The Costa Book Award, which comes with a prize of $45,000, was given to Helen Macdonald for her memoir "H is for Hawk" on Tuesday in London. Now named for Costa Coffee, it was formerly known as the Whitbread Prize.
"My mum was hoping I'd win. I think she put some money on me," Macdonald told The Guardian. "It is never expected and I'm really thrilled and a little bit all over the place."
"H is for Hawk," which will be published in the U.S. in March, is Macdonald's memoir of learning to train a hawk as she grapples with grief over her father's death. The book mixes in biograpical elements of T.H. White, a literary hero of Macdonald's and fellow austringer (a trainer of goshawks).
The chair of the judges, Robert Harris, told the BBC, "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."
Accepting the prize, Macdonald, a writer, illustrator, naturalist and commentator who teaches at Cambridge, described it as a "very strange book," saying she "didn't think anyone would read it." She described "H is for Hawk" as a "love letter to the English countryside and all that we're losing and have lost."
On Wednesday she tweeted, "Am just back after a day of about 100000 interviews in London: feel made of tissue paper, matchsticks & endless gratitude. Thank you all xx," followed immediately by another bird note: "The parrot and I are sharing a crumpet and then I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow, to twitter! For proper replies. Goodnight everyone xx."