Jason Wallace, 41, a web designer, has won the Costa Children’s Book Award for Out Of Shadows, set in newly-independent Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.
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By winning the category, he receives a cheque for £5000, but also a chance to win the overall Costa Book of the Year prize, worth £30,000, which will be announced on January 25.
The judges declared Wallace’s book to be an “extraordinary debut novel” and “unanimous winner”, saying: “This compelling portrayal of a nation in crisis gripped us from start to finish and has stayed with us since.”
Previous winners of the children’s book title include JK Rowling in 1999 for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and Pullman for The Amber Spyglass, which also went on to win Costa Book Of The Year in 2001.
The Costa Book Awards, formerly the Whitbread Book Awards, were established in 1971 to encourage, promote and celebrate the best contemporary British writing.
Wallace, a freelance designer based in London, sent Out of Shadows, which is his debut novel, to 100 agents and publishers before being taken on by Andersen Press.
The book has since been nominated for the Book Trust Teenage Fiction Prize and the prestigious Carnegie Medal.
Wallace’s biography is eclectic: he notes that he is the great, great, great-grandson of Vernon Royle, one of the first Inter-national English cricketers.
At the age of 12, his life was “turned upside down” when his mother remarried and the family emigrated to Zimbabwe.
His experiences of growing up in a boarding school during the aftermath of the war for independence forms the foundation of Out of Shadows.
On his website the author said: “Getting published didn’t happen overnight, and writing had to become ‘the other job’ for which I didn’t get paid while life continued.
“But the main thing is, I wrote -- late at night, on the train to work, in my lunch hours. There was never a good enough excuse to let me stop.
“And besides, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do.”
In the other four categories of the prize, Maggie O’Farrell won the Novel Award -- her first major literary prize -- for her fifth book The Hand That First Held Mine.
She was due to hand in her manuscript just before the birth of her daughter Iris but has told how she delayed publication because she “couldn’t even remember the word for a teapot”.
The potter and ceramic artist Edmund de Waal, 46, has been strongly tipped to win the overall Costa Book Of The Year award after he picked up the Biography Award for his acclaimed family memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes.
Originally published with modest sales expectations after being “turned down by absolutely everyone”, it has become a best-seller and even been described as the “book of the decade”.
Jo Shapcott won the Poetry Award for her first new work in over a decade, Of Mutability, which was partly influenced by her experience of breast cancer.
Kishwar Desai took the First Novel award for Witness The Night, which explores India’s story of female infanticide.
The judging panel is chaired by broadcaster Andrew Neil and includes David Morrissey, Elizabeth McGovern, Natasha Kaplinsky, Anneka Rice and Adele Parks.
The last winner of the Costa Book Of The Year was A Scattering by Christopher Reid.
Shortlist for main prize
Costa Book Award category winners with William Hill odds to win Book Of The Year:
Children’s Book: Out Of Shadows, Jason Wallace, right (5-1). Biography: The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal (6-4). Novel: The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell (3-1). First Novel: Witness The Night, Kishwar Desai (5-1). Poetry: Of Mutability, Jo Shapcott (4-1).