This year the Costa Book awards winner was, until recently a psychiatric nurse. Nathan Filer, 32, won the prize for his debut novel The Shock of the Fall. Filer beat out rival heavy-weight Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s biography of Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio The Pike, Michael Symmons Roberts’s poetry collection Drysalter and Chris Riddell’s children’s book Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. The Costa Book awards give a prize of £5,000 to each category winner (Best novel, Best first novel, Best Children’s book, Best Poetry and Best Biography) and then all winners compete against each other for a final prize of £30,000.
Bookie odds were against Filer, with most set on Kate Atkinson to win the Costa Book awards as the more established novelist. Filer was so surprised by the win that he had not even prepared a speech. He added he had no idea what he would do with his winnings. Filer admitted to checking the bookie numbers and accepting that he had little chance to beat the competition.
Filer, who worked for 10 years as a psychiatric nurse, has been awed by winning the Costa Book awards prize. He said he still does the occasional shift as a nurse in between lecturing on creative writing at Bristol University. His novel follows the story of a young teenage boy called Matthew Holmes who witnesses the death of his younger brother at a holiday park. The story follows Matthew through childhood until he is in his early 20s. It catalogues his fall into schizophrenia resulting from his traumatic childhood experience. But Filer has stated that it is not a text solely about schizophrenia. Instead, he sees it as a book about grief and the coping mechanisms employed to deal with it.
Filer wrote the book during his Masters in creative writing from Bath Spa University in 2010 and completed the first draft while on the course. He then went on to publish the novel with Harper Collins for six- figures. Filer has stated the book took three years to complete and draws on some of his experiences in psychiatric care. The Shock of the Fall is set to be published in 12 countries.
Filer has been described as on the edge of a dazzling literary career, yet he seems to have his feet still firmly planted. He has stated that although he has written since he was a child, he was always aware that he needed to have another form of income to support himself. Filer is aware of the pressures that come with such a prize, along with the fears that he will be a one hit wonder. He is said to be working on a new venture, but would not reveal more at this time.
The Costa Book Awards are open to all UK authors, but this may be the first time they have been won by an ex-psychiatric nurse. The awards, which were formerly known as The Whitbread Prize, celebrate the enjoyment of all texts, thus giving them name for honoring more populist works than other institutions such as the Booker Prize. Judges this year chose Filer out of 617 entries.
By Sara Watson