LONDON (Reuters) - British novelist Hilary Mantel added to her groaning trophy cabinet on Tuesday, picking up the Costa Book Award 2012 for “Bring Up the Bodies,” her historical novel about the life and court of Henry VIII and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell.
The acclaimed bestseller has already won the Man Booker prize for fiction, making Mantel the first Briton and first woman to win that coveted award twice.
The 60-year-old also won the Booker Prize in 2009 for “Wolf Hall,” the first instalment in what will be a trilogy.
Broadcaster Jenni Murray, chair of the nine-member panel who decided which of five Costa category winners would take the overall prize, said “Bring Up the Bodies” stood “head and shoulders” above the rest.
“This is a very difficult prize to judge, because there are five categories and they are so different,” she told reporters ahead of a reception in London announcing the winner.
“It’s not an easy prize to judge, but I have to say today one book simply stood head and shoulders - more than head and shoulders, on stilts - above the rest.”
Mantel had been the bookmakers’ favourite for the award, which comes with a cheque for 30,000 pounds ($47,000). Category winners each win 5,000 pounds.
Asked whether the judges had considered giving the prize to another author to spread the spoils of literary awards, which usually bring with them a sizeable spike in sales, she replied:
“We know this has had lots of prizes. We couldn’t allow the number of times it’s already been lauded to affect our decision. It was quite simply the best book.”
Murray praised what she called the “poetic” prose of the novel, which traces the downfall of Anne Boleyn in 16th century England and Henry’s dangerous attraction to Jane Seymour.
“It’s so set in its time so you know exactly where you are and who you are with, but it’s also incredibly modern,” she said. “I have no doubt that I want to go back to it. I’ve read it twice and I want to read it again.”
“Bring Up the Bodies,” which like Wolf Hall will be adapted for the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company, was one of an all-female shortlist in 2012.
Journalist, critic and writer Francesca Segal’s debut novel “The Innocents,” set in a Jewish community in northwest London and modelled on Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” won the Costa First Novel Award.
Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie won the poetry prize for her collection “The Overhaul,” and writer/illustrator and dyslexia campaigner Sally Gardner claimed the Costa Children’s Book Award for “Maggot Moon.”
Husband-and-wife team Bryan and Mary Talbot jointly won the Costa Biography Award for “Dotter of her Father’s Eyes,” a biography of James Joyce’s daughter interwoven with a memoir of the author’s own troubled relationship with her father, Joycean scholar James S. Atherton.
Mary Talbot, a scholar and author, teamed up with Bryan, who has worked on underground comics and superhero stories including “Judge Dredd” and “Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight”.
Their collaboration was the first graphic work to win a Costa category award.
The Costa awards go to writers based in the UK and Ireland for a work published in the last year. They were established in 1971 by Whitbread but were renamed after Costa Coffee took over the sponsorship.
The 2011 Costa Book of the Year was “Pure” by Andrew Miller.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White