J.O. Morgan and Bart van Es

There were wins for two Penguin Random House UK authors at the 2018 Costa Book Awards, as announced on BBC Radio 4's Front Row last night (7 January). The Awards, one of the highlights of the literary calendar, are separated into five categories (First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's), with the winning books now nominated for the overall 2018 Costa Book of the Year.

J.O. Morgan wins the Costa Poetry Award, having previously been shortlisted for both The Forward Prize and the T S Elliot Prize. A war poem both historic and frighteningly topical, Assurances, published by Jonathan Cape, begins in the 1950s during a period of vigilance and dread in the middle of the Cold War: the long stand-off between nuclear powers, where the only defence was the threat of mutually assured destruction. 

Marking the win, the judges said: “We were all gripped by this polyphonic book-length poem and dazzled by its originality and inventiveness.”

  • Assurances


    A war-poem both historic and frighteningly topical, Assurances begins in the 1950s during a period of vigilance and dread in the middle of the Cold War: the long stand-off between nuclear powers, where the only defence was the threat of mutually assured destruction.

    Using a mix of versed and unversed passages, Morgan places moments of calm reflection alongside the tensions inherent in guarding against such a permanent threat. A work of variations and possibilities, we hear the thoughts of those involved who are trying to understand and justify their roles. We examine the lives of civilians who are not aware of the impending danger, as well as those who are. We listen to the whirring minds of machines; to the voice of the bomb itself. We spy on enemy agents: always there, always somewhere close at hand.

    Assurances is an intimate, dramatic work for many voices: lyrical, anxious, fragmentary and terrifying; a poem about the nuclear stalemate, the deterrent that is still in place today: how it works and how it might fail, and what will vanish if it does.

  • Buy the book

Oxford University professor Bart van Es wins the Costa Biography Prize for The Cut Out Girl, his retelling of the story of Lien - a girl taken to a foster family (Bart's own grandparents) to be hidden away from the Nazis during the Second World War. Published by Fig Tree, the book sees Bart exploring her side of the story, asking what really happened her to her during the war and after. 

Announcing the winner, the judges called The Cut Out Girl “the hidden gem of the year" and "our unanimous winner", particularly celebrating how the book "[sheds] light on some of the most urgent issues of our time". 

Bart said of his win: "I’m overwhelmed to have won. From meeting Lien in 2014 to this moment it has been quite a journey.  The wonderful thing is that everyone who is personally connected book is also happy with this outcome, including, most importantly, Lien herself. I’m very grateful."

Bart's editor Juliet Annan added: "Bart Van Es’s The Cut Out Girl is a remarkable book – beautifully structured and beautifully written, and very moving as Bart unravels the past history of the Jewish girl who his grandparents fostered and hid during World War Two in the Netherlands, so that we intimately recognize her life and understand the way in which Europe has changed over the last seventy years.  I am so happy that the Costa Awards have recognized its moving power."

A further four Penguin Random House UK books were shortlisted for the awards from Donal Ryan, Anne Youngson, Raynor Winn and Pat Barker. The winning authors will now each receive £5,000 and are now eligible for the top prize, the 2018 Costa Book of the Year, which will be announced on Tuesday 29 January.

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