CRIME-WRITER Jim Kelly scooped a major literature prize last night for his tale of a criminal underworld in Norfolk, but the talk in Suffolk was of an honour for artist Maggi Hambling – creator of the controversial Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach.

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Her book The Aldeburgh Scallop, published in the autumn of 2010 by Suffolk-based Full Circle Editions, took the first Readers’ Choice award presented by the East Anglian Daily Times.

The competition was a secondary feature of the New Angle Prize for East Anglian literature, held every two years to celebrate recently-published books “of literary merit associated with or inspired by East Anglia”. (Norfolk, Suffolk or north Essex.)

Scallop, a stainless steel sculpture dedicated to composer Benjamin Britten, who lived in Aldeburgh, was installed on the shingle in the early winter of 2003.

It quickly became seen as artistic Marmite: people appeared to either adore it or hate it, with few ambivalent.

As the publishers said: “Children love it. Lovers love it. Those paying tribute to lost loved ones gather around it. And there are those who would wish it melted down or carted away.”

There were petitions calling for it to be removed, with opponents arguing a man-made structure spoiled a natural scene.

It has also been attacked, with messages of protest painted on the metal.

Last year’s book The Aldeburgh Scallop told the artist’s own story, with

Maggi Hambling tracing her love of the sea back to childhood and chronicling how this passion fuelled her work – culminating in the 15-feet-high sculpture on the beach.

She, and the other people involved, set down the story of the work’s conception, its official acceptance and the construction – and the row that erupted after it was unveiled.

It’s an account EADT readers have enjoyed, judging by the book’s selection as the inaugural Readers’ Choice title.

Back to the major award and it was third time lucky for Jim Kelly, whose thriller Death Watch had three times been nominated for a prize.

Novelist Nicci Gerrard, one of the judges, said: “Death Watch is a baroque thriller and an urgent psychologically-compelling novel whose labyrinthine plot reveals a terrifying darkness beneath the apparent calm of an East Anglian town.”

Former journalist Jim, who lives in the Ely area after moving from London some years ago, received £2,000 for his triumph, with the awards ceremony held at the Belstead Brook Hotel in Ipswich.

Death Watch tells how Bryan Judd’s remains are pulled from a hospital incinerator exactly 18 years to the day after 15-year-old twin sister Norma Jean Judd vanished.

It proves the most intriguing challenge yet for Det Insp Peter Shaw and Det Sgt George Valentine, who uncover a criminal underworld in King’s Lynn and at the hospital where Bryan Judd died.

Jim Kelly’s first series of crime mysteries was set in Ely, in the Fens, and featured journalist Philip Dryden. Then he began his new detective series set in north Norfolk.

Runner-up, and receiving £500, was Ronald Blyth, for his latest work, Aftermath. The judges described it as “a collection of short pieces and extracts from previous works – calm, considered, wise, eloquent and above all kind: a fitting testimony to a life well lived and beautifully narrated”.

The New Angle Prize is organised by The Ipswich Institute, an independent charity offering educational courses, talks and visits, and a lending library. Membership is open to all who live or work in Ipswich and the surrounding area, for a small annual payment.

The inaugural prize was won in 2009 by Mark Cocker’s Crow Country. Award sponsors include Gotelee solicitors and Scrutton Bland accountants.

The full list of shortlisted books was:

Aftermath, by Ronald Blythe (Black Dog Books, 2010)

The Aldeburgh Scallop, by Maggi Hambling (Full Circle Editions, 2010)

Death Watch, by Jim Kelly (Penguin, 2010)

The Last Weekend, by Blake Morrison (Chatto & Windus, 2010)

The Wake, by Jeremy Page (Viking, Penguin 2009)

A Flora of Suffolk, by MN Sanford & R J Fisk (Sanford & Fisk, 2010)

Judges were author, journalist, naturalist and former New Angle winner Mark Cocker; Suffolk author Nicci Gerrard, who with husband Sean French has written 13 bestselling psychological thrillers under the name Nicci French; and Gill Lowe – senior lecturer in the English department at University Campus Suffolk.

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