The 2014 Costa Book of the Year award has gone to Helen Macdonald for her work of non-fiction, H is for Hawk. Macdonald’s book took the prize over Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, Jonathan Edwards’ My Family and Other Superheroes and Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front. The author wins £30,000.
The Costa Book of the Year nominees are made up of winners in individual categories that were announced earlier in the month: Macdonald took the Biography Award, Smith the Novel Award, Healey the First Novel Award, Edwards the Poetry Award and Saunders the Children’s Book Award. Each nominee was awarded £5,000 for winning their respective categories. In addition, H is for Hawk also won last year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
In her acceptance speech, Macdonald thanked booksellers for their support of her work, saying ‘A lot of booksellers felt personally invested in it; it was a real word-of-mouth book and it’s amazing the support I’ve had from them.’
The judging panel – headed by Robert Harris and also made up of Maggie O’Farrell, Bernardine Evaristo, Jonathan Stroud, Owen Sheers, Wendy Moore, Dame Diana Rigg, Robert Peston and Samantha Bond – described H is for Hawk as ‘A unique and beautiful book with a searing emotional honesty, and descriptive language that is unparalleled in modern literature’. Harris added ‘Several people felt very passionately it was a book that haunted them’, and praised its ‘wonderful, muscular prose, precise and scalpel-like, staring at grief with the unblinking eye of the hawk.’
Harris also used the opportunity to suggest that the BBC’s TV coverage is underserving the book trade, saying ‘There is no dedicated books programme on the BBC. I really do think the BBC should have one […] I do wish the BBC would fulfil that part of the Charter remit,’ and making an unflattering comparison to the 1970s, when the Corporation broadcast both The Book Show and Read All About It.