For the first time there are two posthumous Costa nominations, one of which is for Siobhan Dowd in the children's book category for Solace of the Road. Judges said they were captivated by Dowd's story of a troubled teenager who embarks on a road trip back to her mother. Dowd died of cancer in August 2007 and all royalties now go to a fund for disadvantaged young people set up in her name.
Also on the children's shortlist is a novel that tackles a big, controversial subject: Anna Perera's Guantanamo Boy tells the story of Khalid, from Rochdale, who is arrested on a visit to Pakistan and soon finds himself in the US detention camp. Perera, who is married to Dire Straits founder David Knopfler, said she felt honoured to be shortlisted. "I didn't sleep a wink last night, I was completely flabbergasted."
She was moved to write the novel – her first for teenagers – after attending a gig for the charity Reprieve where the plight of child detainees at Guantánamo was raised. "I didn't know they were held there and the idea of a book went through my head. I started to research the subject and came across millions of pages of information on the internet." The more Perera found out, the more scandalised she became. "It is almost laughable, extraordinary and inhumane that juveniles are held there."