A children's book has been honoured with one of Britain’s leading literary prizes for only the second time in its history.
Frances Hardinge beat bookmakers’ favourite Andrew Michael Hurley to claim the Costa Book of the Year prize with her Victorian murder mystery The Lie Tree.
Her book tells the story of teenager Faith Sunderly and her family after they leave England to escape a scandal and arrive on a remote island, where her father is found dead under mysterious circumstances.
The English novelist, who landed a book deal after a friend stole her first novel and sent it off to a publisher, also beat off competition from two Scottish writers, Kate Atkinson and Don Paterson. However a retired high school headteacher from Stirling, Daniel Murphy, won the short story award, for his tale Rogey. He is now a senior teaching fellow at Edinburgh University.
James Heneage, chair of the judging panel for the £30,000 prize, said: “First and foremost, Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree is a fantastic story.
“It is an important book, not only because it is a great narrative, with great characterisation, but because its central message of possibility for an intelligent girl who is out of touch for the age in which she lives is a very important one and, I would argue, relevant for today.
“I think lots of 14-year-old girls today would also feel they are quite often out of touch - which could be in anything from boys to motor cars to the art on the walls. I think this brilliantly articulates what goes in a clever 14-year-old girl’s mind, particularly one who has this deep interest in science.”
The main award, the only major UK book prize open solely to authors based in the UK and Ireland, is contested by the winners of five different categories.
Earlier this month Edinburgh author Kate Atkinson has scooped the coveted best novel award for the second time in three years earlier this month for her latest work A God in Ruins - making her the first author in the prize’s history to win three category awards. Poet, writer and musician Don Paterson, who was born in Dundee and now lives in Edinburgh, earlier won the poetry award for new collection 40 Sonnets - 12 years after he first won the accolade.
First staged in 1971 as the Whitbread Literary Awards, they were taken over by Costa in 1996. Previous winners have included Mark Haddon, Andrea Levy, AL Kennedy and Hilary Mantel.
The last children’s book to win the overall prize was Philip Pullman with The Amber Spyglass in 2001.
Kent-born children’s writer Hardinge has won the Costa Book of the Year Prize a decade after her first novel, children’s fantasy Fly By Night, was published.
She started writing the book while working full-time as a technical author for a software company, after she graduated from Oxford University.
Former librarian Hurley’s gothic horror story The Loney was named last week by William Hill as favourite for the Costa Book of the Year.
The Preston-born author’s novel - inspired by by the landscape of his native north west, particularly around the lonely Morecambe Bay area, the folklore of northern England and also his own Catholic upbringing - had won the Costa First Novel Award last month.