Nurse goes from children's wards to literary awards with first novel
Christie Watson makes Costa shortlist only three years after quitting job to study creative writing
Rob Sharp is a freelance journalist specialising in arts and culture. He was on staff at The Independent from July 2007 to December 2011, first as a features writer, and then as the paper’s arts correspondent. He has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. For more information visit his website, www.robsharp.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday 16 November 2011
A nurse who spent more than 10 years on the wards of Great Ormond Street children's hospital has been propelled on to one of fiction's most prestigious shortlists only three years after quitting her job to study creative writing.
Christie Watson, 35, who overcame a crisis of confidence on her way to writing her first book, has been shortlisted for the £5,000 2011 Costa First Novel Award for Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, which was published in March.
The novel is a tale of domestic upheaval in Lagos, as told by its 12-year-old Nigerian central character, Blessing. "Every little helps and I've been really delighted and surprised by this," said Watson yesterday, before the shortlist was officially announced. "I don't know who else has made the list but I know from previous years that I'll be in good company."
The former nurse said her life was transformed when she quit in 2008 to study an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. "I'd always wanted to write when I was growing up but didn't have the confidence and then fell into nursing," she said.
"I turned up at Anglia with my rough draft, having left school with no A-levels, and met some life-long friends. It was all about confidence."
The award's judges said the book was "funny, heartbreaking and utterly real: the characters lodge in your imagination long after you finish the book".
Watson credits her husband, a Nigeria-born Muslim, as a source of inspiration for the novel. "After we met, I began travelling back and forth to Nigeria," she said. "I started the story from the point of view of a white oil worker. But the support I got from the Nigerian community gave me the courage to begin writing from Blessing's point of view."
Watson is joined on the shortlist by the Irish novelist Kevin Barry for City of Bohane, a novel set 40 years into the future about warring factions on the west coast of Ireland. Patrick McGuinness, a French and comparative literature professor at St Anne's College, Oxford, has won a place for The Last Hundred Days, set in Bucharest in 1989. They are competing against Jamaica-born Kerry Young, whose novel Pao explores a 1960s Jamaica wracked by gang warfare.
The shortlist for the £5,000 best novel award includes Julian Barnes's Man Booker winner The Sense of an Ending, alongside John Burnside's critically-acclaimed horror-suspense novel A Summer of Drowning. They go up against Andrew Miller for Pure, set in an 18th-century Parisian cemetery, and Louisa Young's First World War novel My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.
The overall winner across all categories, announced on 24 January, will receive an additional £30,000.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Kim Kardashian on Bruce Jenner's 'story': 'We support him no matter what, and I think when the time is right, he'll talk'
- 3 Russian girl takes her own life after parents find pornography on her computer
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Mike Tindall, Jodie Kidd and co take to the slopes
Game of Thrones: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' goes viral 35 years later
Martin Scorsese 'in shock and sorrow' after death on set of new film Silence
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia