'Billy' gives Stephenson book of the year award

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The Independent Culture

Pamela Stephenson's revealing biography of her husband, Billy Connolly, beat some of Britain's best-known authors last night to become publishing's book of the year.

Billy, chronicling Connolly's excessive behaviour at the height of his fame and his sexual abuse as a child by his father, won the honour at the British Book Awards ahead of Ian McEwan and Beryl Bainbridge and acclaimed works by Dave Pelzer and Jonathan Franzen.

The book has now sold almost 400,000 hardback copies, proving that celebrities can be publishing triumphs in the face of commercial flops by the likes of Anthea Turner.

Accepting the award at the Grosvenor House hotel in London last night, Stephenson said her husband had pointed out that the problem with allowing someone to write about your life was that they ended up winning the award. "The award doesn't, of course, just belong to the author, it very much belongs to the subject ­ especially if you want to stay married to him."

Connolly, who joined her at the podium, said: "I have had very little to do with the book apart from lying in bed and answering lots of very impertinent questions."

The British Book Awards, also known as the Nibbies, are the publishing world's own honours and tend to reflect popular taste rather than the critics' views. Books are judged by a panel of 400 publishers, wholesalers and booksellers, a body arguably more interested in sales than content.

As such, it was perhaps inevitable that the awards should prove yet another disappointment for Ian McEwan, whose novel Atonement has been nominated for a string of prizes including the Booker, but has failed to win. Last night he was defeated not only by Stephenson but also by the children's author Philip Pullman.

Pullman won children's book of the year for The Amber Spyglass at last year's Nibbies before going on to become the first children's author to win the prestigious Whitbread.

Last night, he was named author of the year as strong sales of his trilogy, recently the subject of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood deal, proved his writing was a genuine publishing phenomenon.

Collecting the award, Pullman said that if his prize said anything, it was that children were "very good readers". "It was children who first found my books and urged them on their parents and then the other way round. I'm very proud of that," he said.

A spokesman for Publishing News, the organisers, said there was no need to have released a new book to win the author of the year title because it was awarded "for outstanding literary achievement combining readability with strong sales".

J K Rowling, too, was shortlisted even though she did not publish a new title last year, dominating the bestseller lists on the back of her earlier successes and selling more books in a year than anyone else in history. Ian Rankin and Joanne Harris were also in the running, as well as Jacqueline Wilson, another children's author.

In the circumstances, the children's book award was a touch overshadowed by the big guns, but Eoin Colfer was delighted nonetheless to win with Artemis Fowl.

Alan Bennett won the audio book of the year honour for writing and reading The Laying on of Hands while HarperCollins, publisher of Billy, was named publisher of the year.