Helen Dunmore posthumously wins Costa Book of the Year

Final poetry collection celebrated with award following her death from cancer

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Helen Dunmore’s son Patrick Charnley, daughter Tess and widower Francis collect the award
(Image credit: Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Helen Dunmore’s poetry collection Inside the Wave, written during the final weeks of her life, has won the Costa Book of the Year prize.

She is only the second posthumous winner in the literary prize’s history, after fellow poet Ted Hughes won for Birthday Letters in 1998, The Guardian says.

Dunmore died of cancer in June aged 64, and the poems in the collection reflect on her terminal diagnosis and impending death.

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“Poetry was in Mum’s soul,” said Dunmore’s son, Patrick Charnley, accepting the award and £30,000 prize with his family at a ceremony in London last night.

The chair of the judging panel, Wendy Holden, described Inside the Wave as “a modern classic” that is both moving and “life-affirming”, The Bookseller says.

Dunmore emailed her final poem, Hold Out Your Arms, to her children weeks before her death, her daughter, Tess, told the BBC.

The poem talks of death’s “motherly caress”:

“Death, hold out your arms for meEmbrace meGive me your motherly caressThrough all this sufferingYou have not forgotten me.”

The final lines read:

“As you push back my hair- Which could do with a combBut never mind -You murmur‘We’re nearly there’.”

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