‘All must have prizes,’ the Dodo declared in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But this will no longer be the case for many writers, with the news this week that after 50 years, the Costa Book Prize is no more.

A short tweet on Friday took the publishing world by surprise: ‘Costa Coffee has taken the difficult decision to end the Costa Book Awards. What a great 50 years it’s been!’

Back in 1971, long before anyone had come up with the concept of a coffee shop chain, the Costa Book Prize started out as the Whitbread Book Awards. In 2006, they were renamed the Costa Prize (Costa was then owned by Whitbread).

Then in 2019, Whitbread sold Costa to Coca Cola for £3.9 billion (they bought the chain for £19 million in 1995). That purchase seemed overpriced: and then came the pandemic, redundancies and cuts to non-essential expenditure.

I’ve no idea whether the decision to junk the prize is directly related to any of this. But what I do know is that it feels a huge shame the prize has gone. The award was launched two years after the start of the Booker Prize, the fiction award famously dubbed ‘posh bingo’ by Julian Barnes.

In recent years, the role of the Booker Prize in championing British and Commonwealth writers has been diluted by the decision to expand entries to any novel written in the English language – a decision that the leading American prizes haven’t reciprocated.

The Costa Book Awards, by contrast, focused only on writers based in Britain and Ireland.

As well as its overall novel prize, there were also awards for best first novel, best children’s book, best poetry collection and best biography.

The winners of each category then went forward into a ‘best in show’ round to decide the overall winner.

The winners of the Costa Prize tended to chime more with the buying tastes of the reading public: writers like Gail Honeyman, Sara Collins, Sally Rooney, Ingrid Persaud and Jonathan Coe have all been winners in recent years. The prize has also been good to literature in our region: Anthony Trollope has been the subject of two winning biographies; Wiltshire-based author Keggie Carew won for her wonderful memoir Dadland in 2016; while Hampshire-based author Claire Fuller won the 2021 novel prize for her brilliant Unsettled Ground.

Sponsors of prizes come and go. But what seems strange here is that rather than handing the prize over to someone new, the whole award set-up has simply been shut down instead. The Costa is a prize that has done wonders for readers and writers over the years: but like a bad cup of coffee, this decision leaves a bitter taste.