HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2018 IS GOING TO BE A BUSY ONE. The main event is the launch of my latest glossy-mag comedy Last of the Summer Moet, a follow-up to last year’s Three Weddings And A Scandal. For a synopsis of the plot, click here. I am now working on the third comedy in the series, a glossy romp with a Scottish twist called – brace yourselves – View To A Kilt.

This month I’ll be returning to BBC2’s Celebrity Eggheads for another go at those pesky Eggs, who my team, the Page Turners, battered into submission last year but didn’t quite beat. But now that I’m thoroughly up on Premiership footballers and Romanian sculptors I’m planning to whisk them into a froth. I’ll also be regularly reviewing the best of new fiction for the Daily Mail.

Speaking of the best of new fiction, and British fiction specifically, the big event of this month is the Costa Novel Awards, where I am chairing the judges for the final prize, The Costa Book of the Year 2018. I was a judge a few years ago and was thrilled to be asked to be the 2018 Chair as the Costa is such a great prize. It never fails to unearth brilliant new British books and has enriched the literary scene enormously. The five books currently in contention for the ultimate award have all won their individual categories already. I went on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row evening arts programme to announce them and they are as follows:

Winner of the 2018 Costa First Novel Award Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This book has been making waves since first being published last year and deservedly so. Eleanor’s a heroine with a difference – frumpy, grumpy and caustically uncharitable about her fellow office workers. I think that’s what people have responded to, her take on contemporary life is so funny.

Winner of the 2018 Costa Novel Award Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. This amazing book examines the impact on a remote rural community of the mysterious disappearance of teenage girl on holiday there. Each chapter follows a year in the life of the village and we get to know not only the local characters but the rhythms and habits of the natural year which become characters too. It’s stunningly original and beautifully written.

Winner of the 2018 Costa Children’s Book Award The Explorer by Katherine Rundell. This is a great old-fashioned children’s book, packed with danger and derring-do. Four children are abandoned in the Amazon after their plane crashes; they have only their wits and each other to survive. They eat grubs and kebab tarantulas, it’s enough to make Bear Grylls’ hair stand on end.

Winner of the 2018 Costa Poetry Award Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore. This beautiful collection of poems was the last Dunmore wrote before dying last year. Many are about illness, hospital, even death, but they are uplifting rather than sad. The poet, who was also a novelist, writes in her lovely clear accessible style about her childhood and favourite places as well as her fellow patients and the ward. A triumph of the human spirit.

Winner of the 2018 Costa Biography Award In The Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott. This biography is more of an autobiography; Stott’s account of her childhood among the Exclusive Brethren, an extreme nonconformist Christian group. A new leader comes on board and it’s like living in Stalin’s Russia. Restrictions are everywhere Brethren spy on each other, people go mad. Problem is, Stott’s father is one of the priests, until he spectacularly defects. Jaw-dropping stuff.

I’ll be conferring with the judging panel all this month and after a big final meeting in a secret central London location the winner of the 2018 Costa Book of the Year will be revealed on 30 January at a glamorous, glittering, champagne-and-celebrities awards ceremony. So listen/watch out and watch this space too to see which one of these wonderful books carries off the ultimate honour.

Have a good January.