A Blagger's Guide To: The Costa Prize

And the winner is ... guaranteed to be a woman
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The Independent Culture

The Costa Prize will be awarded on Tuesday, and the Blagger predicts that it will definitely be won by a woman. For the first time ever, a woman features in every category: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book. (Although a man was also the winner of the biography category: Dotter of Her Father's Eyes was written by Dr Mary M Talbot and illustrated by her husband, Bryan Talbot.)

Quite a fanfare was made of the fact that a major literary prize has an "all-female" shortlist. The Costa Prize last had an all-male shortlist in 2009. Since 1995, there have been four all-male shortlists for the Best Novel prize. Not much fanfare was made about these.

The Costa Book Awards were formerly the Whitbread Book Awards, having started life in 1971. They became the Costa Prize in 2005, and the venue moved from The Brewery in east London to Quaglino's restaurant in fashionable Mayfair. And they say that the industry is going down market .…

The prize is unusual in that it puts forward five shortlists in different categories each November, and announces the winner of each category in early January, before comparing all five winners and announcing an overall winner at the end of January. Each category winner receives a prize of £5,000, and the overall winner is given an additional £30,000.

This year, for the first time, there will be an additional Short Story Award, which will be judged separately. Interestingly, stories are submitted anonymously, and sifted by a panel who are not told the identities of their authors (though, of course, they may be able to guess). A total of 1,800 entries were received and a shortlist of six were put to the public vote at www.costabookawards.com/short-stories. Judging closed on Wednesday. The most popular story will be announced on Tuesday and its author will win £3,500.

An all-female shortlist is by no means the most shocking event in the prize's history (even if it really were an all-female shortlist). In 1989, the Best Novel prize was awarded to The War Zone, by Alexander Stuart. It was then unawarded, after the judges fell out about it, and given instead to The Chymical Wedding, by Lindsay Clarke. Last year, Andrew Miller won the overall prize for his novel, Pure – but only after "fierce debate" among the judges, along with "forthright" opinions and some "toing and froing, dinging and donging". This was according to the chairman of the judges, Geordie Greig, who admitted that judging the prize comes "with a sense of impossibility about it. You're not just comparing apples and oranges, it feels like you're comparing bananas and chicken curry. It makes the task difficult and interesting."

Joan Brady, who won the 1993 Whitbread Book of the Year Award for her historical novel Theory of War, is one of a group campaigning against a new Costa Coffee shop opening in her local town, Totnes. Let's hope she has put some of her prize money towards the crusade.

This year's shortlist is: Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (Novel Award); The Innocents, by Francesca Segal (First Novel Award); Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot (Biography Award); The Overhaul, by Kathleen Jamie (Poetry Award); and Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (Children's Book Award).