The poignant final poetry collection by Helen Dunmore, written in the final weeks of her life, has won the Costa book of the Year Award.
Inside the Wave considers the author’s terminal cancer diagnosis and impending death.
Her tenth collection includes Hold out your arms, written by Dunmore on her iPhone, just weeks before her death last June, aged 64, from cancer.
It concludes: “You push back my hair / – Which could do with a comb / But never mind – / You murmur / ‘We’re nearly there.’”
The £30,000 prize was accepted at the Mayfair ceremony be her son, Patrick Charnley, who said she would have been “thrilled” to even have been nominated.
Collecting the award for his mother, he said he was “completely blown away” by the win.
He added: “Poetry was in my mother’s soul. This collection was some of the most beautiful writing in her life but it came at her death and it touched so many people.”
Second posthumous winner
Dunmore is the second posthumous winner of the Costa Prize, chosen from the winners of the poetry, novel, first novel, children’s fiction and biography categories.
Poet Ted Hughes won in 1998 for Birthday Letters.
Dunmore published her first poetry collection aged 22 and was a prolific writer, also penning an acclaimed novel, Birdcage Walk, last year.
Inside The Wave triumphed over the bookies favourite, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Scottish writer Gail Honeyman, which has been optioned for a feature film by Reese Witherspoon.
Choice ‘not sentimental’
Wendy Holden, chair of judges, said the decision was not sentimental. “Inside The Waves is a modern classic. Although it was written whilst Helen was dying it is also very life-affirming,” she said.
“Some of the poems were written from her hospital bed but even those are uplifting.”
Ms Holden hoped that the first poetry collection to win the Costa since 2009 would boost the genre’s popularity.
“These poems should speak to people who don’t normally read poetry. They are written by an author still at the top of their game.”
Dunmore’s final poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead, the underworld and the human living world, and the “exquisitely intense being of both.”
They possess a “spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage.”
Previous Costa winners have included Hilary Mantel, Sebastian Barry and Iris Murdoch.