Published: 21 November 2007
The frustrated efforts of Catherine O'Flynn, a former postwoman who tried and failed 15 times to get her work published, were finally rewarded yesterday when her first book was shortlisted for the £25,000 Costa Book Awards.
The book – on the shortlist for first novels, with an all-female list of nominees – "pulls the rug from under your feet from the very first page", the judges said.
O'Flynn, who has also worked as a teacher, web manager and civil servant, said she wrote her novel almost accidentally. Her creative side was awakened by her work at a shopping centre in the West Midlands. "There were many things about it that made me want to write. The trance-like state of the shoppers consuming everything in their wake, the eeriness of the empty centre at night, the constant awareness of surveillance, the differing experiences of staff and shoppers, the industrial past buried beneath it.
"I kept writing about it – almost obsessively, I really wanted to pin down the essence of the place but at that stage there was no plan for this to be a novel.
"Then I heard a story doing the rounds among the centre security guards of a child being seen on one of the CCTV monitors in the middle of the night and that image stayed with me."
O'Flynn's book was also longlisted for the Booker and the Orange prizes.
The biography section includes a story of the wartime double agent, Eddie Chapman, entitled Agent ZigZag, by Ben Macintyre, which is to be turned into a film.