Jan 27, 4:03 PM EST

High flyer: Helen Macdonald's 'H is for Hawk' wins Costa Book of the Year prize

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LONDON (AP) -- Helen Macdonald's account of how training a hawk helped her cope with grief has won Britain's Costa Book of the Year prize.

Macdonald's "H is for Hawk" was named winner of the 30,000 pound ($45,000) prize Tuesday. Judging panel chairman Robert Harris called it a "unique, unforgettable, haunting" book.

Blending biography and nature writing, Macdonald's book describes her attempt to recover from her father's death by training a goshawk, and also includes a biography of hawk-loving novelist T.H. White.

Macdonald beat four other finalists: Ali Smith's novel "How to be Both"; first novelist Emma Healey's mystery "Elizabeth is Missing"; Jonathan Edwards' poetry collection "My Family and Other Superheroes"; and Kate Saunders' kids' book "Five Children on the Western Front."

The competition is open to writers based in Britain and Ireland.

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