The fourth nominee for best novel is Irish writer Sebastian Barry and his book Days Without End.


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Music writer Sylvia Patterson has been selected as a contender for best biography for her memoir I’m Not With the Band, which tells of her 30-year career as a music journalist at Smash Hits and NME – in which she “tries to make Prince laugh, startles Beyoncé and annoys Madonna”.

Also nominated in the biography category is Keggie Carew, for her tragicomic memoir about her relationship with her eccentric WW2 veteran father. Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory explores family breakdown, dementia and the effects of war and peace on the psyche – as well as the fierce power of daughterly love.

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Two of the nominees for best biography: Sylvia Patterson's I'm Not With the Band and Keggie Carew's Dadland.

The shortlist for the poetry award, meanwhile, is made up entirely of female names. Superstar south London poet, rapper and novelist Kate Tempest is nominated for her collection Let Them Eat Chaos, as is 34-year-old Melissa Lee-Houghton, whose poems interrogate themes of mental health and urban life.

Alice Oswald and Denise Riley are also nominated for best poetry collection.


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Formerly known as the Whitbread Book Awards, the Costa awards have been awarded annually since 1971. Previous heavyweight winners include Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel, Colm Tóibin and Salman Rushdie.

The winners will be announced on 3 January, with the overall winner of the Costa book of the year prize announced on 31 January.


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See the full list of nominees for the Costa book awards below:

Novel
Sebastian Barry for Days Without End
Maggie O’Farrell for This Must Be the Place
Sarah Perry for The Essex Serpent
Rose Tremain for The Gustav Sonata

First novel
Susan Beale for The Good Guy
Kit de Waal for My Name Is Leon
Guinevere Glasfurd for The Words in My Hand
Francis Spufford for Golden Hill

Biography
Keggie Carew for Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory
John Guy for Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years
Hisham Matar for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
Sylvia Patterson for I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music

Poetry
Melissa Lee-Houghton for Sunshine
Alice Oswald for Falling Awake
Denise Riley for Say Something Back
Kate Tempest for Let Them Eat Chaos

Children's books
Brian Conaghan for The Bombs That Brought Us Together
Patrice Lawrence for Orangeboy
Francesca Simon for The Monstrous Child
Ross Welford for Time Travelling With a Hamster

Images: Rex Features, Getty

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