The Lie Tree named Book of the Year at Costa Book Awards

Bookies' outsider follows in footsteps of Philip Pullman to become just the second children's author to claim the prize

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The Independent Culture

Frances Hardinge has pulled off a shock by becoming only the second children’s author to win the Costa Book of the Year, following in the footsteps of Philip Pullman who was victorious more than a decade ago.

Hardinge’s novel The Lie Tree won the Costa children’s book award earlier this month and was named the overall book of the year at an awards ceremony in central London. The bookies’ outsider beat heavyweight novelist Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins and favourite Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney to the £30,000 prize.

James Heneage, founder of Ottakar’s bookshop chain, who chaired the judges, said of the winner: “It’s an important book, not only because it’s a great narrative, with great characterisation, but it’s central message of possibility for an intelligent girl who is out of touch in the age in which she lives is a very important one and, I would argue, relevant for today.”

Hardinge, 42, who lives in Isleworth, wrote her first children’s novel Fly by Night while working full-time as a technical author for a software company. She only submitted the manuscript to Macmillan after a friend’s suggestion and it went on to win the Branford Boase Award for outstanding young adult novel by a first time writer. She has gone on to write a total of seven young adult novels as well as short stories. 

The Lie Tree is about a 14-year-old Victorian girl called Faith, a budding scientist, who is determined to discover the truth when her father is found dead in mysterious circumstances. It is part horror story, part detective novel and part historical novel.

Ms Hardinge said: “It feels like I’ve fallen into another dimension. It seems implausibly idyllic."

“In the wider world, sometimes children’s fiction is seen as a bit lightweight in a way that I think is not deserved,” she added. “I would see this as a recognition of the wonderful work done throughout children’s fiction.”

Ms Hardinge did not know what she would spend the prize money on “but at least a proportion of it may be spent on champagne”. 

The chair of the judges revealed there had been some dissent among the judges but it was a “general consensus that the book that won was the right book to win”. He added that, while the novel is aimed at teenage girls, was a book “for all ages”. 

“It has so many great themes, and works on so many levels,” he said. “It’s a very clever book.”

Andrew Michael Hurley’s debut novel The Loney was made favourite ahead of the awards ceremony, while the other shortlisted entries were Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt and acclaimed Scottish writer Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets.