Kate Williams on the 2016 Costa Book Awards

Posted on 3rd January 2017 by Peter Whitehead
From an original field of some 600 shortlisted books, this evening’s revelation of the five category winners inches the 2016 Costa Book Awards toward its ultimate climax at the end of this month. As the anticiaption builds even further, Chair of Judges - historian and author Kate Williams - provides her perspective on this unique and much-loved literary award.
It’s a great privilege to be chair of the 2016 Costa Book Awards final judging panel. The shortlist for the Costa Book of the Year is a wonderful and inspiring selection of five books – and the same is true of all 20 books on the individual category shortlists. Last year, Frances Hardinge was the well-deserved overall winner for The Lie Tree  – and this year it’ll either be Francis Spufford for Golden Hill (First Novel), Sebastian Barry for Days Without End (Novel), Alice Oswald for Falling Awake (Poetry), Brian Conaghan for The Bombs that Brought Us Together (Children’s Book) or Keggie Carew for Dadland (Biography). 

These are all incredibly deserving winners of their individual categories. On Tuesday 31 January, we’ll choose our overall winner and announce it to the world that same evening – and the author will receive prize money and the accolade of 2016 Costa Book of the Year. It’s a moment that authors dream of – and it can change a writer’s life.
To write any book is an achievement – an act of vanquishing personal demons every day and driving forth the creativity and effort, even when there are other challenges or distractions that seem all-consuming. But all 20 shortlisted books – and these five category winners in particular - are truly superb, brilliantly written, engaging in complex ways with the world around us so that we’re made to think and question. Most of all, they’re examples of fantastic storytelling. Humans have told each other stories about themselves and the world around them since the beginning of time – it’s what makes us human.
What the Costa Book Awards aims to do is to find and reward the fabulous books of broad appeal that set our hearts on fire as readers. For this prize is for readers and always has been, ever since it was set up in 1971 (then as the Whitbread Prize). All of us authors were wildly-addicted readers as children, sneaking books under the covers when we were supposed to be asleep, reading all the time, escaping into magical worlds. Now, as adults, we cram it in whenever we can. We are living in fast-moving, turbulent times and we don’t know what the future will look like. We talk of automation but one role in human life that can never be automated is storytelling. The originality at the heart of our great books is one that can only be borne of being human, in all its failings, vulnerabilities and successes, all our moments of love, selfishness and kindness. 

To be part of the Costa Book Awards and its 45-year history is a great privilege. The public trusts us and it is a great and wonderful responsibility to fulfil that trust – and choose the book that will go down in history as the 2016 Costa Book of the Year.  

More information on the 2016 Costa Book Award category winners can be found here.





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