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Sex, sore feet, and a 90-year-old up for the Costa

A 90-year-old, whose work is described as a biographical account of "sex, love and sore feet", as well as impending death, has been shortlisted for the Costa book awards.

Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End has made it to the final few contenders in a competition that pits experience against youth as well as up-and-coming writers against established authors.

Athill, who worked for the BBC in the Second World War and helped set up André Deutsch publishers, has already written five volumes of memoir, including the highly-acclaimed Stet. She is the oldest writer shortlisted for the prize, and is three years older than Doris Lessing who last year became the oldest writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Costa judges whittled 616 submissions down to 25 books. Known as the Whitbread before it was taken over by the coffee chain in 2006, the competition is unique in bringing together adult and children's fiction as well as biography and poetry. The overall winner will be announced in January and will receive £25,000.

The youngest contender is the Liverpool-born Jennie Rooney, a 28-year-old lawyer who completed her first novel Inside the Whale during lunch breaks from her legal practice. She will find herself competing in the first-novel category against Sadie Jones, daughter of a Jamaican poet, Evan Jones. Sadie Jones's debut, The Outcast, set in post-war suburban England, has already been shortlisted for the all-female Orange Prize. The only man to make it on to the first-novel shortlist is a former screen writer, Tom Rob Smith, whose Stalinist-era Child 44 was described as "unputdownable".

This year's judges include the author Lisa Jewell; the actress and writer Pauline McLynn; the journalist and broadcaster Michael Buerk; the poet Roger McGough; and the writer Victoria Hislop. A final panel of judges, to include a member of the book-reading public, will be announced next month.

And the nominees are... The shortlist

Biography Award

Somewhere Towards The End, Diana Athill

Bloomsbury Ballerina, Judith Mackrell

If You Don't Know Me By Now, Sathnam Sanghera

Chagall, Jackie Wullschlager

Novel Award

The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry

The Other Hand, Chris Cleave

A Partisan's Daughter, Louis de Bernières

Trauma, Patrick McGrath

First Novel Award

The Behaviour Of Moths, Poppy Adams

The Outcast, Sadie Jones

Inside The Whale, Jennie Rooney

Child 44, Tom Rob Smith

Poetry Award

For All We Know, Ciaran Carson

The Broken Word, Adam Foulds

Sunday At The Skin Launderette, Kathryn Simmonds

Salvation Jane, Greta Stoddart

Children's Book Award

Ostrich Boys, Keith Gray

The Carbon Diaries 2015, Saci Lloyd

Just Henry, Michelle Magorian

Broken Soup, Jenny Valentine