Results of the Costa Book Award in the year 2006.
Mum and Dad—Squibs and Bert—were a complete mystery to Brian Thompson as he grew up in Cambridge and London during the 1940s. His mother danced with the Yanks all night and slept under a fake fur coat all day. When his father bothered to come home he resolutely discouraged Brian in everything. Other children were evacuated out of the big cities, but Brian found himself travelling into the capital. He spent much of the Blitz with an eccentric swarm of relations whose geography was the street, the pub, the market and two or three useful tramlines. Brian was snatched from his working-class roots by the Butler Act of 1944 and given an education that would lead to Cambridge University, books, pipe-smoking and rose trellises.
Following Donne through calm and storm, from Plague-ridden streets to the palaces of the English Renaissance, from the taverns and theatres on the Bankside to the pulpit of St Paul’s, John Stubbs's biography is a vivid, dazzling portrait of an extraordinary writer and his country at a time of bewildering and cruel transformation.
George Mackay Brown was one of Scotland’s greatest twentieth-century writers, though in person a bundle of paradoxes. He had a wide international reputation but hardly left his native Orkney. A prolific poet, and hailed by the composer Peter Maxwell Davies as “the most positive and benign influence ever on my own efforts at creation”, he was also an accomplished novelist and a master of the short story. When he died in 1996, he left behind an autobiography as deft as it is ultimately uninformative.
Maggie Fergusson interviewed George Mackay Brown several times and is the only biographer to whom he, a reluctant subject, gave his blessing. Through his letters and through conversations with is wide acquaintance, she discovers that this particular artist’s life was not only fascinating but also vivid, courageous and surprising.
In the winter of 1979 Nabeel Yasin, Iraq’s most famous young poet, gathered together a handful of belongings and fled Iraq with his wife and son. Life in Baghdad had become intolerable. Silenced by a series of brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba’ath Party’s Secret Police and declared an “enemy of the state,” he faced certain death if he stayed.
Nabeel had grown up in the late 1950s and early '60s in a large and loving family, amid the domestic drama typical of Iraq’s new middle class, with his mother Sabria working as a seamstress to send all of her seven children to college. As his story unfolds, Nabeel meets his future wife and finds his poetic voice while he is a student. But Saddam’s rise to power ushers in a new era of repression, imprisonment and betrayal from which few families will escape intact. In this new climate of intimidation and random violence Iraqis live in fear and silence; yet Nabeel’s mother tells him “It is your duty to write.” His poetry,…[more]