First-time Winnipeg novelist Esmé Claire Keith was the surprise winner of the biggest prize at the Manitoba Book Awards gala on Saturday night.
Keith, a 48-year-old English teacher at St. John's-Ravenscourt School, took home the $5,000 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for her debut novel, Not Being on a Boat.
She beat out Wayne Tefs, George Amabile and Allan Levine, all authors with many titles under their belts.
"I was very surprised to win," the soft-spoken writer said after the ceremony, attended by more than 200 people at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain.
Keith's novel is a dark satire about a wealthy man with an attitude of entitlement who takes a Caribbean cruise that goes horribly wrong.
"He's not a nice guy," she said about her protagonist. "He's got lots of horrible traits... He wants to buy happiness."
Here's the full list of winners from the 24th annual awards gala, presented by the Manitoba Writers' Guild with the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers:
Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry: Poème Pierre Prière, by J. R. Léveillé (Les Éditions du Blé)
Best Illustrated Book of the Year: David's Trip to Paraguay: The Land of Amazing Colours, by Miriam Rudolph (CMU Press)
Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year: Poème Pierre Prière by J. R. Léveillé, designed by Bernard Léveillé (Les Éditions du Blé)
Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book: A Large Harmonium by Sue Sorensen (Coteau Books)
Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award: Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner (Heartland Associates)
Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction: The Thirteen by Susie Moloney (Random House Canada)
Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction: The Girl in the Wall by Alison Preston (Signature Editions)
Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction: King: William Lyon MacKenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny by Allan Levine (Douglas and McIntyre)
John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer: Jennifer Still
Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher: Butterfly Winter by W.P. Kinsella (Enfield and Wizenty/Great Plains Publications)
McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award, younger category: S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet by Larry Verstraete (Sleeping Bear Press)
McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award, older category: Tori by Design by Colleen Nelson (Great Plains Teen Fiction)
McNally Robinson Book of the Year: Not Being on a Boat by Esmé Claire Keith (Freehand Books/Broadview Press)
-- Alison Mayes