Gipsy Hill writer Caleb Azumah Nelson wins Costa First Novel Award for Open Water

A writer and photographer from Bellingham has won the Costa First Novel Award for his book, Open Water.

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel follows the story of a man and a woman who are drawn to each other after meeting in a South East London pub and explores themes of masculinity, vulnerability and blackness.

The judges said of the book: “We all loved this contemporary portrait of masculinity – it’s like nothing else we’ve ever read.”

Mr Azumah Nelson, who now lives in Gipsy Hill, said it was an ‘absolute joy’ to have won the prize.

The 27-year-old said: “To be able to put a real energy into writing, then feel this reciprocated in how the book has been received has been truly humbling.”

The novelist cited growing up and living in South East London as a huge inspiration on his work.

He said: “South East London is like a third character in the novel. It’s actually a third character in most of my work.

“It’s this place that I’ve known that I’m so intrigued with that I’ll always come back to and it really feels like home.

“Every time I’m here, or I go back home to see my parents in Bellingham, there’s this very immediate feeling of community and really at home and its such like a right place of exploration for me.

“I’m so intrigued with the people that make up this community.”

Other winners include Claire Fuller who won this year’s Costa Novel Award for her fourth book, Unsettled Ground, and writer and former newspaper arts editor John Preston who takes the Costa Biography Award for his seventh book, Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell.

Poet and university lecturer Hannah Lowe won the Costa Poetry Award with her third collection, The Kids and Actor, playwright, screenwriter, director and charity founder Manjeet Mann won the Costa Children’s Book Award for her second book, The Crossing.

The authors, each of whom will receive £5,000, were selected from 934 entries and their books are now eligible for the ultimate prize – the 2021 Costa Book of the Year.

Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: “We’re celebrating a milestone 50th anniversary year for the Costa Book Awards, and the range and breadth of this year’s category winners illustrates the Awards’ longstanding appeal, as the home of enjoyable reads to suit all tastes. 

“Congratulations to all this year’s category award-winning authors.”

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be announced at an awards ceremony hosted by Penny Smith on February 1 and will receive £30,000.

Last year Lee Lawrence won the memoir category of the Costa Book Awards. It told the story of how he was traumatised after his mum, Cherry Groce, was shot by police in 1985 – an event which sparked the Brixton riots.

Pictured top: Caleb Azumah Nelson, credit, Stuart Ruel



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