Helen Dunmore's Inside the Wave named Costa Book of the Year

Helen Dunmore's Inside the Wave named Costa Book of the Year


"An astonishing collection of poems - a final, great achievement".  - Judges Moniza Alvi, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Nick Wroe on Inside the Wave, winner of the 2017 Costa Poetry Award

'We all felt this is a modern classic; a fantastic collection, life-affirming and uplifting.  The poems carry powerful messages that speak to all of us.' - Wendy Holden, Chair of Judges, Costa Book of the Year 2017


We are thrilled to announce that the late Helen Dunmore’s final collection Inside the Wave has been named Costa Book of the Year. The announcement was made at a ceremony in London and broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Front Row on 30 January 2018.  The award was accepted on behalf of Helen by her husband Frank Charnley and their children Tess and Patrick.

Helen Dunmore is the second posthumous winner of the Book of the Year award in the prize's 46-year history, the first being Ted Hughes for Birthday Letters.  Inside the Wave is the eighth collection of poetry to win the overall prize.

Costa Book of the Year 2017: film on Helen Dunmore and Inside the Wave

Costa Book Awards commission short films on each year's category winners. This film by Charles Turley (ctafilmsforhumans) includes an interview with Helen Dunmore's children, Patrick and Tess Charnley, and footage of the Cornish coast around St Ives which inspired much of her work, including the book's title-poem, 'Inside the Wave', which we hear her reading (from a recording made by BBC's The Verb.


Costa Book of the Year 2017 awards event

Helen Dunmore’s Inside the Wave is announced as winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2017 at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in London on 30 January 2018.


Helen Dunmore was one of Bloodaxe's first poets, and all her poetry is published by Bloodaxe, from her debut collection The Apple Fall (1983) through to her tenth and final collection Inside the Wave (2017). Helen was a published poet before she started writing novels, and poetry was at the heart of all her writing. 

Costa Book of the Year Award features have run in national, international and regional press, and interviews with Helen Dunmore's son and daughter have been broadcast on both TV and Radio.

A full report on the Costa Book of the Year Award ceremony is in The Guardian here.  This quotes from her son Patrick Charnley's speech:

"Poetry was in Mum's soul," Patrick Charnley told the audience, thanking her poetry editor Neil Astley in particular.  "This collection contains some of the most beautiful writing she completed in her life, and it came at the time of her death.  It is so personal and so wonderful, we hope it will touch a lot of people, who face this thing that we all do."

A further piece by Guardian journalist and one of the Costa Poetry Award judge Nick Wroe is in the Guardian here. 'No surprise Helen Dunmore's book was judged a winner':

'This is a prize that celebrates “great writing, a good read and broad appeal”. There is no better definition of Inside the Wave: a book that is a fitting culmination, and lasting memorial, to a remarkable life and career.' - Nick Wroe, The Guardian

Also writing in The Guardian (in The Week in Books) fellow Costa Poetry Award Judge Moniza Alvi wrote: 'The quality of her writing she refined over the decades had come to brilliant fruition in her stringent final months, enabling these remarkable poems... Inside the Wave shows us not only what it is to be alive, but what it is like to be alive and to be mortal.  It is a very special book indeed.'

Radio 4's Front Row announced the winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award live on air on 30 January, and then ran an archive recording of Helen Dunmore reading the first poem in the collection, 'Counting Backwards'.  As the ceremony over-ran and they were unable to interview Helen's son on air, they ran an extract from an interview with novelist Louise Doughty talking about Inside the Wave on Front Row on Friday 5 January.   Click here to listen to Front Row's tribute to Costa Book of the Year winner Helen Dunmore on 30 January.

‘There’s a kind of radiance in many of these poems; it’s suffused with radiance, this volume… it is a celebration of life – there’s nothing maudlin about this collection.  I think that’s the nature of its triumph.’ – Louise Doughty speaking about Inside the Wave on Radio 4’s Front Row


Helen Dummore’s daughter Tess Charnley was interviewed on The Today Programme on 31 January about her mother’s final collection Inside the Wave, which won Costa Book of the Year the previous night.  She read an extract from the final poem in the collection ‘Hold out your arms’.  Click here to listen.  Forward to 1.21 to hear the interview.  A feature about this interview,  including links to video of the Today interview and the text of 'Hold out your arms' is on the BBC website here.

Tess Charnley was also interviewed on BBC One's Breakfast. The piece showed film of the family accepting the award at the Costa ceremony on behalf of Helen and included her son Patrick’s acceptance speech.  Tess said that she hoped that this collection winning Costa Book of the Year would help get more people involved in poetry.  ‘Poetry was at the heart of Mum’s work – she was a poet first and foremost.’  The item concluded very movingly with Tess reading the poem ‘My life’s stem was cut’ from Inside the Wave to a backdrop of photographs of her late mother. Click here to watch. Forward to 2.50 to watch interview with Tess. 

An interview with Tess Charnley ran across two pages in the Family & Features section of the Daily Telegraph of 1 February, illustrated with photos of both Tess and her mother, Helen Dunmore.  Available online here (in full by subscription). 

Tess Charnely will also be interviewed on Robert Elms, BBC Radio London on Wednesday 7 February at 10.30am - listen live or via the BBC website here.

Helen Dunmore's son Patrick Charnley was interviewed on Radio 2's The Arts Show with Anneka Rice of 1 February 2018 in an item recorded at the Costa Awards Ceremony.  Anneka interviewed two of the nine Costa Book of the Year Judges, Fern Britton and Sophie Rayworth, and then interviewed Patrick after he had collected the award on behalf of his moher together with his father and sister Tess.  Anneka read Patrick's favourite poem from Inside the Wave, 'My life's stem is cut', and the programme ended with one of Helen's favourite songs, as chosen by Patrick and Tess. This edition of The Arts Show was dedicated to Helen Dunmore.  Click here to listen (final item, from 1.46).

Patrick and Tess Charnley were interviewed together by Phil Williams on BBC Radio 5 Live at 11.20pm, direct from the Costa ceremony in London.  Novelist and literary critic Stephanie Merritt was also interviewed, and called the book ‘an incredibly beautiful and moving collection of poems’.  The item concluded with an archive recording of Helen Dunmore reading ‘Counting Backwards’, the first poem from Inside the Wave (as first broadcast on Radio 3’s The Verb last year).  Click here to listen (available until 2 March. From 45.53).


After Inside the Wave had won the Costa Poetry Award on 2 January, Helen Dunmore's son Patrick Charnley spoke to The Daily Telegraph about Inside the Wave.  He also contibuted to The Guardian's feature on the award winners,  The Guardian's piece also quotes Costa Poetry Award Judge Moniza Alvi, who said:

'These are poems that can connect us with each other, at a deeper level.  It is not an austere book.  The truths are sharp and they're not comfortable, yet they are also life-affirming and beautiful.'


Inside the Wave, Helen Dunmore’s tenth and final poetry book, was her first since The Malarkey (2012), whose title-poem won the National Poetry Competition. Her other books included Glad of These Times (2007), and Out of the Blue: Poems 1975-2001 (2001), a comprehensive selection drawing on seven previous collections.

Helen Dunmore (1952-2017) was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. She was one of Bloodaxe's first writers, publishing her debut collection, The Apple Fall, in 1983, and went on to publish all her poetry with Bloodaxe.  Inside the Wave, which was her tenth poetry book, appeared in April 2017.  Her final poem, 'Hold out your arms', written on 25 May 2017 just ten days before her death, was read by actor Samantha Bond on Front Row on 7 June 2017 and published in The Guardian (it can be read here), and was added to all reprints of Inside the Wave.

In her tribute to Helen Dunmore in The Guardian, Kate Kellaway wrote: 'She was – first and last – a poet. Her first collection, The Apple Fall, was published when she was 30, her last, Inside the Wave, in April [2017]... Her last collection is her most spare and moving. Inside the Wave is smooth as a sea pebble and liminal – poised between life and death.’ Helen's obituary and further tributes can be found here.

[06 February 2018]

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