Shock End: How Costa’s Book Awards Changed Reading — and Incited Husband to Wife | Wrote

MArgaret Drabble was a shining young star with five novels to her name in 1971, when she was spoken to to join her longtime friend J.B. Priestley on the jury for a new book award. “Jack told me I should spend the fee (which came in the wine) by choosing some very nice half bottles to drink myself, which I did,” she recalls.

Drabble defended the biographer Henrik Ibsen, Priestley was keen on a novel by Gerda Charles, and their fellow judge, critic Anthony Thwaite, defended a collection of poetry by Geoffrey Hill. The glory of the new brewery-sponsored trophies was that all three could have had trophies, so everything went smoothly, and none of the brawls that had already begun to spoil the poker, two years earlier, had been launched. These arguments included one about the literary quality of Margaret Drabble, who (According to Judge Booker Mrs. Rebecca West) lowers the tone by writing about laundry.

USP for Whitbreads, which switched to Costas 14 years ago It was suddenly canceled this month, is that they were not convinced by this kind of literary arrogance. For 50 years, they have spread a wide and even network across different genres, supporting libraries as well as writers and publishers (later panels will include a bookseller). Drabble doesn’t remember much about the first awards show, except that Hale was “very angry”. The following year, poetry was dropped as a category in favor of children’s novels. It would take 15 years for it to be brought back, as part of a roster that had grown in that time to include first novels alongside novels, children’s fiction and autobiography.

Margaret Drabble was the inaugural jury for the 1971 Whitbread Best Books Awards.
Brilliant Young Star… Margaret Drabble was the inaugural jury for the 1971 Whitbread Awards for Best Books. Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Nevertheless, poetry, often sent to the literary district, would become one of the great recipients of the awards, winning nine of the 36 books of the year, a comprehensive category introduced in 1985 that brought the epic of Beowulf and Ovid’s Metamorphosis to England’s bookshelves the late ’90s (thanks to those rock stars Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes). It was a low level group – Hana Lowe childreninspired by life as a teacher – which became the eventual finalist winner in February.

“Winning Costa’s book of the year means that collections that would normally have only sold hundreds of copies have sold in the tens of thousands, so this was great for extending UK readers to people who might never have thought poetry written would have been,” says Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe. Books, who published Lowe and Helen Dunmore’s 2017 posthumous winning film: inside the wave.

But it is a sad economic fact that poetry’s gain has usually been the book trade’s loss. The shadow of a sigh ran across the room—originally a banquet hall at the East End brewery in Whitbread, and finally a scene in the West End—whenever the poet was generally declared the winner. This is because the industry knew they would make more money from a famous novelist, a timely piece of non-fiction or from a debut that grabs the agenda.

But even the winners in this category can get a big boost from the prize. The first winner of last year’s novel, The open waters of Caleb Azuma NelsonFor example, it was already in line to be Waterstones Book of the Month when Costa news came out, and the series went on to sell 20,000 paperback copies. It is now one of the Waterstones’ most successful books of all time, coming in second only to its first appearance again, Gail Honeyman’s bestselling book of 2017. Eleanor Oliphant is absolutely fine. The upscale Ghanaian writer’s story of turbulent love already had booksellers on its side, but after its victory over Costa it became “huge,” says Novel Category Director, Pia Carvalho. Carvalho points out that several previous winners of the various award categories are still on the shelves. “The great thing is that it tends to keep going.”

“Amazed, amazed, amazed” … Monique Rovi. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images Costa Book of the Year

However, Kostas’ successes in left field are not limited to the first novels. The British writer from Trinidad, Monique Ruffy, had been away for years, producing seven novels before The Mermaid of Black Conch Hit the jackpot. “When it was shortlisted, I was amazed, when it won Novel of the Year I was blown away, and when it became Book of the Year I was blown away. I still am,” says Ruffy, who has funded her own publicity for the novel. “None of the major publishers will touch me. I’ve been around long enough to see the score with the smaller publishers: they’ve put their hearts and souls into your mod but don’t have the money to upgrade.”

What Costas has shown, in her words, “is the gap between what the publishing industry currently believes and what is true… They believe that middle-class readers who, like it or not, are the primary buyers of books, will never enjoy a novel written in Creole by Trinidad.” White about the black mermaid, but that’s not true. Kostas circulated a book that was left out.” An imprint of Penguin Random House has already been lined up to take her next novel. “All those years of continuing uncertainty and poverty,” she sighs. While she knows literary fiction is never a safe thing, the £30,000 prize has given her the luxury of taking a year off her teaching job, cutting down the ‘entrepreneur’s sabbatical’ cycle that includes master classes and general address making the descent to the next novel very difficult.

Part of the value of the awards is the hype they generate through jazz that climaxes in the party itself. Ruffy was unfortunate that her victory fell into the social abyss of the Covid pandemic, so she missed the presence of famous judges such as model Jerry Hall, actor Hugh Grant and rower Matthew Bensent who had been brought in for the previous years for the spray. Stardust on the arbitration process. “I remember some very interesting dinner parties, although I once sat next to Theresa May, who was never interested in books,” Drabble says.

Competing Partners ... 2002 Winner Claire Tomalin and Michael Frane.
Competing Partners … 2002 Winner Claire Tomalin and Michael Frane. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

couples Claire Tomalin And Michael Frane found themselves on a vertigo-ridden ride when they came face-to-face with his novel, Spies, and her autobiography by 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys. “I won by the size of a hair,” says Tomalin. “Being both contenders for the same prize generated quite a bit of publicity: we were invited to take a picture hitting each other with our books (we declined). It was all a little embarrassing, but it was worth it because he sold so many copies of both our books.”

Phryne and Tomalin were established stars at the time of their encounter. As hard as it is to imagine today, Philip Pullman wasn’t, at the time when the final installment in his canon dark movie trilogy is now the first children’s novel to be published. 2001 Paint the book of the year. Pullman was 55 and had previously refused to allow his early books to be entered for any awards. chief judge Jon Snow said: “If I’m honest, the wind was against Pullman at first. We worried about giving such a literary prize to a children’s book, but then we thought of C.S. Lewis and that was the case.”

Philip Pullman with his 2001 Whitbread-winning film The Amber Spyglass.
Philip Pullman with his 2001 Whitbread-winning film The Amber Spyglass. Photography: Myung Jong Kim/PA

“It made a huge difference to my reputation and my sales,” says Pullman. “After Whitbread I was somewhat well known about her, whereas I had not before. The Carnegie Medal that I won for Northern Lights was something important in the world of children’s books, one unknown and of little interest to the rest of readers; but the nature of the Whitbread Prize / Costa ensured that the news pages as well as the book pages took notice. Whoever created the prize in this way did something very clever and generous. It put children’s book on par with the winners in the other four categories, and that said a lot about the value of children’s literature.”

Pullman’s win was part of the new golden age of children’s books, when college began and the YA market took off. By the time Mark Haddon followed him to the catwalk in 2003, with his debut “crossover” The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time—published in adult and YA imprints—no one had closed their eyes. she was, Chief Justice Joanne Bakewell said“Quite extraordinary in the way Haddon can articulate a child’s voice and access a boy’s language. It is extraordinary because of the limitations he placed upon himself. None of the judges knew anything of the sort.”

“Do not British writers deserve national recognition?” …Joan Brady. Photography: John Stilwell / PA

In 2012, novelist Joan Brady – who in 1993 became the first woman to do so win book of the year – Hustle about converting literary prizes. Canada has Governor General Literary Awards. The United States has National Book Awards. Australia has Premiere Awards. France has Academy Awards. Germany German Book Award. Don’t British writers deserve national recognition, too? It is in some ways a fair point — commercial patrons are fickle and subject to their fickle fortunes — but they are less likely than ever to skip today’s austerity policies. Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.