Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Costa Book Awards: Party! Winner! Coffee! Champagne!

Last night the streets of St James' filled with carousings and calloocallays, for it was the night of the Costa Book Awards. The prize has been going for over forty years, and continues to shine lights on good books.

I was a judge on the Costa Children's Book Award this year, and took great pleasure in deciding the shortlist: Sarah Naughton's creepily excellent The Hanged Man Rises; Ross Montgomery's hilarious romp Alex, The Dog and the Unopenable Door; Chris Riddell's clever, charming Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse; and Elizabeth Wein's moving Second World War saga, Rose Under Fire.

Champagne fizzed, canapés flowed (well, there were lots of canapés) and we were treated to mini-videos of all the authors who'd won their categories and were now up for The Big One, as it's known in the biz. There were lots of scenes of authors coming in and out of doors, and sitting down, and holding pens and looking moody, which, as an author, I can say is certainly what I spend a lot of time doing, particularly the latter two. (In fact I am absolutely sure that I'm sitting down, right at this very moment.)

Lucy Hughes-Hallett was interesting about her repellant subject, Gabriele D'Annunzio, the womanising poet-prince who "told the Nazis how to be Nazis." We also got a glimpse of Chris Riddell's writing shed,  amongst other things. Poet Michael Simmons Roberts, who'd won the poetry category with his collection Drysalter, talked about his method: writing 15 lines - an almost sonnet - was enough for him. No rhyming couplets for Mr Simmons Roberts. Kate Atkinson said that whilst the premise of her novel, Life After Life, in which a woman, er, keeps living and dying all over again, each time subtly different, "annoyed" some readers; but her pleasure in it was enough to confound them.

Guests included the tv presenter Anneka Rice, whose programme, Challenge Anneka, I have fond memories of; novelists Amanda Craig & Raffaella Barker; writer Polly Samson and her husband, Pink Floyd member David Gilmour. I also spotted the actress Natascha McElhone looking all cheekbony and svelte. McCheekbone?

I will confess that I thought Lucy Hughes-Hallett was going to win it, hands bang down, but Nathan Filer got the gong (wearing a bright yellow tie) for his first novel, The Shock of the Fall, which draws on his experiences as a mental-health worker. It's a big trumpet for a debut, and I hope he goes on to great things.

Now, back to the coffee martinis.

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