Debut writer Jason Wallace wins Costa book award for Robert Mugabe novel

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A debut children's writer who was turned down by 100 publishers has followed in the footsteps of JK Rowling and Philip Pullman to land a major literary prize.

Web designer Jason Wallace, 41, has scooped the Costa Children's Book Award for Out Of Shadows, set in newly-independent Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.

The judges declared the book an "extraordinary debut novel" and "unanimous winner", saying: "This compelling portrayal of a nation in crisis gripped us from start to finish and has stayed with us since."

Previous winners of the title include JK Rowling in 1999 for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and Pullman for The Amber Spyglass, which also went on to win Costa Book Of The Year in 2001.

Bestselling author Maggie O'Farrell, 38, wins the Novel Award - her first major literary prize - for her fifth novel The Hand That First Held Mine.

She was due to hand in her manuscript just before the birth of her daughter Iris but has told how she delayed publication because she "couldn't even remember the word for a teapot".

Potter and ceramic artist Edmund de Waal, 46, has been tipped to win the Costa Book Of The Year award, after scooping the Biography Award for his acclaimed family memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes.

Originally published with modest sales expectations after being "turned down by absolutely everyone", it has become a bestseller and even been described as the "book of the decade".

Jo Shapcott, 57, wins the Poetry Award for her first new work in over a decade, Of Mutability, which was partly influenced by her experience of breast cancer.

Kishwar Desai, 54, takes the First Novel award for Witness The Night, which explores India's hidden story of female infanticide.

The five category winners, who receive £5,000 each, were selected from 540 entries and will be pitted against each other for Book Of The Year, which will be announced on January 25.

The judging panel is chaired by broadcaster Andrew Neil and includes David Morrissey, Elizabeth McGovern, Natasha Kaplinsky, Anneka Rice and Adele Parks.

The last winner of the Costa Book Of The Year was A Scattering by Christopher Reid.

O'Farrell, who was taught extra curricular creative writing classes by fellow winner Shapcott at Cambridge University, said: "I don't know how I'll celebrate. I told my (seven-year-old) son that I'd won a prize and he said 'are we going to have cake?' so maybe I'll bake one!"

She said she was "so pleased" that poet Shapcott had also won.

Fiona Kennedy, head of non-fiction at Waterstone's, said of the winners: "It's a strong selection full of confident, absorbing writing.

"Kishwar Desai's publisher may be small but they are very astute and we are not surprised to see Witness The Night doing so well.

"Maggie O'Farrell is a writer that is adored by Waterstone's booksellers and customers and the surprise here is that this is her first major prize.

"However, it is The Hare With Amber Eyes that we believe will take the overall prize. Edmund de Waal's memoir is one of those books that people cannot stop talking about, and has attracted universal acclaim from readers and critics.

"It would be a real word-of-mouth winner, and would break this already bestselling title into the mainstream."

Costa Book Award winners with William Hill odds to win Book Of The Year

Costa Biography Award winner

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (6-4)

Costa Novel Award winner

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell (3-1)

Costa Poetry Award winner

Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott (4-1)

Costa Children's Book Award winner

Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace (5-1)

Costa First Novel Award winner

Witness The Night by Kishwar Desai (5-1)