2006-01-05

Prose Prize: Novel of The Year/ Book of The Year

Ms.Ali Smith yesterday became the first Scottish woman who ever has -- and ever will - win 'The Whitbread Novel of the Year' Award... The Inverness-born writer's novel 'The Accidental', which almost won 'The Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award' in 2005-11 and was shortlisted for last year's 'Man Booker Prize 2005', now goes forward to compete against the four other category winners -- also announced today -- for the 25_000_GBP 'Whitbread Book of the Year Award'. Although new sponsors are being sought, 'Whitbread' will bow out this month 2006-01 after hosting the awards for 35 years. Announcing the first stage of the awards, the judges describedl 'The Accidental' as 'a glorious work of fiction that inspired both laughter and sadness and which none of us could stop reading'. It also triumphed over 'Shalimar the Clown' by Mr.Salman Rushdie and Mr.Nick Hornby's 'A Long Way Down' to win yesterday's 5_000_GBP prize. While Mr.Rushdie is a former 'Whitbread' winner himself, it was Mr.Hornby's first appearance in the competition. The story of a woman called 'Amber' who turns the ordered middle-class world of the Smart family upside down when she turns up on the doorstep of their Norfolk holiday home, 'The Accidental' is more imaginative and radically structured than conventional literary novels. 'Amber' herself, conceived in an Inverness cinema, is deliberately drawn as a 'non-real' character, more to do with the imagination than flesh-and-blood. This might sound implausible, but Ms.Smith's portrait of her -- and the effect she has on the Smarts -- is brilliantly drawn, confirming her reputation as one of the most gifted writers of her generation.
'It's as great a surprise to have reached its final list as it was to be listed at all, especially on such a tough and wide-ranging shortlist and in a year when there's been such strong fiction,' Ms.Smith said. 'I'm still shocked.'
She should not be; every book she has written has at least been shortlisted for an award, and some have gone even further. In 2000, for example, she won the inaugural 'Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award' for her novel 'Hotel World', which was also shortlisted for 'The Booker' and 'The Orange' Prizes. She has also received awards for her short stories, which have a similarly dazzling inventiveness. A former English lecturer at Strathclyde University, Ms.Smith, 43, gave up her job and began to focus on her writing after falling ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. After moving to Cambridge, where she still lives, Ms.Smith wrote her first book, a collection of short stories, 'Free Love' in 1995. Her greatest rival to winning the overall award is probably Ms.Hilary Spurling's 'Matisse the Master', described as a 'masterpiece' by the judges, which won the Biography Award. The second part of a book which has taken Ms.Spurling 15 years to complete, it documents the artist's lifetime of desperation and self-doubt and was the result of unprecedented and unrestricted access to voluminous family correspondence. Mr.Christopher Logue's 'Cold Calls', the penultimate instalment of his reworking of 'The Iliad', might also be a contender. The 79-year-old poet wrote his epic poem with the help of other translations, but also invented some episodes, renaming some of the characters, and creating his own narrative in the process. 'The First Novel' Award has been won by Malaysian-born Mr.Tash Aw, 33, for 'The Harmony Silk Factory'. Described as 'gripping' by the judges, it tells the story of a journey through the Malaysian jungle in the Second World War. He began his career with short stories after gaining an MA in creative writing. 'The New Policeman' by Irish writer, Ms.Kate Thompson, 49, about a boy who seeks to find his mother the birthday present of more time, takes 'The Children's Book Award'. All these writers now go on the shortlist for 'The Whitbread Book of the Year' Award, which will be announced on 2006-01-24. 'Ali Smith first and last Scots female to win the Whitbread Novel Award', David Robinson, The Scotsman, 2006-01-04, We

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