Two dead authors in line for Costa Prize

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Not since judges of the Whitbread Prize shrugged off accusations of sentimentality to name Ted Hughes as the posthumous winner in 1998 has there been a dead author in line for a major book award.

Now, more than a decade after Frieda Hughes stepped up to the podium to accept the honour on behalf of her father, the late poet laureate, two posthumous nominations have emerged on this year’s shortlist for the renamed Costa Prize, announced today.

The Costa awards recognise the best book in five categories including debut novel, biography, poetry, children’s book and novel.

Simon Gray, the playwright and novelist who died of a ruptured aneurysm in August 2008 is in line to win the award in the biography category for Coda, his candid account of being diagnosed with cancer and given a limited life expectancy, which was hailed as ‘black humour with the lightest touch’ by judges.

Siobhan Dowd, the late novelist who died of cancer, aged just 47, in August 2007, was also named as a contender in the children’s book category. Her novel, Solace of the Road, tells the story of young Holly who escapes her surrounding army of foster parents and social workers to embark on a quest to find her real “mam”.

Dowd’s sister, Denise Dowd, said her family was “thrilled” that the book had been shortlisted. “We love this terrific book which features feisty Holly and her roller-coaster of adventures. It is a real page-turner and demonstrates Siobhan's wonderful ability to tell a story that is a sheer joy to read,” she said.

Dowd is up against Anna Perera among others, whose book, Guantanamo Boy – a fictionalised account of children held in the high security military prison in Cuba – was met with high critical acclaim when it was published.

Perera, who had previously written four children’s books, said she was began writing it after going to a charity gig at the Globe Theatre three years ago where the human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, spoke of those children who are caught up in the ‘war against terror’ and find themselves imprisoned in Guantanamo.

“When I heard about this, I was shocked, outraged, flabbergasted. I thought ‘I want to write a teenage novel’ about this and the title came to me immediately. I did all the reading around it – I read Clive Stafford Smith’s book, Moazzam Begg’s book, everything I could get my hands on,” she said.

Ruth Padel, the poet who became embroiled in the controversy over the Professor of Poetry post at Oxford University earlier this year, was selected for the poetry shortlist, for her intimate poetic treatise on Charles Darwin, the naturalist who was also Padel’s great, great grandfather.

She said the desire to write Darwin: A Life in Poems, dated back to listening to her elderly grandmother’s stories while she was a classics graduate, freshly out of Oxford, but she did not realise the ambition until last year, when she wrote the book in an intensive period of four months.

Padel, was being appointed the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford earlier this year, but resigned after nine days after what some sources referred to as smear campaign against the rival candidate, Derek Walcott, was shortlisted alongside Clive James, the TV presenter who is vying for the prize for his reminiscences of his Australian childhood in Angels Over Elsinore, and the debut poet, Katharine Kilalea, for One Eye’d Leigh.

Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall, is up for the novel award alongside Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, which was on the Booker longlist, and Penelope Lively – another former Booker-winner – who has been nominated for her latest book, Family Album.

Winners will be announced in January.