Coleraine-born Author Wins Costa Prize

Best-selling contemporary fiction writer Maggie O'Farrell scoops the best novel award

Writer Maggie O’Farrell has scooped the novel award at the 2011 Costa Book Awards for her fifth novel, The Hand That First Held Mine.

O’Farrell was born in Coleraine in 1972, but grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives with her family in London (she is married to the novelist William Sutcliffe).

O'Farrell has worked as a journalist and deputy literary editor at The Independent on Sunday. Her debut novel, After You’d Gone was described by novelist Ali Smith as ‘supremely moving’ and won a Betty Trask Award.

Her subsequent novels are My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us (which won the 2005 Somerset Maugham award) and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.

The Costa award, however, is O’Farrell’s first major literary prize, and a ‘thrilling’ experience for the author. At the awards ceremony in London she explained how several publishers had turned the book down, and described her joy that it has since gone on to great critical success.

‘When I heard I was on the shortlist I was thrilled and I thought that's kind of enough,’ O’Farrell beamed. ‘I was really shocked to have found out I'd won – genuinely shocked. I'd been doing that thing of, “It's not about winning, it's about taking part”.’

The Hand That First Held Mine is a story of age and loss, which flashes back to the arty Soho of the 1960s from the present day, where two parents struggle to find their place in the modern world.

O’Farrell was one of five category winners at the Costas. The prize for the best children’s book was awarded to Jason Wallace for Out of Shadows, while the poetry prize went to Jo Shapcott for Of Mutability, the first novel prize went to Kishwar Desai for Witness the Night, and the biography prize to Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes.

Each category winner was awarded £5,000, and all five authors will now be considered for the Costa Book of the Year, to be announced on January 25, and an additional award of £30,000. At present de Waal has been installed as the bookie's favourite.

The Costa judging panel includes David Morrissey, Elizabeth McGovern, Natasha Kaplinsky, Anneka Rice and Adele Parks, and is chaired by the broadcaster Andrew Neil.