Costa Book Of the Year – Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Irish playwright and author Sebastian Barry is celebrating this week, having been presented with the Costa Book of the Year award for his latest novel Days Without End. Since being established in 1971, the Costa Awards have been one of the country’s most well-respected and prestigious literary prizes. Barry is the first person to be given the award twice, having previously won it in 2008 for his novel The Secret Scripture. Barry says that his son coming out as gay was a crucial factor in him writing the story, which is set in the 1850s and has a gay love story at its centre. In their citation, the judges called it “A miracle of a book – both epic and intimate – that manages to create spaces for safety in the noise and the chaos of history.” Days Without End – along with many of Barry’s other works – can be found on our extensive catalogue.

days-without-endThomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars–against the Sioux and the Yurok–and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.
Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

seb-barry-a-long-long-waySet at the onset of World War One, ‘A Long Long Way’ evokes the camaraderie and humour of Willie Dunne and his regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but also the divided loyalties that many Irish soldiers felt. It also explores and dramatizes the events of the Easter Rising within Ireland.

seb-temporary-gentlemanJack McNulty is a temporary gentleman, an Irishman whose commission in the British army in the Second World War was never permanent. In 1957, sitting in his lodgings in Accra, he urgently sets out to write his story. He feels he cannot take one step further, or even hardly a breath, without looking back at all that has befallen him. He is an ordinary man, both petty and heroic, but he has seen extraordinary things. He has worked and wandered around the world – as a soldier, an engineer, a UN observer – trying to follow his childhood ambition to better himself.

The other shortlisted books – This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain are also available to borrow from Leeds Libraries.

#FF Poem of the Week

The whole & rain-domed universe

Helicopters by Colette Bryce

Over time, you picture them

after dark, in searches
focusing on streets and houses
close above the churches
or balancing
on narrow wands of light.
And find so much depends upon
the way you choose
to look at them:
high in the night
their minor flares confused
among the stars, there
almost beautiful.
Or from way back
over the map
from where they might resemble
a business of flies
around the head wound of an animal.

The whole & rain-domed universe by Colette Bryce – shortlisted for the Costa poetry award

‘The Whole & Rain-domed Universe’ is Colette Bryce’s much-anticipated follow-up to ‘Self-Portrait in the Dark.’ The book presents the reader with an extraordinarily clear-eyed, vivid and sometimes disturbing account of growing up in Derry during the Troubles, with many ghosts both raised and laid to rest


Book programmes on TV and radio

An officer and a spyRobert Harris, author and chair of the Costa Book Awards judging panel, has said that the BBC should show more programmes about books. What do you think?

He said. “In the 1970s, when this prize was launched, there were two books programmes on British television: The Book Programme with Robert Robertson and Read All About It with Melvyn Bragg. If I remember rightly, The Book Programme was on BBC Two and Melvyn Bragg was on BBC One. Imagine that: a books programme on BBC One! Both were running at the same time when we only had three channels. We now have 300 channels but we don’t have any dedicated books programmes. It’s a serious point. I do wish the BBC would fulfil that bit of its charter remit and give books what they used to, because there’s nowhere to go. Is it too much to ask?”

Robert Harris is a best-selling author himself, as well as being a former journalist with the BBC. His books include-Fatherland, Pompeii, The Ghost and Archangel which was adapted as a BBC drama starring Daniel Craig.


He also made a joke about rival Man Booker Prize, saying that the Costa was “not a prize for books that people think they ought to read, but for books that people want to read. Some winners of other literary prizes are books that “the public don’t quite get…This is a book that I think everyone will like. The judges’ brief is to select a well-written, enjoyable book that they would strongly recommend anyone to read. It’s not the Booker Prize, it has its own particular stamp. It goes for good quality writing.”

The BBC say they have programmes like Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’ and BBC Four’s The Secret Life of Books, run the BBC National Short Story Award, and introduce millions to new books through adaptations like Wolf Hall, the Casual Vacancy and Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.

Costa Short Story Awards finalists announced

The Costa Short Story Award 2014 finalists have been announced.

The judging panel included writers Patrick Gale and Victoria Hislop; Richard Beard, director of the National Academy of Writing; Fanny Blake, novelist, journalist and Books Editor of Woman & Home magazine; and Simon Trewin, agent at William Morris Endeavor.

It was then made available on the Costa Book Awards website for the public to download and read, and then vote for their favourite, although the names of the authors were only revealed on 19th January, after the vote for the winner had closed.

 The six shortlisted authors are Paula Cunningham, Zoe Gilbert, Jane Healey, Joanne Meek, Mark Newman and Lucy Ribchester, you can listen to their stories on the Costa website

 The Costa Short Story Award was started in 2012 and is judged without the name of the author being known throughout the process. It is open to both published and unpublished writers, for a single, previously unpublished short story of up to 4,000 words by an author aged 18 years or over and written in English.

 The winner is decided by public vote and this year’s will be announced at the Costa Book Awards ceremony on 27th January. The winning writer gets £3,500, with second place receiving £1,500 and third place £500.


Costa Book Award winners announced

Five children on the Western FrontThe Costa Book Awards have been announced. Now in its 43rd year – previously named the Whitbread Prize – it’s open to authors who live in the UK and Ireland and is the only award to recognise books across five different categories. There were 640 entries, (each category winner wins £5,000 and the chance to win the ultimate prize for the 2014 Costa Book of the Year) Previous winners include Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. The Book of the Year will be announced on 27 January.

Costa Novel Award –  How to be both by Ali Smith

Costa First Novel Award  –  Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Costa Biography Award –  H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Costa Children’s Book Award –  Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Costa Poetry Award –  My Family and Other Superheroes by Jonathan Edwards

The children’s category winner is an adaptation of E Nesbitt’s Five Children; Five Children on the Western Front, by journalist and children’s writer Kate Saunders, was called “a modern masterpiece” by the judges for moving Nesbitt’s original characters into the trenches of WW1. Nesbitt’s character the Psammead, whom the grown children must help to return home is revived.

How to be Both, by Ali Smith is her 6th novel and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is about grief and the experience of making and appreciating art. It has two different beginnings, one in the 15th century and another in the present day. Which one readers embark upon depends on which copy they buy. The judges praised Smith’s narrative concept and the “consummate ease and daring” with which she deployed it.

Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing which won the First novel award is narrated by a 90-year-old woman with dementia.  The author was praised for her “incredible flair and unusual skill” by the judges, who called the mystery novel “a very special book”.

Helen Macdonald’s Samuel Johnson Prize-winning  H is for Hawk is about grief and falconry. Macdonald immersed herself in falconry following the death of her father. Her account explains how she dealt with grief by training her own goshawk.

Costa Book Awards – Biography shortlist

The icebergThe Costa Book Awards Biography shortlist has been announced, all these are in stock if you like the look of them. It’s certainly a wide ranging list.

John Campbell for Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life Best Prime Minister we never had?

Marion Coutts for The Iceberg: A Memoir Marian Coutts’ account of the time leading up to her husband’s death from a brain tumour

Helen Macdonald for H is for Hawk Already a prize winner, (Samuel Johnson), a memoir of battling grief and training a hawk.

Henry Marsh for Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

If you want to find out the drama of the operating theatre, this is for you


Costa Book Awards shortlist announced

Chop chop

The 2014 Costa Book Awards have been announced and this year the awards received a record number of entries- 640. The awards honour books published in the last year in five categories –

  • First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry, Children’s Book

Two of the novel shortlist (Lives of Others and How to be Both) were shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. The judges are author Elizabeth Buchan, writer Bernardine Evaristo and Foyles’ head of buying Jasper Sutcliffe

Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of OthersHouse of Ashes

Ali Smith’s How to be Both

Monique Roffey for House of Ashes

Colm Tóibín for Nora Webster

The Costa First Novel Award shortlist features former Mormon Carys Bray for A Song for Issy Bradley gets a 5* from Leeds readers

Mary Costello for Academy Street, Emma Healey for Elizabeth is Missing and former chef Simon Wroe for Chop Chop

This award is judged by Joanne Finney, books editor at Good Housekeeping; Joe Haddow, producer at Radio 2 Book Club; and writer Maggie O’Farrell.

The Costa site has some great reviews and full information about the shortlists