The Costa Awards


Last year the Costa Book Awards commemorated their 50 year anniversary. The Awards were initially established by Whitbread in 1971 with similar aims to those of the 40-year-old Suffolk Book League: to encourage, promote and celebrate the enjoyment of reading. That first year Margaret Drabble, Suffolk Book League’s supportive President, was a judge, alongside J. B. Priestley and Anthony Thwaite. In those days there were awards for three genres: Novel, Biography and Poetry. Whitbread Winners since 1971 can be found on the Costa Award web site. The Whitbread Book of the Year was awarded for the first time in 1985 and the awards were eventually expanded to include First Novel and Children’s Book sections.


In 2006 the sponsors changed. The Costa Book Awards now embrace five categories: Novel, Biography, Poetry, First Novel, and Children’s Book. A long list is whittled down to four books from which the final winner is selected. Click here for previous and current Whitbread and Costa judges. Each of the category winners receives £5,000. The author of the Book of the Year is awarded £30,000; this book is selected from the five shortlists. These days each of the five categories has a judging panel of three. The overall Book of the Year will be announced on 1 February 2022.


Those writers amongst our BookTalk readers might be interested in a recent addition to the Costas: their Short Story competition. This is open to any writer, published or unpublished, aged 18 years or over, for a single, previously unpublished anonymously submitted short story, written in English and up to 4,000 words long. A team of five judges shortlists the stories; the final decision is left to the public who vote for a winner and two runners-up.

This season at SBL we are delighted to welcome four important writers who have been recently recognised by the Costa Awards: two shortlisted authors, one winner in the Biography category and, in our first event for 2022, the author of the 2020 overall Book of the Year.


In September 2021 John Preston came to talk about his novel, The Dig. He had recently found out that he had been longlisted in the Costa Awards for his non-fiction book, Fall: the Mystery of Robert Maxwell. We were so pleased to hear that he won the Biography category on 4 January 2022.


In November 2021 the Costa short lists were announced. The First Novel Award included The Stranding by Kate Sawyer who visited SBL in December 2021 and A. K. Blakemore for The Manningtree Witches; Amy will be with us in October 2022. Both these novels have been receiving warm critical attention.

Monique Roffey will join us a year since she won the Costa Novel Award for The Mermaid of Black Conch: a Love Story. It is a privilege to be welcoming her to the Ipswich Institute on 24 February 2022.


Do book your ticket online to hear about Monique Roffey’s writing life.

You can also read Jeff Taylor’s review of her novel in this issue of BookTalk.


Gill Lowe