After 25 years, Boyd scoops second British literary award

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The Independent Culture

A quarter of a century after winning the First Novel Award for his debut, A Good Man in Africa, William Boyd has won the Costa Novel Award (formerly the Whitbread Prize) for Restless, the tale of a wartime spy.

The judges described the novel as unputdownable. "Restless remains in the mind long after you finish it. Double-cross, double-bluff, all written with effortless clarity."

On 7 February, the author will compete against the winners of the first novel, biography, poetry and children's book awards to win the Costa Book of the Year.

Each category winner receives £5,000 with the overall victor securing a further £25,000 in the awards, which were sponsored by Whitbread until this year.

In a series of striking wins for outsiders, John Haynes beat competition from the likes of Seamus Heaney to take the 2006 Poetry Award with his long poem Letter to Patience, while Linda Newbery secured the first prize of her long career with Set in Stone. She triumphed in the Children's Book category over rivals including the previous winners David Almond and Meg Rosoff.

The First Novel Award once won by Boyd goes this year to Stef Penney, a former agoraphobic who could not fly for 15 years and consequently researched The Tenderness of Wolves, a story set in 19th century Canada, at the British Library.

The Biography Award goes to Keeping Mum by Brian Thompson, a playwright and biographer who found success on home turf when he realised his own family were more interesting than many other subjects.

Jon Howells, of Waterstone's, said he expected all the winners would do well. "It is a very strong, typically eclectic list, making the ultimate winner impossible to call. However, William Boyd must be a favourite - this is his best book in years."

Boyd, 54, said it was necessary to keep a "properly balanced" view of prizes, even one which had provided such a "phenomenal boost" to his own career 25 years ago. "I think they're a good thing because they encourage readers and that's what all writers want. But you have to look on it as the equivalent of a win on the horses or the lottery."

John Haynes, 70, who lives near Portsmouth and is a part-time teacher, said it was particularly gratifying to be considered in the same league as Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner.

"Poetry is not that widely taken in. It's nice to feel that so many more people will read what you've written."

Linda Newbery, 54, who lives in Northamptonshire, has written more than 20 books for children and adults. She admitted she felt Set in Stone might be special. "But that can be misleading. It's certainly different from anything else I've ever done before - the late Victorian setting and the first person narrative."

Stef Penney, 37, a screenwriter who lives in London, was "amazed and very nervous" to have won. She said that ignoring ordinary advice to write about what you know to chronicle a country she had never visited did not seem odd to her. "There are so many amazing resources in the British Library and some very beautiful written accounts of employees of the Hudson Bay Company."

Brian Thompson, 71, said winning the biography category was "a very happy outcome for a very difficult book to write".

"It's not a sob story memoir, but it took me a very long time to realise that some of the most interesting and frightening and abusive people I'd ever met were my parents. I'd been looking in the wrong place for my stories."

Category winners in pursuit of big prize

Novel Award

'Restless' William Boyd

In 1976, Ruth Gilmartin learns that her very English mother, Sally, is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigrée and Second World War spy recruited by the British Secret Service.

First Novel Award

'The Tenderness of Wolves' Stef Penney

A man is murdered and a teenage boy disappears in a small township in Canada in 1867, a mystery that attracts journalists, trappers and traders.

Biography Award

'Keeping Mum' Brian Thompson

A social history of London in the Blitz, Thompson recalls his ambitious but absentee father and a mother who spent the war entertaining the US forces.

Poetry Award

'Letter to Patience' John Haynes

This book-length poem is an imaginary letter from a man who has returned to Britain from Nigeria where he is reflecting on how African culture has changed him.

Children's Book Award

'Set in Stone' Linda Newbery

A naïve and impressionable artist, Samuel Godwin, accepts a position as tutor to the daughters of the wealthy Farrow family and walks into a web of deception.