The Costa Book Awards make history

2 January 2013

The Costa Book Awards has made its own history tonight by selecting, according to its press release, an all women shortlist* for the first time. Here are the category winners, each of whom bags £5,000:

1). Mary and Bryan Talbot win the Costa Biography Award for Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, a book that examines two father-daughter relationships: James Joyce and his daughter Lucia, and Mary Talbot’s relationship with her father, who was a James Joyce scholar.

2). Hilary Mantel takes the Costa Novel Award for Bring up the Bodies, the brilliant and demanding Booker winner about which quite enough has been written.

3). Francesca Segal’s The Innocents snaps up the Costa First Novel Award. It is set in a Jewish community in London, and is apparently modelled on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.


4). Kathleen Jamie’s The Overhaul secures the poetry prize. (This is also fancied to win the T.S. Eliot prize).

5). Sally Gardner, a dyslexia campaigner who was described as ‘unteachable’ as a child, wins the Costa Children’s Book Award for Maggot Moon.

These authors will compete for the 2012 Costa Book of the Year Award, which will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday 29th January 2013. The judging panel is to be chaired by Dame Jenni Murray, and will comprise Jenny Agutter, Katie Derham, Mark Watson, Sophie Ward, Wendy Holden, D.J. Taylor, Daljit Nagra and Marcus Sedgwick.

For reasons I don’t wholly understand, an almost all women shortlist is headline news in 21st century Britain. The victory of Mary and Bryan Talbot’s ‘graphic work’ (to quote the Costas’ press release) in the biography category is much more interesting. This is the first time that such a book has won such a prize. Giles Coren wrote in the Spectator last year that critical recognition of the form is long overdue. The decision to consider these books for prizes suggests that the literary establishment is trying to be more relevant; but few actions could be more condescending than this very public manoeuvre. Who are the judges to decree that the Talbots’ truly excellent and original book is or isn’t ‘literature’ (whatever that might be)?

This question runs deeper than prizes, far into the realms of bookselling and marketing. Coren may be interested to learn that the Nottingham branch of Waterstones draws a distinction between what it terms ‘Graphic Literature’ and ‘Graphic Novels’. The old snobbery is alive and well.

* You’ll notice that one of the categories has been won by a married couple.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Good thought.

  • InfiniteJester1996

    Comic books. Graphic novels. Graphic literature. I think they’re very loose terms meaning the same thing. You get good and bad of all of these. That said, it’s good that comic books are being recognised as a valid art form (music isn’t being looked down on by cinema, for instance!). Authors like Neil Gibson (Twisted Dark) are championing this claim. He gave an interesting talk at the Apple Store last year talking about just this, with a lot of the audience female!

    • GlobeBerry

      I was at that talk as well. Agreed. Thought there was a very good discussion about the medium as a whole (even to newbies). Really enjoyed it (and the Twisted Dark comics too).

  • Eddie

    Typical publicity stunt by an awar to get attention: perhaps that what you don’t understand. It’s MEANT to be news, for marketing purposes! You don’t seriously think all those books deserve to be there, do you?

    Who was on the judging panel? More queen quangocrats eh?
    This is just another ‘M-people moment’.

    But this is yet more evidence that, as the Indy arts man David Lister so rightly argues, there is NO need at all for the sexist Orange prize (which excludes men) unless perhaps there is a male-only prize.

    Why? Because women can and do get shortlisted for all book awards and win them (wrongly in the case of the awful Mantel).

    Anyone who argues for women-only anything these days comes out as a sexist who supports sex discrimination. End of.
    Let’s just have BOOK awards with no gender specified.

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