Soprano finds her voice – as a teen-lit novelist

'Outstanding' dystopian tale wins debut writer the children's prize in Costa book awards

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A former opera singer believes she has finally found her voice as a writer after winning the Costa Children's Book Award for her first novel.

Moira Young, who was turned down by Glyndebourne and who has tried her hand at acting, comedy, dancing and teaching, said she "shrieked and had to sit down" after hearing that her thriller, Blood Red Road, was among the five Costa Book Awards winners.

She said: "All this time, I've been trying to find my voice. I couldn't find it in acting or singing. Now I think I have.

"All of my previous incarnations have contributed to this; I could not have been a writer without them."

The annual Costa Prize selects winners in five categories who then compete for the accolade of Book of the Year. Andrew Miller's Pure won the Novel Award, while Matthew Hollis picked up the Biography Award for Now All Roads Lead to France, about the war poet Edward Thomas. The Poetry prize was won by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, for her collection The Bees, and the prize for debut novel was awarded to Christie Watson, a former Great Ormond Street nurse, for Tiny Sunbirds Far Away.

Blood Red Road is set in the future and follows 18-year old Saba as she searches for her kidnapped twin brother. The Bookseller described it as "an outstanding dystopian debut novel... think The Hunger Games meets The Road". Her prose style has also led to the book being described as "Cormac McCarthy for teenagers".

Young said she was influenced by McCarthy and Western novels, as well as the strong movie heroines in The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. She said the story was borne out of her concern over climate change.

Announcing the winners, the Costa judges said: "It's astonishing how, in her first novel, Moira Young has so successfully bound believable characters into a heart-stopping adventure. She kept us reading, and left us hungry for more. A really special book."

Young is now working on the second book in an anticipated trilogy.

The Costa Book of the Year award will be announced at a ceremony in London on 24 January.

Costa Prize: The five winners

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the awards, whose sponsorship was taken over by the coffee chain Costa in 2006.

This year's Novel Award winner, Andrew Miller, beat the Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes with his sixth book, Pure, about a young engineer charged with demolishing a Paris cemetery in 1785.

Matthew Hollis won the Biography Award with Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas, beating Claire Tomalin's bestselling Charles Dickens: A Life.

Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees is her first collection of new poems since becoming Poet Laureate in 2009.

The two debut novels, Christie Watson's Tiny Sunbirds Far Away and Moira Young's Blood Red Road are the 5/1 outsiders for Book of the Year at William Hill, with Hollis's biography the favourite to pick up the £30,000 prize. The five winners were selected from 568 entries and will receive £5,000 each.

Since the Book of the Year was introduced in 1985 it has been won by a children's book only once: by Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass.