Helen Macdonald has won this year’s Costa Prize for her memoir H Is For Hawk.
She picked up the prestigious prize at a ceremony in central London having beaten bookmaker’s favourite Ali Smith in the process.
Bestselling novelist Robert Harris, who chaired the judging panel, said it was a clear winner.
He said: “Several people felt very passionately that it haunted them and they would never forget it and everyone agreed it was brilliantly written, wonderful kind of muscular prose really, precise scalpel-like prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk”.
The Cambridge academic’s story of her attempts to train a Goshawk following the death of her father has already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
It tells the story of her relationship with the bird, her grief and recounts the life of the novelist TH White whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his attempts to train a bird using traditional falconry methods.
Harris said: “The way it melds the memoir about grief, a biography of TH White and also this sort of wonderful evocation of nature and a hawk, it does something quite unique”.
He said the judges spent 90 minutes deciding on the winner before voting with Macdonald a clear winner on the first ballot. He added that every book was “enjoyed” and “considered a possible winner”.