Michelle Gallen and Eavan Boland shortlisted for Costa Book Awards

Author’s debut novel and poet’s posthumous final collection in running for prestigious prize

Michelle Gallen: “I’m thrilled that a character like Majella – who is neurodivergent, not conventionally attractive, who has been through so much – has not just found a spot on bookshelves across the UK and Ireland, but has found a place in people’s hearts.”

Michelle Gallen: “I’m thrilled that a character like Majella – who is neurodivergent, not conventionally attractive, who has been through so much – has not just found a spot on bookshelves across the UK and Ireland, but has found a place in people’s hearts.”

 

Michelle Gallen’s debut novel and Eavan Boland’s final poetry collection have been shortlisted for this year’s Costa Book Awards.

Gallen’s Big Girl, Small Town is up for the First Novel Award while The Historians, which Carcanet published posthumously last month after Boland’s death in April, has been nominated for the Poetry Award. The shortlists were announced on BBC Radio 4 Front Row this evening.

“These poems record, in breath-taking detail the lives of ordinary women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers,” the judges said of The Historians, which has been described as the culmination of Eavan Boland’s signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past.

Also shortlisted are The Air Year by Caroline Bird; My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long; and Citadel by Martha Sprackland.

COSTA BOOK AWARDS 2020 SHORTLISTS

First Novel Award shortlist
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray)
The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ)
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Faber)
All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (Two Roads)

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

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

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

Children’s Award shortlist
Wranglestone by Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber)
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury Publishing)

The judges said of Gallen’s debut: “This bold, funny and highly original debut is simply outstanding.” It caps a remarkable year for Gallen and her book, which has also been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize and Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and optioned for televison by a team including actor Kathy Burke.

Also shortlisted are The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain; Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud; and All the Water in the World by Karen Raney.

The award winners from the five categories, to be announce don January 4th, will each receive £5,000. The overall Costa Book of the Year winner receives a further £30,000. The winner will be announced on January 26th, 2021. The 2019 Costa Book of the Year was The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather.

Big Girl, Small Town is the story of Majella, who works in the local chipper in Aghybogey, a fictional Border town that is still dealing with the Troubles’ legacy. The Irish Times review called it “a confident debut with a very memorable protagonist”.

Gallen said: “I’m thrilled that a character like Majella – who is neurodivergent, not conventionally attractive, who has been through so much – has not just found a spot on bookshelves across the UK and Ireland, but has found a place in people’s hearts. And I’m pleased that another strong female narrative – shaped by the Troubles – has reached a wider audience.

“It’s insane, right? Like, part of me just doesn’t believe any of this and thinks I had a nervous breakdown after the book launch and I’m in a small institution somewhere, being fed tranquillisers and puréed potatoes, making all this up in my own head? When John Murray shared the Costa news with me I had a fever of 38.5 and was on steroids to help me breathe. I was pretty sure it was a fever dream.”

Big Girl Small Town is being published in the US on December 1st by Algonquin Press. “It’s had amazing reviews from the trade press so far...my publishers are super pleased. So are my parents.”

Indie Next Pick hailed “…a working-class setting seldom depicted on either side of the pond, an atmosphere of sweat, grease, and labor, of Friday night pubs and Saturday hangovers, of people bursting with shattered dreams and electric intelligence.”

Gallen's second novel is already on the conveyor belt: “Thanks to an Arts Council grant I’ve been able to take most of this year off tech work to finish my second novel, Factory Girls. It’s set in the summer of the ceasefire and follows the fortunes of three school girls who are hoping their A level results will be their ticket out of town. They take temporary jobs in the local shirt factory but soon discover that the factory boss is a crook and the girls get tangled up in both the politics of the factory and their local community. It’s a furious, funny book that has not been easy to write.”

Two activist authors feature on the novel shortlist. Trinidadian-born writer Monique Roffey is co-founder of Writers Rebel, set up to encourage writers to address the climate change emergency in their work, and Tim Finch is a leading campaigner on refugee and migrant issues. They are joined by Susanna Clarke, with her second novel in 16 years, following her multi-million copy bestselling debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and the Scottish author Denise Mina, whose crime writing has earned her a place in the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame.

Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: “These lists represent everything the Costa Book Awards celebrate – here are 20 brilliant books to read, enjoy, recommend and share. Thank you to the judges for their time and dedication in producing such outstanding lists in this most unusual year. And congratulations to the authors who have made it onto the shortlists from such an enormous number of entries. There is truly something for everyone here.”

Shortlist for the 2020 Costa First Novel Award (111 entries)
Judges: Eric Karl Anderson: Blogger and YouTuber; Jill Dawson: Novelist; Debbie James: Owner and Manager, Kibworth Books

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray)
Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has lived a quiet life. But her predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.
Judges: ‘This bold, funny and highly original debut is simply outstanding.’

The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ)
Amjad has no time to mourn his wife’s death - his two small children are relying on him. Years later, Saahil is celebrating finishing university – but the night has devastating consequences. Zahra is now her father’s only source of comfort, but at what cost? Life has taken this family in different directions – can they find their way back to each other?
Judges: ‘A propulsive and meaningful story that encompasses the full spectrum of family life from humour to heartache.’

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Faber)
Irrepressible Betty Ramdin, her shy son Solo and their marvellous lodger, Mr Chetan, form an unconventional household. Happy in their differences, they build a home together. Home: the place keeping these three safe from an increasingly dangerous world – until the night when a glass of rum, a heart to heart and a terrible truth explodes the family unit, driving them apart.
Judges: ‘A vivacious novel with three voices bursting from the page, and a narrative that carries a real punch.’

All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (Two Roads)
Maddy is 16. She has loyal friends, a mother with whom she’s unusually close, a father she’s never met, devoted grandparents and a crush on Jack. Maddy is also dying. All the Water in the World is a story of a family doing its best when faced with the worst, and a testimony to the transformative power of love.
Judges: ‘This story of secrets and courage will break your heart, but Raney’s sublime writing somehow pieces it back together again.’

Shortlist for the 2020 Costa Novel Award (201 entries)
Judges: Poorna Bell: Journalist and Author; Sadie Jones: Author; Iain Rushworth: Bookshop Buyer, WHSmith Travel

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, Piranesi makes a careful record of its wonders. Twice a week he sees his friend, the Other. But mostly, he is alone. Then messages begin to appear. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want?
Judges: ‘A magnificently imagined and carefully crafted story of a world unlike any other.’

Peace Talks by Tim Finch (Bloomsbury)
Edvard is a diplomat, regarded for his work on peace negotiations. In his latest post, Edvard has been sent to a hotel in the Tyrol. High up on this mountain, the air is bright and clear. He confides in no one - no one but his wife Anna. Anna, who he loves with all his heart; always present and yet forever absent.
Judges: ‘A profound, delicate and witty book – a huge story, told in miniature.’

The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker)
When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo’s adoption. To this day, Susan’s killer has never been found. Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can’t do it alone...
Judges: ‘A richly drawn, beautifully-paced book set in the guise of a thriller, but is actually about humanity.’

The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree)
April 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. David, a fisherman, sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch - and attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a centuries old mermaid, is drawn to his singing. But her curiosity is her undoing when she is caught by American tourists… David rescues her and hides her away, where she slowly, painfully turns into a woman.
Judges: ‘Combines a seductive fable with the visceral realism of a Caribbean island.’

Shortlist for the 2020 Costa Biography Award (168 entries)
Judges: Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough: Historian and Broadcaster; Sumit Paul-Choudhury: Writer, Entrepreneur and Former Editor-in-Chief of New Scientist; Horatio Clare: Writer

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
The Man in the Red Coat is at once a fresh and original portrait of the Belle Epoque - its heroes and villains, its writers, artists and thinkers - and a life of a man ahead of his time. Witty, surprising and deeply researched, the new book from Julian Barnes illuminates the fruitful and longstanding exchange of ideas between Britain and France, and makes a compelling case for keeping that exchange alive.
Judges: ‘A richly elegant and wonderfully telling look at extraordinary characters from a fascinating time and place.’

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke (Little, Brown)
Dear Life is a personal memoir that finds light and love in the darkest of places. Rachel Clarke interweaves her experiences as a specialist in palliative medicine with those of losing her beloved GP father to cancer. In a hospice, she argues, there is more of what matters in life - more love, more strength, more grace, more tenderness, more compassion - than you could ever imagine.
Judges: ‘A beautifully written, powerfully moving book that tackles an emotive and difficult subject with professional compassion and personal insight.’

The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (Sphere)
On 28th September 1985, Lee Lawrence’s mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her home. The bullet shattered her spine and both their lives changed forever. The Louder I Will Sing is a memoir about growing up in modern Britain as a young Black man. It’s a story both of people and politics, but also the positive power that hope, faith and love can bring in response.
Judges: ‘A compelling account of a family’s long fight for justice simply but powerfully told.’

Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadow Play by Jeff Young (Little Toller)
In Ghost Town, Jeff Young takes us on a journey through the Liverpool of his childhood - down back alleys, through arcades, into vanished tenements and oyster bars, strip-tease pubs and theatres. We watch as he turns from schoolboy truant into an artist obsessed with Kafka, Terence Davies and The Fall in this highly original vision of a great city.
Judges: ‘A stunningly beautiful book about the ways time, memory and life shape and change cities, families and all of us.’

Shortlist for the 2020 Costa Poetry Award (82 entries)
Judges: Zaffar Kunial: Poet; Tristram Fane Saunders: Poetry Critic, The Daily Telegraph; Leah Wilkins: Bookseller, Five Leaves Bookshop

The Air Year by Caroline Bird (Carcanet)
The Air Year is a time of flight, transition and suspension: signatures scribbled on the sky. Bird’s speakers exist in a state of unrest, trapped in a liminal place between take-off and landing, undeniably lost. Love is uncontrollable, joy comes and goes at hurricane speed. They walk to the cliff edge, close their eyes and step out into the air.
Judges: ‘Inventive and big-hearted, surreal and personal - this collection is full of love, clever connections and brilliant individual poems.’

Eavan Boland in Dublin in 2018. The judges said of her final work: “These poems record, in breath-taking detail the lives of ordinary women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers.” Photograph: Barry Cronin
Eavan Boland in Dublin in 2018. The judges said of her final work: “These poems record, in breath-taking detail the lives of ordinary women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers.” Photograph: Barry Cronin

The Historians by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
Throughout her nearly 60-year career, acclaimed poet Eavan Boland came to be known for her exquisite ability to weave myth, history, and the life of an ordinary woman into mesmerizing poetry. Her final volume, The Historians, is the culmination of her signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past.
Judges: ‘These poems record, in breath-taking detail the lives of ordinary women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers.’

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long (Picador)
Each poem in My Darling from the Lions has a vivid story to tell - of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening - stories that are emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.
Judges: ‘Daring, deeply human coming-of-age poems from a natural storyteller.’

Citadel by Martha Sprackland (Pavilion Poetry)
The poems in Citadel are written by a composite ‘I’ – part Reformation-era monarch Juana de Castilla, part twenty-first century poet - brought together by a rupture in time as the result of ambiguous, traumatic events in the lives of two women separated by almost five hundred years.
Judges: ‘A spellbinding, time-travelling debut filled with imagination and mystery.’

Shortlist for the 2020 Costa Children’s Book Award (146 entries)
Judges; Patrice Lawrence: Writer; John McLay: Children’s Literary Scout & Book Event Organiser; Alex O’Connell: The Times, Arts Editor and Children’s Book Critic

Wranglestone by Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
In a post-apocalyptic America, a community survives in a national park, surrounded by water that keeps predators at bay. When winter comes, Peter and Cooper must work together to herd the Dead from their shores before the lake freezes over. As love blossoms a dark discovery reveals the sanctuary’s secret past, forcing the boys to question everything they’ve ever known.
Judges: ‘A page-turning debut with a fresh dystopian narrative that delivers emotion and drama in equal measure.’

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber)
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is an epic journey of police chases, storms at sea and unexpected puppies. Set in the aftermath of World War 1 it follows two orphans as they take their narrowboat across the Channel in search of lost loved ones and a place to call home.
Judges: ‘Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is a deceptively simple, beautifully-written story exploring friendship, loss and bravery that pulled us in from the first page.’

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
Freddie’s journey wasn’t meant to involve Big Trev and the onion-eating competition or the loo-exploding, pear-and-potato turnovers. And Freddie definitely didn’t expect to end up on national television in a Supergirl costume. But journeys never take you where you think they will.
Judges: ‘A funny and heart-warming story with great depth that was a pleasure to read.’

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury)
This is the story of the summer when everything changes. In a house by the sea, in a big, messy family, one teenager watches as brothers and sisters, parents and older cousins fill hot days with wine and games and planning a wedding. Enter the Goddens – irresistible, languidly sexy Kit and surly, silent Hugo. Suddenly there’s a serpent in this paradise – and the consequences will be devastating.
Judges: ‘For older teenagers, this is an addictive story of first love, sibling hierarchies and a summer that changes everything.’

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