Costa Book Awards 2014: Leading brain surgeon shortlisted for book which takes doctors off their pedestal

Henry Marsh heads list with non-fiction book Do No Harm

Click to follow

One of Britain’s leading brain surgeons, who wanted to write a true-life account taking doctors “off the pedestal”, has been nominated for a Costa Book Award.

Henry Marsh’s non-fiction book Do No Harm, described as “the product of a lifetime’s thinking and experience on the frontline of healthcare”, has been nominated in the biography category.

This comes in the year that the surgeon, a vocal critic of NHS bureaucracy, revealed he was to leave the NHS in 2015 after 36 years and would continue to operate abroad.

He told The Independent he was “rather pleased” at the nomination for his first book, and said he was mulling over his second writing project.

“I need to write for my own sake. All I know is the next book will be very different,” he said, adding that he was tempted by fiction, possibly a neurosurgery thriller.

Four nominees were announced in each of the Costa Book Awards’ five categories on Tuesday.


Do No Wrong faces competition from John Campbell’s biography of Roy Jenkins and the Samuel Johnson prize-winner H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

It grew out of a diary that the surgeon had kept all his life. Dr Marsh said: “Writing was a de-stressing after a terrible or exhilarating day at work. It was about unwinding. Every day at work you would see the most terrible and wonderful things and I wanted to bear witness to it.”

He continued: “There’s an odd contrast, for me it’s just another day at work, and for my patients it’s terrible and potential tragedy.”

Previous books about the subject have been written with the doctors “on a pedestal”, he said. “I’ve taken them off. Doctors are in an increasingly critical environment and there needs to be more understanding of what we do is often extremely uncertain in terms of decision making. The book is partly about the understanding of what that’s like.”

Dr Marsh has worked in Ukraine for 22 years, and is currently trying to get medical equipment for the military hospital there. He also plans work in Nepal. In the UK he will rarely operate, but has agreed to stay on at his hospital St George’s to teach.

Two Booker Prize-shortlisted books, in Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others and How to be Both by Ali Smith, are up for the Costa Novel award.

Among the 20 nominated authors, the list was split evenly between men and women, and included books by chef Simon Wroe, former Mormon Carys Bray, and artist Marion Coutts. Two are set in the First World War, in the year that marks the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict.

The 2014 Costa Book Award shortlists

Novel Award

  • Neel Mukherjee for The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)
  • Monique Roffey for House of Ashes (Simon and Schuster)
  • Ali Smith for How to be both (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Colm Tóibín for Nora Webster (Viking)

First Novel Award

  • Carys Bray for A Song for Issy Bradley (Hutchinson)
  • Mary Costello for Academy Street (Canongate)
  • Emma Healey for Elizabeth is Missing (Viking)
  • Simon Wroe for Chop Chop (Viking)

Biography Award

  • John Campbell for Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life (Jonathan Cape)
  • Marion Coutts for The Iceberg: A Memoir (Atlantic Books)
  • Helen Macdonald for H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape)
  • Henry Marsh for Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Poetry Award

  • Colette Bryce for The Whole and Rain-domed Universe (Picador)
  • Jonathan Edwards for My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren)
  • Lavinia Greenlaw for A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde (Faber & Faber)
  • Kei Miller for The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet)

Children’s Book Award

  • Simon Mason for Running Girl (David Fickling Books/Random House Children’s Publishers)
  • Michael Morpurgo for Listen to the Moon (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Kate Saunders for Five Children on the Western Front (Faber & Faber)
  • Marcus Sedgwick for The Ghosts of Heaven (Indigo)