Page last updated at 22:33 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Barry scoops 25,000 Costa prize


Sebastian Barry's acceptance speech

Author Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Book of the Year Award for the love story The Secret Scripture.

Barry accepted his 25,000 award at a ceremony in central London, adding it was a "very wonderful night".

Chairman of the judges Matthew Parris said the decision was an "extraordinarily close finish" with poet Adam Foulds' The Broken Word.

Irish-born Barry missed out on the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in October last year.

Speaking to the BBC after accepting the Costa Award, Barry said: "I'm very glad to survive the night. I couldn't eat anything and I feel happy and deeply contented and ready to get a bag of chips on the way home. I'm thrilled.

"I genuinely did not expect to win and it was like getting this benign blow to the head, that's what it feels like, so I'm a little bit dazed."

Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Novel)
Diana Athill Somewhere Towards the End (Biography)
Sadie Jones The Outcast (First novel)
Adam Foulds The Broken Word (Poetry)
Michelle Magorian Just Henry (Children's book)

Parris said Barry won the award, formerly known as the Whitbread prize, despite the judges being unhappy with the ending.

"The feeling of many of the judges with The Secret Scripture was that there was a lot wrong with it and it was flawed in many ways," he said.

"Almost nobody liked the ending (and) for some that was fatal to their support for the book."

The Secret Scripture centres on elderly woman Roseanne McNulty, who faces an uncertain future as the hospital where she has spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure.

Over the weeks leading up to the upheaval, she often talks to her psychiatrist Dr Grene.

Parris said: "Most people thought that Dr Grene's voice, the psychiatrist's voice, didn't work nearly as well as Roseanne's.

"But most people thought that in Roseanne a narrator had been created of such a transcendence that that redeemed all the other structural weaknesses in the book."

Diana Athill
Athill has seen a surge in sales of her memoir Somewhere Towards the End

The judging panel included comedian Alexander Armstrong, journalist Michael Buerk and actresses Rosamund Pike and Pauline McLynn.

Parris said The Broken Word, a work of poetry about the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya, "nearly pipped The Secret Scripture to the post".

But he added that the final decision was "absolutely not" a compromise.

He said of the nine judges, five were for The Secret Scripture and four for The Broken Word and one of the five for The Secret Scripture wavered: "So it really was a knife edge right up to the end."

Summing up the work, Parris said: "Sebastian Barry has created a voice that transcends any of the problems there might be with this novel."

He described the character of Roseanne as "one of the great narrative voices in contemporary fiction".

Individual awards

Barry also beat 91-year-old Diana Athill, first-timer Sadie Jones, and children's author Michelle Magorian to the prestigious prize.

The writers won individual categories earlier this month, and were awarded their 5,000 prizes during Tuesday's ceremony.

Athill, who won the biography prize for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, is the oldest category-winner in the history of the awards.

Her book looks back on her life and the stories, events and relationships that have shaped it, and saw strong sales in the run-up to the announcement.

Jones was second-favourite at the bookmakers to win the overall award with her debut novel The Outcast.

Magorian, the author of the hugely successful Goodnight Mr Tom, won the children's book award for Just Henry.

The winner was announced at an awards ceremony at The Intercontinental Hotel, in London's Park Lane.

Originally established in 1971 by Whitbread, Costa took over the sponsorship of the prize in 2006.

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