Hilary Mantel wins again

The Costa Book awards herald its first all-female shortlist and graphic work winner.

The judging panel of the Costa Book Awards has named Hilary Mantel among the winners in their individual category awards.

Each of the Awards’ five categories has been won by a woman, a first for the Costa Awards (formerly Whitbread Awards) which begun in 1971.

Mantel, who was profiled by the New Statesman in October, won the Best Novel for Bring up the Bodies. Kathleen Jamie triumphed in the poetry category for her collection The Overhaul; while The Innocents by Francesca Segal won the First Novel Award. Sally Gardener, who is a campaigner for dyslexia and who herself suffers severely from the condition, won in the children’s book category with her novel Maggot Moon.

The 2012 category winners list is also the first to feature a graphic work, with wife and husband Mary and Bryan Talbot winning the biography category for Dotter of her Father’s Eyes. The graphic memoir, which is also illustrated by Bryan Talbot, interweaves the stories of Lucia, daughter of James Joyce, and Mary Talbot’s own personal history.

One of the five category winners will be selected to win the overall Costa Book of The Year prize, which was awarded last year to Andrew Miller for his novel Pure.

Each category winner will receive £5,000, while the Book of the Year prize is worth £30,000. The overall winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on 29 January.

 

Hilary Mantel. Portrait by Leonie Hampton
BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.