Sebastian Barry wins Costa Novel Award again for Days Without End

Fellow winners Brian Conaghan, Keggie Carew, Francis Spufford and Alice Oswald compete with Barry for £30,000 Costa prize

Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End: “a miracle of a book”according to the Costa judges

Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End: “a miracle of a book”according to the Costa judges

 

Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Novel Award for the second time with Days Without End, set during the US civil war, which the judges called “a miracle of a book”.

Dublin-based author Brian Conaghan won the Children’s Book Award for The Bombs That Brought Us Together, while Keggie Carew won the Biography Award for Dadland, the story of her 10-year race to unravel the truth about her Irish father’s past as he slips into dementia.

Francis Spufford won the First Novel Award for Golden Hill, set in 18th-century New York, and Alice Oswald collected the Poetry Award for Falling Awake.

The authors, who each win £5,000, now compete for the 2016 Costa Book of the Year, worth £30,000, which will be announced on January 31st. Last year’s winner was The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge. The awards, known as the Whitbread from 1971 to 2006, are the only major book prize open solely to authors resident in Britain and Ireland.

Days Without End is, the judges said, is “a miracle of a book – both epic and intimate – that manages to create spaces for love and safety in the noise and chaos of history”. Eoin McNamee, reviewing it in The Irish Times, wrote: “There is a majestic rhythm to Barry’s prose, deep craft in the shaping of the novel, the impetus of events carrying us through at pace… Sebastian Barry is the most humane of writers. The leeway is always generous; beauty is mined to its last redemptive glint…the voice is humorous, compassionate, true. It is his glory as a writer. It is the stern, glorious music of a great novel.”

Barry was born in Dublin in 1955 and now lives in Co Wicklow. His works include the play The Steward of Christendom and the novel The Secret Scripture, which won the Costa Book of the Year in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is the story of two friends, one shed, a war and a terrible choice. The judges said: “Timely yet also hilariously funny, Bombs is a necessary take on modern life in extraordinary circumstances.”

The late Robert Dunbar’s Irish Times review called it “a clever, entertaining and engaging piece of writing. Guaranteed to keep most young readers enthralled, this sparkling, lively novel will soon find a devoted readership.”

Conaghan, who is from Coatbridge in Scotland, received 217 rejections before finding a publisher and an agent. His second novel, When Mr Dog Bites, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2015, attracting both praise and controversy for its depiction of a teenage boy with Tourette’s syndrome. His new novel, We Come Apart, co-authored with Carnegie Medal winner Sarah Crossan and written in verse, will be published next month.

Molly McCloskey’s Irish Times review called Karew’s book “a moving memoir-cum-biography, written by a daughter who came to know him as he was forgetting his own name. Nothing here is easily resolved, and Dadland chafes against its own subject in rich ways.”

Part-detective story, part-memoir, part-history, Dadland tells of Karew’s race against time to uncover the truth about her father Tom’s colourful life as he slips into dementia. He served in an elite undercover unit in the second World War, the Times of India called him ‘Lawrence of Burma’, he collaborated with Gen Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, and was awarded France’s highest military honour, the Croix de Guerre. Carew, a former artist, was born in Gibraltar and once lived in west Cork.

Irish authors have enjoyed significant success in the past 12 months. Lisa McInerney won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize, Suzanne O’Sullivan won the Wellcome Book Prize for It’s All in Your Head, Mike McCormack won the Goldsmiths Prize for Solar Bones, Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and Sarah Crossan won the YA Prize 2016 and the Carnegie Medal for One. Paul McVeigh won the Polari Prize for The Good Son and Paul Murray jointly won the Wodehouse Prize for The Mark and the Void.

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