Some bold choices in the 2011 Costa Books Awards has seen Andrew Miller beat Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes to win Best Novel and Matthew Hollis's book about war poet Edward Thomas chosen over Claire Tomalin's popular book on Charles Dickens to win the Biography Award.
Meanwhile Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate, has won the Costa Poetry Award with her collection The Bees and is now 3/1 to win the prestigious overall prize of Book of the Year later this month.
The prize winners across all sections of the Costa awards are:
Pure, a parable of the French Revolution set in 18th-century Paris, was hailed by judges as "a novel without a weakness from an author who we all feel deserves a wider readership".
It is Miller's sixth novel and although the Costa prize is rarely awarded to the same novel that wins the Booker, his victory over Barnes will go some way to vindicating what many saw as his shock omission from that competition's long list in 2011.
The Last Years Of Edward Thomas focuses on the Welsh poet's last years before he died in battle in 1917, and on his friendship with American poet Robert Frost. It represents a surprising though deserved victory for Hollis in a year when public opinion has overwhelming been behind Tomalin, whose solid biography of Dickens has been a bestseller in the author's centennial year.
Duffy's win is somewhat less of a surprise. The Bees, her first collection since being appointed Poet Laureate in 2009, emerged victorious from a very strong group - particularly Jackie Kay's exceptional collection Fiere - but demonstrated precisely why the Scot is Britain's leading poetic voice.
"We were thrilled by the poet's musical feeling for language and her spellbinding ability to combine naturalness and formal complexity. It's a joyful collection," said the judges of a collection they said used "her full poetic range".
Watson worked as a nurse for 18 years before turning her attention to writing novels full-time. The result was Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, a story set in Nigeria about an affluent, city-dwelling brother and sister who have to adapt to a new life in the countryside with their poor grandparents after their father leaves them.
The judges said their decision to award her Best First Novel was unanimous, saying: "readability and literary merit go hand in hand in this vibrant gem of a novel."
In the Children's Book category, Moira Young's thriller about a girl who must save her twin brother from the clutches of an evil king won after having already caught the eye of film director Ridley Scott whose production company are adapting it for the big screen. The Costa Award caps a fantastic year for the debut children's writer who was once an opera singer.
All five of the finalists will receive £5,000 in prize money and are now in with a chance of winning the 2011 Costa Book of the Year and the overall prize of £30,000 when the winner is announced in London on 24 January.
Known formerly as the Whitbread until Costa took over sponsorship in 2006, the competition is in its 40th year and this year is judged by a panel including newsreader Mary Nightingale and actress Dervla Kirwan. It is chaired by Geordie Greig, editor of the London Evening Standard. Last year the winner was poet Jo Shapcott for her collection, Of Mutability.
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