Poetry collection wins Costas


A book of poetry inspired in part by the writer’s experience of breast cancer was hailed as “a celebration of life” tonight as it carried off a major literary prize.

Jo Shapcott’s surprise victory for her book, Of Mutability, makes it two years in a row that poetry has won the Costa Book Award.

The winner was announced at a ceremony in Quaglino’s restaurant in Mayfair, central London.

Chairman of the judging panel, broadcaster Andrew Neil said: “The judges thought that it was accessible, compassionate, one of them said it was a celebration of life whatever was thrown at you and they had been captivated by the poetry and for these reasons, though there were other strong challengers, they thought Of Mutability deserved to win.

“They wanted to stress the accessibility. They appreciate that poetry is not everybody’s first choice in literature and this is the second year Costa has chosen poetry to be its book of the year but they really felt that if someone was uncertain of poetry, if they got this book in their hands they would quickly fall in love with it and read it again and again as many of the judges did before coming to their decision.”

Many critics - and the bookmakers - had tipped Edmund de Waal’s family memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes to win, but Mr Neil said its status as favourite had not worked against it.

He said: “That was not a reason for not voting and no-one gave it as a reason for not voting for it.

“People had nothing but praise for the de Waal book, they thought it was of a very high standard.”

Shapcott, from London, has won several poetry prizes since publishing her first book in 1988.

She is professor of creative writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London and is president of the poetry society.

Waterstone’s poetry buyer Peter Saxton said: “Two wins in a row for the poetry category must surely mark some sort of renaissance. While bookshops might not see the jump in sales that would have come with a more commercial winner, one cannot begrudge this excellent collection of poems, serious yet with a warmth and humour that shines through, its victory.”

Mr Neil said the decision was not unanimous and had come down to a choice of Shapcott and Derry-born author Maggie O’Farrell’s novel The Hand That First Held Mine but a clear majority of the panel voted for Shapcott.

Among the judges were actors David Morrissey and Elizabeth McGovern and the writers Adele Parks, Ruth Padel and Tim Bowler.

The other shortlisted books were Jason Wallace’s children’s book Out Of Shadows and Kishwar Desai’s novel Witness The Night.

The five authors received £5,000 each with Shapcott winning another £30,000.

The last winner of the Costa book of the year was A Scattering by Christopher Reid.

Ms Shapcott said the book had been described as being a response to breast cancer but said it was more than that.

She said: “I would say more that it is a series of meditations on mortality, some of which are terribly cheerful, in fact ecstatic.”

The acknowledgements in the front of the slim 54-page volume say it “owes everything” to the medical team at Hereford County Hospital who treated her.