Tag Archives: Costa Book Award

The Costa Book Awards Category Winners 2017

It only seems the other day that I was getting asked to judge the Costa Book Awards (a moment that left me in a 50/50 mixture of shock and delight) and now my job is done as we announce the category  winners, I was judging the debut category if you missed it. So here they all are…

IMG_7943

Costa Children’s Book of the Year: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Costa Poetry Collection of the Year: Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
Costa Biography of the Year: In The Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott
Costa Novel of the Year: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Costa First Novel of the Year: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

So there you have it. These five books now go head to head for the Costa Book of the Year 2017 and I have decided I am going to read them in time for the party (which I am taking my mother to, she is thrilled) and the announcement on Tuesday January 30th 2018. It also means I can finally share some reviews of the Costa shortlisted books I have read and some of the submissions that didn’t make the debut shortlist but I am desperate to talk to you about and send you off to read. All in due course.

So what do you make of the category winners? Which have you read and what did you think? Which really take your fancy and which do you think will win, I would love to know all of this, so do tell me in the comments below.

Advertisements

21 Comments

Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Random Savidgeness

The Costa Book Award 2017 Shortlists…

Are here… finally. I love this prize and have done for ages, this year being all the more special because I am judging the First Novel Award and can finally talk about the shortlist. But before I do in more depth in the next day or so here are the shortlists, tell me what you think about all of them.

2017 Costa Novel Award shortlist

  • Jon McGregor for Reservoir 13 (4th Estate)
  • Stef Penney for Under a Pole Star (Quercus)
  • Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Sarah Winman for Tin Man (Tinder Press)

2017 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

  • Xan Brooks for The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt)
  • Karl Geary for Montpelier Parade (Harvill Secker)
  • Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins)
  • Rebecca F. John for The Haunting of Henry Twist (Serpent’s Tail)

2017 Costa Biography Award shortlist

  • Xiaolu Guo for Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up (Chatto & Windus)
  • Caroline Moorehead for A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini (Chatto & Windus)
  • Rebecca Stott for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate)
  • Professor Stephen Westaby for Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table (HarperCollins)

2017 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

  • Kayo Chingonyi for Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus)
  • Helen Dunmore for Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books)
  • Sinéad Morrissey for On Balance (Carcanet)
  • Richard Osmond for Useful Verses (Picador)

2017 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

  • Sarah Crossan for Moonrise (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lissa Evans for Wed Wabbit (David Fickling Books)
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)
  • Katherine Rundell for The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

IMG_6029

Which ones have you read, which ones are you excited to read and, of course, what do you think of the debut category. I am very excited to be able to talk about them all…

12 Comments

Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Gail Honeyman, Jon McGregor, Kamila Shamsie, Karl Geary, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca F. John, Sarah Winman, Stef Penney, Xan Brooks, Xiaolu Guo

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I am rather late to the party with Nathan Filer’s debut novel, we flirted (the book and I not the author, just to clarify) with each other around the time that it won the Costa, and as soon as it came out in paperback I bought it, yet the subject of mental health was one that always worries me with a book and so I held off. However when my book group chose it I was really rather excited to be finally getting to read about it, and then I was slightly cross with myself for having not read it sooner – isn’t that just the way?

Borough Press, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, bought by my good self

The Shock of the Fall is really two stories combined, both told by Matthew, in the present Matthew is a young man with Schizophrenia (‘I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too … My illness knows everything I know.’) and who has been sectioned and is dealing with the current mental health system. The other story is one which we get glimpses of, never quite alternating, as we read on and relates back to Matthews childhood and the death of his brother. As we follow Matthew’s narrative not only are we given insight into the system and how it is, or isn’t, working for him; we also follow the fallout, grief and guilt of a family after the death of one so young and the circumstances around it.

Both parts of this story are handled wonderfully. Firstly there is Matthew’s now as he tries to get to grips with his illness, the system that he has to be in, the community around him and the drugs which he must take. All these things that he feels at odds with and in many cases are things that he has no control over, how is anyone meant to get a hold on that and indeed their own illness at the same time? Filer not only looks at that but looks at how the people around the person with the mental illness deal with it to. Matthew’s mother, who I thought may have had undiagnosed issues, not so well, his father who just tries to get on with it as best he can and Nanny Noo (Matthew’s grandmother) who does all she can to help. I found these reactions and the interweaving relationships with them, Matthew and each other beautifully drawn if not always comfortable to read.

As I mentioned before I am always dubious about books that deal with moral issues and in particular mental health, which is why I don’t often read it. This is mainly because as someone who had had depression on and off, with extremes both at the end of 2010 (when my marriage broke down) and last autumn (after Gran died) and so, not making it all about me honestly as every depression is different from one person to the next, I have a very visceral reaction to the subject. Disability, of whatever kind, can either be done so well it makes me want to cry with joy that someone has dealt with it in such a way or it can be done in a way which is almost like using it as a way to sell the novel, almost making money out of the issue itself.

Filer deals with it deftly. Some reviewers might put this down to the fact that Filer was a mental health nurse which to me does a disservice to how good Filer’s writing is. Firstly, you’ve still got to be able to write bloody well to turn what you know into fiction secondly Filer was the nurse not the patient whose head he gets into so well. There are many standout moments for me but two remain; one the feeling of utter boredom in a ward and from the effects of the drugs you are on to make yourself ‘normal’, the other the lack of control you have over your own life.

 ‘Who?’
‘Service Users. Um – Patients.’
‘Oh. Right.’
They have a bunch of names for us. Service Users must be the latest. I think there must be people who get paid to decide this shit.
I thought about Steve. He’s definitely the sort to say Service User. He’d say it like he deserved a knighthood for being all sensitive and empowering. Then I imagined him losing his job – and to be honest, that caught me off guard. I don’t hate these people. I just hate not having the choice to get rid of them.

Also the other major strand to the book has nothing to do with mental health and is it here that some of the most touching and heartbreaking writing can be found, and that is saying something because Matthew’s present has those moments too. As I mentioned earlier not only is Matthew a young man who is suffering from a mental illness he is one suffering from grief and how to cope with it. As we go back with Matthew we learn of the wonderful, and often idyllic, childhood that he had with his brother Simon until a trip away that changed it all. I won’t give any spoilers, and if like me you try and guess it you will think you are right but you’d be wrong, but I found the sections discussing his love for his sibling incredibly moving, and the grief even more so.

Shhh, shhh. It’ll be ok. That’s what he said as he placed me down outside our caravan, before running to get Mum. I might not have been clear enough – Simon really wasn’t strong. Carrying me like that was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but still he tried to reassure me. Shhh, shhh. It’ll be okay. He sounded so grown-up, so gentle and certain. For the first time in my life it truly felt like I had a big brother. In the few short seconds whilst I waited for Mum to come out, as I cradled my knee, stared at the dirt and grit in the skin, convinced myself I could see the bone, in those few short seconds – I felt totally safe.

It takes a skilled writer to make a story which appears and hide within another one to read naturally, it also takes a skilled writer to make both a present and past narrative as interesting as the other. Filer does this and also, rather wonderfully, makes us care about them in equal measure. He also does something with the style of the book which for me made the book go from great to brilliant. As we read The Shock and the Fall we come across doodles, the text will change from computerised to handwritten, hand written to typewriter, type writer back to computerised as Matthew writes all his thoughts down wherever he can. There are also wonderful and funny chapter titles like ‘Please Stop Reading This Over My Shoulder’ so that with the texture of the different texts (which seem to take on different tempos of his thoughts) and these titles we actually feel that we are in Matthew’s head, as well as tones of despair, rage and humour, making the novel all the more powerful.

The Shock of the Fall is a rare novel which from the outset looks like it is talking about mental health; those who suffer from it, those around them and the system which we have for ‘dealing’ with it, yet in actual fact is a book about life, death, being different and how we cope with it all. It is also a novel which will make you laugh, cry, be angry and most importantly question what we mean by normality and how we should, or indeed shouldn’t, define it. It chimed with me and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Nathan Filer writes next.

10 Comments

Filed under Borough Press, Nathan Filer, Review

The Week That Whizzed By Before The Looooong Weekend

I feel like I have no idea where the last week has gone. Actually that is a big lie, I know exactly where the week has gone. Work ate it. I spent Sunday working most of the day, then working until 9pm on Monday (in the office) and then 11pm (at home so in some comfort/reach of cupcakes) last night. I have been well aware that the summer will be utterly mad and I will be working left right and centre (which I embrace as I like to be busy at work), I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this mad this soon.

Hopefully the madness is over, for a while at least, though this has meant that in the last four/five days has involved working or slobbing on the sofa/sleeping. Though I did manage to record an episode of The Readers where I moan about having no time to read – oh dear! Hoorah’s ahead though as with all those extra hours I have now got a lovely long three day weekend ahead of me and (after having spent this afternoon having a lovely lunch and then lazing with a DVD, the cats, sweets and the Beard – who feels he hasn’t seen me in forever) I am going to dedicate those days to these…

A Long Weekend of Books

Yes it is time for a long weekend of book binging. I have a huge craving for crime so plan on heading straight into some S. J. Bolton, then I really want to read Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall which I bought in Waterstones when I fell in deliriously the afternoon before it won the Costa, Deborah Levy because I have become a huge fan and some lovely ‘early Levy’ books turned up in the post this week. Then I have two books with ‘deadlines’ of sorts to them. Oscar Wilde’s short stories have been chosen by Kate for the next Hear… Read This! and book group is a week on Saturday and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder has been chosen by Rita – all I know is it is a fictional tale involving philosophy and its history, I am terrified of it yet also hoping reading it might make me seem brainier and able to spout philosophical diatribe left, right and centre. Ha!

I also plan on doing some reviews and catch up on comments here and blogs all over the shop. Bliss. What are you reading at the moment or are planning to read? How do you manage to find time to read when there seems to be no time to read? Have you read any of the books I plan on devouring this weekend? Note: I know I won’t read all of them! What else is news?

11 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Pure – Andrew Miller

There are books that you mean to read for ages and ages and simply don’t get around to; ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller has been one such book for me. With its cemetery setting (I do like a cemetery, I was even a tour guide for one) and the fact it sounded like a dark, brooding, sensational and gothic novel I thought this was going to be the ideal book for me from its release date. I didn’t read it. It then won the Costa prize and again ignited my interest in it. I didn’t read it. Then I begged Gavin to put it on the list of The Readers Summer Book Club titles and so had to read it. So finally I ended up reading it about a year after I intended to. How does this happen with books?

Sceptre Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The year is 1785 as ‘Pure’ opens and we meet Jean-Baptiste Barratte, a young engineer from the countryside who is put in charge of demolishing the oldest (and smelliest) cemetery in Paris, les Innocents, which many believe has become the blight of the city. In doing so Barratte faces one of the most difficult tasks of his career, initially it seems just from a logistical point of view, however as time goes on events unfold Barratte realises that this could be the most difficult tasks for many more reasons than professional, and that a place some wish to destroy is held dear by some.

That all sounds rather grand, gothic and indeed ‘sensational’ which was all part and parcel of why I was looking forward to the book so much. Within a few chapters I was hooked by Miller’s writing, from Barratte’s first meeting at Versailles to his first steps in les Innocents, which is incredibly atmospheric. The stench of the streets, markets and people around the cemetery which have become coated in the stench of death comes of the pages and you can feel it cloying at you. It’s hideous yet also wonderful to feel the place and its history coming alive before your eyes as you read on.

“She has watched it all her life and has never wearied of it, the market and – more directly in her view – the old church of les Innocents with its cemetery, though in the cemetery nothing has happened for years, just the sexton and his granddaughter crossing to one of the gates, or more rarely, the old priest in his blue spectacles, who seems simply to have been forgotten about. How she misses it all. The shuffling processions winding from the church doors, the mourners tilted against each other’s shoulders, the tolling of the bell, the swaying coffins, the muttering of the office and finally – the climax of it all – the moment the dead man or woman or child was lowered into the ground as though being fed to it. And when the others had left and the place was quiet again, she was still there, her face close to the window, keeping watch like a sister or an angel.”

I do love a really dark book and I like a good mystery and as I devoured the first part of the book, in almost a single sitting, I had this wonderful feeling of apprehension in my stomach as things in the Monnard, where Barratte resides, go bump and scratch in the night and whispers are heard and people spy on others sleeping. That and the mystery of those unhappy to see Barratte at the church in les Innocents were making a wonderful ominous concoction and I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I don’t know quite what happened in the second part of the novel, I am not sure if it was Barratte going home to the countryside to find his friend Lecouer, and his mining men, to help him with his task or if it was the introduction of several new strands such as a love story and then the actual task of demolishing, but I sort of lost my way. The writing stayed powerful, precise and completely atmospheric and yet characters names started to confuse me, which woman was which etc, and the task of moving the bodies, which was initially gorily interesting (with mummified corpses and random bones with stories to tell) started to bog me down a little, the mystery seemed to vanish with practicality for a while. Miller did pull it out the bag for me again after this when something completely unexpected and dark happens to Barratte (though it was resolved a little neatly and vaguely all at once) and within the final ten chapters the book had the pace and sense of menace that beguiled me at the start.

The middle did sort of interrupt my flow, partly because I kept having to re-read it and make notes of who was who and why there were there. Yet oddly this isn’t a book that is difficult to read or, again I must praise the writing, get lost in because of its atmosphere, I just wondered if it was trying to do a little too much at one point and so it spread its strengths out which slightly weakened it in the middle over all. Whinge over though because as I said the last third of the book completely won me round and I was shocked with the sudden few twists that came.

So overall I really, really enjoyed ‘Pure’. Without a doubt les Innocents as a place and indeed a character of its own is the absolute star of the show because of the stunning way Miller creates it in your head with his prose. I loved the darkness of the book, it is also darkly funny in parts, and indeed I was fascinated by the period in history which I feel I simply don’t know enough about. A book I would recommend but not sensationalise in case you were left slightly disappointed by the hype someone else had created, which I think was my slight problem with ‘Pure’, though a problem I think I had created in my own head. I will re-read it one day far in the future without expectations and see if it does better, as I do want to return to les Innocents and Miller’s writing is incredible.

Who else out in the ether has read ‘Pure’ and what did you think? Who has read any of Miller’s other books? Where should I go next with regard to reading him? I have been thinking ‘Casanova’ or ‘Ingenious Pain’ might be my next port of call maybe.

I read this book for The Readers Summer Book Club, if you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

20 Comments

Filed under Andrew Miller, Review, Sceptre Publishing, The Readers Summer Book Club

Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

After the Costa shortlists were announced I was lucky enough to be emailed by some of the publishers who wondered if I would like to read some of the novels on the lists. As I mentioned a while back it was the debut novels that intrigued me. One of them was ‘Coconut Unlimited’ by Nikesh Shukla which I had heard mentioned in the broadsheets and had intrigued me from its synopsis partly because it was a coming of age story, which is something I am trying to get my small bias around, and also because it was a comic novel by all accounts.

Quartet Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 200 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

‘Coconut Unlimited’ does seem like it could be very much on the authors, Nikesh Shulka’s, youth. It’s a tale of Amit from his childhood growing up in Harrow in North West London in the mid 1990’s. Born left handed his Indian family are rather concerned for him due to its religious connotations and so he is sent to a very white and rather middle/upper class private school where the teachers are known to make racist comments and expect no comeback. With his friends Anand and Nishant they create a rap band based on their passion for hip-hop (such as the Wu Tang Clan, Skee-Lo, Nas etc – which really took me back – who in honesty some of them have never heard of and in fact some of them make up hip-hop acts they have heard of to try and sound street) called ‘Coconut Unlimited’ as his sister says ‘because you are brown on the outside and white on the inside’.

The story then follows the bands highs and the lows both as they try and get noticed, get street (with some very funny consequences) and also whilst they deal with the perils of growing up and becoming men and belonging. It is much more than just a coming of age story, with humour Shukla deals with the issues of race and class as they were, and in some cases still are, just a decade ago. It is very funny, occasionally in a slightly bittersweet way, and if you didn’t or don’t love hip hop there is much to entertain you whilst enlightening you and certainly making you laugh and remembering your awkward teenage years.

Nikesh Shukla has a great voice, and in writing through the eyes of Amit he never makes the reader feel patronised, it’s all very authentic. In fact I would say that he deals with these three young men with a kind of tenderness which adds that extra something to the novel as a whole. His prose is fluid and energetic which may have something to do with the fact Shukla is a performance poet. It’s a very promising debut from a novelist I think we will be seeing much more from in the future. 7.5/10

Has anyone else given ‘Coconut Limited’ a whirl? If you have been umming and ahhing about it, possibly as from the blurb it sounds slightly niche as was my slight concern, then give it a whirl. I’m glad the Costa Book Awards shortlist brought this novel to my attention, and then to my door, now which one of the shortlisted titles should I try next?

This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.

6 Comments

Filed under Nikesh Shukla, Quartet Books, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #27

I can’t actually believe that I haven’t done a ‘Bookish Bits’ post since the start of August. However there are occasionally times when you are writing a post filled with little bookish bits this is just what you need and today is such a post. I have a few different things I want to natter with you about such as the Costa Prize, a lovely publisher loot when I had a meeting about the reading guides I am going to be writing and The Green Carnation event.

I do really like the Costa Book Awards, as I commented on Kirsty of Other Stories blog earlier in the week, I’m never sure why this is though because I don’t think I have read that many of the winners but I have read and really enjoyed many of the books which have been shortlisted, without knowing they have been shortlisted. I don’t read children’s books, on the whole, and I don’t really go for poetry (though I wish I did) and can be funny with non-fiction so in some ways you would think that the prize would maybe not be so much for me but I love the fact it doesn’t seem so snobbish and the lists are always eclectic as you can see from The First Novel and Novel Award short lists…

Costa First Novel Award

  • Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai
  • Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla
  • The Temple-Goers by Aatish Taseer
  • Not Quite White by Simon Thirsk

Costa Novel Award

  • Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
  • The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

I have already read two of the novels of the years and loved Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ and would recommend everyone on the face of this planet gives it a read. I am slightly surprised that Nigel Farndale’s ‘The Blasphemer’ is on the list as I didn’t love this book, not that I think I am any authority on what should be short listed on this prize. I am wondering f I should return to it as it’s been nestling on my ‘possibly give to charity or my family’ pile. Hmmm! I have been sent some of the other books listed and I think I might pick some of them up in the not too distant future.

I was kindly sent ‘Witness of the Night’ by Kishwar Desai from Beautiful Books which I had heard nothing about but sounds great, ‘Coconut Unlimited’ by Nikesh Shukla which I have heard lots and lots of good things about from Quartet Books, ‘Skippy Dies’ has been languishing on my TBR for ages (oops), I managed to grab Aatish Taseer’s ‘The Temple-Goers’ in the library when I took some books back finally, and I managed to sneak a copy of Louise Doughty’s ‘Whatever You Love’ from Faber & Faber’s HQ when I went in this week, which nicely leads me to the next part of my post…

I mentioned a while ago that I am going to be writing some Reading Guides for a publisher. I can now tell you that the publisher is Faber & Faber and thanks to the comments we are coming up with something very new and different with how these reading guides are going to work. I have lots of brainstorming to do, lots. I stupidly forgot to take a picture of Faber HQ but I did spot this amazing house filled with books which I wanted to move into on the spot.

I did manage to leave with some lovely loot from Faber though in a rather delightful bag. Top priority was ‘Gillespie & I’ by Jane Harris (I adored ‘The Observations’ and am begging Faber to let me write the reading guide for that one next) which isn’t out until May so am soooo chuffed managed to get my mitts on it. I also got all the Ishiguro novels I don’t own which was great (and some double copies which I have passed on) as I want to get to know Ishiguro better as the first book I am going to be writing the reading guide for is ‘Never Let Me Go’ my review of which got me the job unbeknown to me at the time.

Straight after Faber I ran to The Green Carnation Event which was a huge success, so much so I got stuck at the back with the other judges as it was so busy we could barely move and lots of people couldn’t even get in…

It was a great night for those of us who did get in with the readings from the authors and then lots of drinking afterwards in the local pub which I will report back on in due course, I am awaiting some pictures from one of my lovely friends.

So what bookish goings on have you been up to lately? Any great recent reads or new book arrivals? What are your thoughts on how reading guides could be made more modern (for my brainstorming)? Any thoughts on the Costa Book Award Shortlists, have you read any of them at all, any recommendations?

7 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Simon's Bookish Bits