Costa judge laments a weak year for fiction

If Ian McEwan and David Mitchell's publishers were hoping to forget their Man Booker Prize snub earlier this year, then they will find cold comfort in the Costa award shortlist, revealed yesterday, which failed to feature either of their latest novels.

The four works to be selected for the novel award, which this year had the highest-ever number of 168 entries, were Louise Doughty's Whatever You Love, about a mother's quest for revenge after her daughter is run over by a car; The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale, which explores the moral dilemmas and consequences of its characters; Maggie O'Farrell's 1950s story The Hand That First Held Mine; and Paul Murray's Skippy Dies.

Murray was shortlisted in 2003 for the Whitbread First Novel Award – as the Costa Award was previously known – and his latest novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize this year.

Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles bookshop, who was one of three judges for the novel award, said the four books on the list were "fantastic stories that really gripped you and with characters that really engaged the reader". But he added that he felt it had not been a particularly strong year for fiction. "We were not spoiled for choice in terms of books that were serious contenders," he said.

Reflecting on the omission of Howard Jacobson's Man Booker prize-winner The Finker Question and Mitchell's work, he said they had both certainly been contenders, but their work was too cerebral to recommend to the masses. The prize has veered towards more commercial reads in recent times.

Among shortlisted works in other categories was Sam Willett's debut poetry collection, New Light for the Old Dark, which took him 10 years to complete and which incorporated some poems revealing his experience as a former heroin addict.

Yesterday, he said he was delighted by the nomination and revealed how his entry into professional poetry writing had been a serendipitous one. One of his former girlfriends had sent off one of his poems to a competition, which he won. Poems which dealt with his heroin addiction comprised about 10 per cent of the collection, he added.

"I was born in 1962 and I became infatuated with drugs. I was taking my mum's valium at the age of 11. I had dabbled for years but it was in my late 30s that I became a junkie. The addiction lasted long enough to blow up my life," he said. Meanwhile, the first draft of Lucy Christopher's book Flyaway, shortlisted in the children's book category and featuring an unlikely mix of terminal illness and bird migration, was written when she was in her early 20s and enrolled onto a one-year creative writing course.

"My stepfather was very ill with cancer and I was trying my hardest to write but I couldn't have any ideas.

"I was ill and switched on the radio to hear a programme on migrating Whooper swans," she said.

"I started listening and felt the idea of the long journey that these birds take and the long journey that is a long-term illness, has similarities."

The shortlists

Novel award

Louise Doughty: Whatever You Love

Nigel Farndale: The Blasphemer

Maggie O'Farrell: The Hand That First Held Mine

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

First novel award

Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

Nikesh Shukla: Coconut Unlimited

Aatish Taseer: The Temple-Goers

Simon Thirsk: Not Quite White

Biography award

Sarah Bakewell: How to Live: a life of Montaigne in one question and 20 attempts at an answer

Michael Frayn: My Father's Fortune

Edmund de Waal: The Hare with Amber Eyes

Poetry award

Roy Fisher: Standard Midland

Robin Robertson: The Wrecking Light

Jo Shapcott: Of Mutability

Sam Willetts: New Light for the Old Dark

Children's book award

Lucy Christopher: Flyaway

Sharon Dogar: Annexed

Jonathan Stroud: Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon

Jason Wallace: Out of Shadows

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones