Emma Healey’s debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, some of which was written during her time as a UEA student, has been named best first novel at the Costa Book Awards. The book, which prompted a fierce bidding war between nine publishers last year, has been showered with praise since its publication in June 2014.

Healey began writing Elizabeth is Missing at the age of 22 and completed it after five years of researching and writing. During this time she also completed a postgraduate creative writing course at UEA and also worked as a web administrator for the university.

On hearing the news, Healey said: “My editor called me when I was at home and I was sitting on the stairs … I just shook a lot. It is amazing … I feel like I say everything is amazing since the book was sold, but just because I’m repetitive it doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s incredible, I still can’t quite believe it”.

Despite this prestigious award and having been writing stories from the age of 15, Healey jokes that the start of her writing career wasn’t the smoothest: she left school with five GCSEs, including a C in English Literature. However, she continued writing to try and make sense of the struggle with dementia, a condition from which her grandmother suffers and which was the direct inspiration for Elizabeth is Missing.

Judges for the Costa prize said: “This outstanding debut novel gripped us from the very first page – once you start reading you won’t be able to stop. Not only is it gripping, but it shows incredible flair and unusual skill. A very special book”.

Elizabeth is Missing is one of five category winners and is in brilliant company to compete for the title of Costa Book of the Year. Also in the running are Helen MacDonald and Ali Smith, two writers who will be speaking at this spring’s UEA Literary Festival. MacDonald, who won the Costa biography award for her memoir H is for Hawk will be visiting UEA on 25th February 2015, whereas Smith, who has been awarded the Costa novel award for How to be Both, will be speaking on 18th March.

You can find more information and the full programme of the 2015 Spring Literary Festival at www.uea.ac.uk/litfest.

Healey is now working on a second novel. The Costa Book of the Year will be announced on 27th January 2015.