The Costa Book Awards has unveiled its five winning titles for 2021 – here’s how to buy them

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  • Robert Maxwell
    Czechoslovak-born British media proprietor and Member of Parliament (1923-1991)
The overall Costa winner will be announced in February   (The Independent )
The overall Costa winner will be announced in February (The Independent )

Kicking off a new year in books, the Costa Book Awards has marked its 50th anniversary and announced the five winners of its 2021 prize.

One of the most prestigious literary prizes in the UK, the awards celebrate some of the most enjoyable titles from the last year by writers in Britain and Ireland.

Setting it apart from other book prizes, the Costa awards span five categories – first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s – with one of the five tomes then crowned the overall winner. Each of the categories is judged separately.

The winning authors – each of whom get £5,000 – were plucked from nearly 1,000 entries and the overall winner of the prize, who will win £30,000, will be announced on 1 February.

From a searing story of two young black artists trying to make it in London, to the biographical tale of press baron Robert Maxwell’s rise and fall, the Costa prize honours the very best of the UK’s literary landscape. Ahead you’ll find out all you need to know about the winning books, and how to buy them.

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First novel award: ‘Open Water’ by Caleb Azumah Nelson, published by Viking

Lauded by the judges as “deeply moving”, Open Water is the love story between two young black British artists after they meet in a south-east London pub. One a dancer and the other a photographer, it tells of the two trying to make it in a city that both celebrates and rejects them. Praised by fellow writers including Bernadine Evaristo and Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Azumah Nelson is a name to know for 2022.

Buy now £8.99,

Novel award: ‘Unsettled Ground’ by Claire Fuller, published by Penguin

Exploring the settting of rural poverty occupied by a set of twins living on the fringes of society, the Costa judges called Fuller’s fourth novel a “masterpiece of storytelling and craft”. At the age of 51, Jeanie and Julius still reside with their mother in an old isolated cottage. When she dies, their world is thrown into chaos, leading to a story of resilience and survival – and, as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, a heart-stopping betrayal.

Buy now £12.99,

Poetry award: ‘The Kids’ by Hannah Lowe, published by Bloodaxe Books

Poet Hannah Lowe’s third collection of sonnets draws on a decade of experience teaching sixth-form students in an inner-city London school during the 2000s. Other verses in the tome take inspiration from her teenage years growing up in the Eighties and Nineties, as well as her own motherhood and experience of raising a small son in the nation’s capital. The judges praised it as a “page turner” that made them “want to punch the air with joy”.

Buy now £9.77,

Biography award: ‘Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell’ by John Preston, published by Viking

Winning the Costa biography award, John Preston’s book about media mogul Robert Maxwell was said by the judges to be “epic” and a “unanimous winner”. Recounting how the Jewish Maxwell fled the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia as a teenager, to later go on to become a Labour MP and businessman, Preston outlines the long-hidden debts and dodgy dealings that came to light upon his death. Maxwell disappeared from his yacht (named after his recently convicted daughter Ghislaine Maxwell) in 1991, and was later found dead in the sea.

Buy now £14.89,

Children’s book award: ‘The Crossing’ by Manjeet Mann, published by Penguin

Said by the judges to be “brilliant” and “a wonder”, Manjeet Mann’s second book explores themes of hope, grief and the tragedies of life as a refugee. The verse novel tells the story of two teenagers from very opposite worlds whose paths unexpectedly intertwine. Natalie – who lives with her family in Dover – has just lost her mother, while Sammy has fled his home and family in Eritrea to cross the channel in hope of a better future.

Buy now £6.99,

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From crime titles to comedy, delve into our edit of the best fiction books of 2021

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