Suffolk author Helen Macdonald wins Costa Prize

Helen Macdonald at the 2015 Costa Book Awards at Quaglino's, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Helen Macdonald at the 2015 Costa Book Awards at Quaglino's, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. - Credit: PA

Helen Macdonald has won this year’s Costa Prize for her memoir H Is For Hawk.

The Suffolk author picked up the prestigious prize at a ceremony in central London having beaten bookmaker’s favourite Ali Smith in the process.

Bestselling novelist Robert Harris, who chaired the judging panel, said it was a clear winner.

He said: “Several people felt very passionately that it haunted them and they would never forget it and everyone agreed it was brilliantly written, wonderful kind of muscular prose really, precise scalpel-like prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk.”

The Cambridge academic’s story of her attempts to train a Goshawk following the death of her father has already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

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It tells the story of her relationship with the bird, her grief and recounts the life of the novelist TH White whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his attempts to train a bird using traditional falconry methods.

Harris said: “The way it melds the memoir about grief, a biography of TH White and also this sort of wonderful evocation of nature and a hawk, it does something quite unique.”

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He said the judges spent 90 minutes deciding on the winner before voting with Macdonald a clear winner on the first ballot. He added that every book was “enjoyed” and “considered a possible winner”.

Accepting her award, Macdonald said it had been an “extraordinary privilege” to be shortlisted and thanked her readers who she said had shared their own stories of grief.

She said: “It’s made me very, very moved”.

She also revealed that appropriately she had written the book in Costa’s branch in Newmarket.

She joked: “I’m sure that when I go in again next week for a cup of tea they might even buy me a slice of cake.”

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