A Scottish poet is in the running for one of Britain’s leading literary honours for a book inspired by his father’s experience as an RAF officer involved in the “Airborne Nuclear Deterrent” during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s.
J.O. Morgan’s long-form poem, Assurances, is one of five contenders for the Costa Book of the Year Award after winning its poetry prize.
Morgan uses a mix of versed and unversed passages to describe moments of calm reflection and mounting tensions over the possible threat of the end of the world.
Assurances is the sixth book-length work to be published over the last decade by Morgan, who lives on a farm in the Scottish Borders.
The judges of the poetry prize in the awards, which recognised writers based in the UK and Ireland, said they were “gripped by this polyphonic book-length poem and dazzled by its originality and inventiveness.”
In his review of Assurances for The Scotsman, critic Stuart Kelly hailed Morgan as “one of the most interesting poets to have emerged in Scotland in recent years”.
He added: “This book manages to be both innovative and empathetic. I seriously doubt I will read a more significant book of poetry this year.”
Morgan will be up against journalist Stuart Turton, whose murder mystery The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle won the Costa best first novel award, Irish novelist Sally Rooney, for her book Normal People, Oxford University professor Bart van Es for his book on a Jewish girl who hides from the Nazis in Holland during the Second World War, and children’s writer Hilary McKay, whose book The Skylark’s War follows the loves and losses of a family growing up against the background of the First World War.
Morgan said: “The really pleasing thing for me is that the book might now reach people that wouldn’t otherwise have heard about it.
“It’s also pretty humbling that it must have worked for the judges.
“All my books take the same form. I want the reader to have a singular experience and for them to live with that story.
“I was very much aware of the early years of the Cold War because my father was part of the Airborne Nuclear Deterrent. I was always intrigued by the Cold War, but it was only ever really in the back of my mind and I didn’t really have a desire to write about it until a few years ago.
“I thought about it for a long time and made a lot of notes of ideas, but it wasn’t until a year and half ago that I actually started going through those notes, formulating them into a structure and getting the words down.”
Dominic Paul, managing director of Costa, said: “The Costa Book Awards are all about recognising and celebrating some of the hugely enjoyable books out there.
“This year’s stellar collection of award-winning books highlight the exceptional talent of authors writing in the UK and Ireland today.”