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Julian Barnes Loses Whitbread Costa Contest to Graveyard Novel

The cover jacket of "Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas" by Matthew Hollis. Source: Amanda Johnson PR via Bloomberg

Best-selling authors Julian Barnes and Claire Tomalin took a back seat as Andrew Miller won the contest for top novel of 2011 and Matthew Hollis took the prize for best biography in Whitbread Plc’s annual Costa Book Awards.

Miller, Hollis and three other authors will each receive 5,000 pounds ($7,830) from Whitbread’s Costa coffee-shop chain, which grants awards for books in five genres -- novels, first novels, biography, poetry and children’s literature.

Other category winners included U.K. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who captured the Costa Poetry Award for “The Bees” (Picador), the organizers said in an e-mailed statement today. The genre winners now will compete for the 30,000 pound Costa Book of the Year, to be awarded in London on Jan. 24.

Previously known as the Whitbreads, the prizes seek to honor the most enjoyable books of the year by authors based in the U.K. and Ireland. They have become a fixture of the London literary calendar since their creation in 1971.

Miller, who took the novel award, defeated Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, with “Pure” (Sceptre), in which a provincial engineer is summoned to Paris in 1785 to demolish the city’s oldest cemetery, an overflowing bone yard that is spreading disease. The judges honored Miller for creating “a structurally and stylistically flawless historical novel,” saying that he deserved a wider readership.

Hollis won the biography award over Tomalin’s “Charles Dickens” (Viking). The judges singled Hollis out for “Now All Roads Lead to France” (Faber), calling it a “dramatic and engrossing” account of the last five years of author Edward Thomas, his friendship with poet Robert Frost and his decision to fight in World War I.

Among other Costas, Christie Watson, a nurse, captured the First Novel Award with “Tiny Sunbirds Far Away” (Quercus). Moira Young won the Children’s Book Award for “Blood Red Road” (Marion Lloyd).

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