Caleb Azuma Nelson was working part-time at the Apple Store in London when he decided to “take a risk” on himself and try to write his first novel. And on Tuesday night, his debut, Open Water, was picked up for Costa’s first prize for fiction, which the judges praised as “very moving, very intimate, and just now”.
Open Water follows the lives of two young black British artists – a photographer and a dancer – as they begin to fall in love after meeting in a southeast London pub. She’s beaten titles including AK Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches and Kate Sawyer’s The Stranding to win Costa’s £5,000 prize. “We all loved this contemporary portrayal of masculinity – it’s unlike anything else we’ve read before,” the judges said.
Nelson, a British-Ghanaian short story writer and photographer, said it was “quite surreal” to be chosen as the prize winner. “I think I honestly still get used to the fact that I’ve not only published a book, it’s been really well received. All writers do this — you commit these brave acts by putting words on the page, then closing your eyes when you do and hoping someone will read it. , “He said.
Nelson quit his job at the Apple Store to write Open Water, and spent the summer of 2019 at the British Library writing all day. The manuscript sparked a nine-way bidding war before it ended up with Viking, Penguin’s imprint.
“The main thing I’ve been trying to polish,” he said, “is the story of intimacy between people who might feel romantic about each other – these moments that often go unnoticed and undocumented but are really the fabric of our lives.” “I think my background as a photographer means that I’m only drawn to these very small moments in people’s lives that expand outward.”
Claire Fuller has won the £5,000 Costa Novel Prize for her fourth novel, Unstable Land, the story of 51-year-old twins Jenny and Julius, who live in rural poverty and isolation with their mother Dot, until her death means they are in danger of losing everything. The judges said the award, which was already shortlisted for the Women’s Award, was “a masterpiece of storytelling and craftsmanship.”
“I’m still lost because the words have won,” said Fuller, who beat authors including Nadifa Muhammad and Elif Shafak for the award. “It is a great honor to be recognized in this way.”
The novel’s roots go back to Fuller’s son’s discovery of an abandoned caravan in the woods. “It was deserted and empty, and my son just knows that I love exotic places. So I went out to see it, and it was really, really atmospheric. It made me start to think: Who would have lived here? And how did they manage to do that?” she said. “And then Jenny, the main character, was just created in my head without knowing what her story would be or where she came from, or even that she had a twin brother. I had no idea until I started writing it.”
John Preston won the Costa Biographical Award for Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, which the judges described as an “epic, immersive, cinematic novel” about the life of the late media mogul and Member of Parliament. The Poetry Prize was awarded to former London School of Children Hannah Lowe, which draws on ten years of teaching in an inner-city London in the sixth form, and Manjit Man won the Children’s Book category for The Crossing, a poetic novel inspired by the refugee crisis, about two teenagers from two worlds Very different.
Kostas is only open to authors based in the UK and Ireland, and is her go-to for the “most interesting” books of the year. The judges, said the crossing, “will enrich all who read it,” while the children made the judges “want to punch the air with joy.”
A panel of judges headed by journalist and broadcaster Rita Chakrabarti will select Costa’s book of the year from among the five winners in the category, which will be announced on February 1. Last year, Monique Rovey’s novel The Mermaid of Black Conch took home the overall prize of £30,000.