Friday, January 04, 2008


Dogged postie wins first novel prize

Acclaim for What Was Lost after 14 rejections· Five named in battle for top literary award

Story overnight from The Guardian

All disheartened, kicked-in-the-teeth aspiring novelists should take heart: after being rejected by 14 literary agents, the 15th said yes, and former postwoman Catherine O'Flynn yesterday made off with one of the year's most prestigious literary prizes.
Her novel, What Was Lost, was named winner of the 2007 Costa first novel award after being longlisted but not winning the Booker and the Orange prize and being shortlisted for the Guardian's first book award. O'Flynn said: "I hope it does give people hope. It's very hard to get published and it's hard if you go in there with this burning ambition. I didn't have that, I was protected by my natural pessimism."

The judges described What Was Lost, based around the endless corridors and CCTV world of
a city shopping centre, as an extraordinary book. "A formidable novel
blending humour and pathos in a cleverly constructed and absorbing
O'Flynn, 37, who has also worked in an HMV store, as a teacher and, briefly, as a mystery shopper - "a despicable job really" - was one of five category winners named
yesterday in the awards, which were known as the Whitbreads until 2006, and
which unashamedly celebrate enjoyable reads.

The only man to win was the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, for his exhaustively researched biography Young Stalin, tracing the early life of the dictator.
He was yesterday also celebrating signing a movie deal with Miramax and producer Alison Owen (Elizabeth, Brick Lane and Lily Allen's mum) and the screenwriter John Hodge
(Trainspotting, Shallow Grave). "If it's not done in Georgian, Johnny
Depp would be perfect for the lead role," he said.
The project had involved seven years of research, including reading thousands of letters, endless visits to bureaucratically bizarre Russian archives and meeting people such as
the 109-year-old Georgian woman who was at Stalin's first wedding in 1906.
"I think I've done Stalin now," said Sebag Montefiore, who is turning his attention to a
history of Jerusalem.

The writer, lecturer and occasional stand up comedian A L Kennedy won the best novel category for her book Day, which was described by the judges as "a masterpiece" and
made 2/1 favourite to win the overall Costa prize later this month by William
Kennedy, who beat competition from Rose Tremain, Neil Bartlett and Rupert Thomson, said:
"It's such a funny climate at the moment. Getting this does mean you're
at least more likely to be in the bookshops. There are greater numbers of a
smaller range of books, we are trying to disassemble our culture and normally
only an occupying force would do that. I'm more annoyed at things from the
point of view of a British reader than a writer."
She is working on a script for a screen version, but has not signed any contracts.

Ann Kelley won the children's book award for her "rare and beautiful" account of the life of Gussie, a 12-year-old in St Ives awaiting news of a heart transplant.
The Bower Bird is partly based on Kelley's own experience of losing her son Nathan 20 years ago, a week after a heart and lung transplant. "It was an emotional experience, but it was a bit like bringing him back to life, which
was wonderful," she said.

Jean Sprackland won the poetry category for her third collection, Tilt, which has a strong environmental theme.

Each of the winners receives £5,000 and they are now in competition for the overall prize, which will be announced on January 22.

For the judges comments go to The Guardian.

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