Local author misses out on award

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Petersfield author Michelle Magorian has narrowly missed out on one of Britain's most prestigious literary prizes.

Her latest novel, Just Henry, was pipped to the post in the final of the 2009 Costa Book Awards, formerly known as the Whitbread Awards.

The book had already won the category for best children's book, scooping her a 5,000 cash prize, prior to tonight's ceremony at the Hotel Intercontinental, Park Lane, London.

But her novel was beaten by Sebastian Barry who won the Costa Book of the Year Award for The Secret Scripture, which centres on Rosanne McNulty, who faces an uncertain future as the hospital where she has spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure.

The judges, chaired by Matthew Paris, described Mrs Magorian's book as 'gripping and masterful'.

'This is a master storyteller at work with the sort of descriptive writing that is a joy to read,' they said.

'Just Henry is a soaring, uplifting warm bath of a book - a wonderful roller-coaster of a story which we all absolutely loved.'

A scriptwriter is working on a television version of Just Henry and ITV will announce later this year whether it will go ahead with the project.

The author, who has an honorary doctorate from the University of Portsmouth, based locations in Just Henry, her first book for 10 years, on local sites. She drew on childhood memories of visits to the Kings Theatre, Southsea, and Fratton became Hatton, in the novel.

Mr Parris said they had deliberated for an hour and a quarter and that some judges could not understand the decision to which others had come.

'It really was a knife-edge up to the end,' he said.

The Costa Book Awards recognises the most enjoyable books of the last year by writers based in the UK and Ireland.

Originally established in 1971 by Whitbread, Costa took over the sponsorship of the prize in 2006.

Set in post-war Britain, Just Henry is the story of a young boy who escapes the bleakness of life through his passion for cinema.

His stepfather, whom he despises, will never compare with his dead father, a war hero.

Mrs Magorian began writing regularly while studying at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Kent.

Having studied mime with Marcel Marceau, she went on to work in theatre, television and film, and toured her one-woman mime show in Italy and England.

Her first novel, Goodnight Mister Tom, won numerous awards and has sold more than 1.2 million copies in the UK alone.