The candid and dark poetry of Jo Shapcott, which draws on the poet's recent battle with cancer, has walked away as the surprise winner of this year's Costa Book of the Year.
A judging panel chaired by broadcaster Andrew Neil awarded the prize, second only to the Man Booker in terms of literary merit, to the 57-year-old English poet at a ceremony in London yesterday.
The award recognised Shapcott's 2010 work Of Mutability, which tackles deeply personal themes such as cell deterioration and death. It beat the bookies' favourite, Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes. Shapcott described accepting the award as a "privilege and a pleasure", saying that she was "accepting it on behalf of poetry". Shapcott added: "I was shocked ... I really wasn't thinking this was possible, especially since poetry won last year."
She said the work was written when she was recovering from breast cancer, although the disease is not mentioned explicitly.
The Book of the Year prize, worth £30,000, recognises the overall winner from the Costas' five individual categories: biography, children's literature, novel, first novel and poetry. These were won by De Waal, Jason Wallace, Maggie O'Farrell, Kishwar Desai and Shapcott respectively, with category winners being announced in a separate ceremony earlier this year.