Mental health nurse Nathan Filer wins Costa first novel prize with The Shock of the Fall

Nathan Filer's novel explores a man's descent into mental illness

A mental health nurse, who prompted a bidding war for a debut novel which explored one man’s descent into mental illness, has won the Costa Book award for the best first time writer.

Nathan Filer took the Costa First Novel Award for The Shock of the Fall, which drew on his own experiences gained from ten years working as a nurse on psychiatric wards in Bristol.

The book, described as “deeply moving…but also funny,” was compared to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and sparked an 11-way bidding auction, eventually won by HarperCollins with “a substantial six-figure sum”.

The Shock of the Fall tells the story of 19 year-old Matthew, who relates his account of living with schizophrenia as he confronts his role in the boyhood death of his older brother. A film version has been mooted.

The Costa judges said: “It’s hard to believe this is a first novel – it’s so good it will make you feel a better person.”

Filer, 32, is a writer and lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, who also performs stand-up poetry. He continues to work in mental health in Bristol covering shifts, often at the New Horizons mother-and-baby unit on the Southmead Hospital site.

The novel took Filer three years to write it and the published version was his fifth draft. “I had a lot of false starts - I ended up throwing almost everything out and focusing on the character,” he admitted.

The book will be published in 12 countries this year, including Israel where Filer was arrested and deported during an attempted visit to the West Bank to perform human rights work in support of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement. Filer’s fee from the Israeli publication will be donated to an organisation opposed to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Filer competes with four other category winners for the Costa Book of the Year prize, open only to authors resident in the UK and Ireland, awarded later this month.

Kate Atkinson, whose Case Histories detective novel was adapted into a television series starring Jason Isaacs, has won the Costa novel award for Life After Life, set in wartime Britain.

The prize comes 20 years after Atkinson's first novel, Behind The Scenes At The Museum, was crowned overall winner of the same prize, winning book of the year.

If Atkinson goes on to win book of the year again she will become the first female author to do so twice, with Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes the only two authors to have won the overall prize twice.

Life After Life, a family saga asks “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” The judges praised an “astonishing” book that does “everything you could ask for in a work of fiction and so much more.”

Biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who won the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize, took the Biography Award for The Pike, an account of the life of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, daredevil and one of the early precursors of Fascism.

Writer and broadcaster Clive James was on the shortlist to win the poetry prize for his translation of Italian poet Dante, but has been beaten to the award by poet Michael Symmons Roberts - who has won the poetry award for the second time, this time with his sixth collection Drysalter.

Author, illustrator and political cartoonist Chris Riddell won the Costa Children’s Book Award for Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse which the judges called “an instant classic for children of all ages”.

Bookmakers William Hill made Hughes-Hallett favourite to win book of the year at 2-1, followed by Atkinson at 5-2.

Organisers said that if Hughes-Hallett or Atkinson go on to win the overall book of the year, then women will have won a clean sleep of recent major literary awards.

The winners of each category receive £5,000 with an overall winner getting a further £30,000 at this month’s ceremony in central London. The prize, formerly the Whitbread, is now in its 42nd year.

The Costa panel is chaired by Rose Tremain, with the category judges including  Natascha McElhone, Richard Osman and Sharleen Spiteri, the singer.

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