Former waitress on shortlist for Whitbread

A 12-year-old girl's awakening, the fate of Kashmir, the mental rationale of suicides and a mixed-race clairvoyant growing up in a town called Eureka are all in contention for the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards. And that's just the novels.

Elsewhere, in the biography section, a life of the Nazi propagandist Lord Haw-Haw battles it out with Henri Matisse, the celebrated nature writer Richard Mabey, and a homeless psychotic thief called Stuart.

Eclectic is the word for the Whitbread shortlists. And when it comes to the fiction contenders, controversy is never far away. Every year, the judges seem to take a perverse delight in ignoring or downplaying the front-runners in the Man Booker Prize (their deadly rival, announced two months earlier). This year, Salman Rushdie and Nick Hornby - ignored in the final round-up by the Booker judges - are in hot competition with the shortlisted Ali Smith (The Accidental) and the dark horse Christopher Wilson, who was up for the Whitbread once before, for his novel Mischief.

Booker front-runners such as Zadie Smith, Julian Barnes and (the eventual winner) John Banville are simply not in the running.

For Rachel Zadok, a contender for the first novel award, it's all a bit unreal. The 33-year-old South African was a beneficiary of the Richard & Judy show and its "How to Get Published" slot. She was in the last five, winnowed from 46,000 entries; and though she failed to win, she was offered a contract and a £20,000 advance by Pan Macmillan.

Her book, Gem Squash Tokoloshe, follows a young girl growing up during the height of apartheid unrest in South Africa, and took three years to write. "It was a bit unreal when I found out I was on the shortlist," she said. "I was told I couldn't tell anyone when all I wanted to do was shout it from the rooftops." Zadok was working as a waitress when she wrote the book, and presumably is now dreaming of the £25,000 that may be hers when the overall Book of the Year is announced on 24 January.

Two of her rivals for the first novel award, Tash Aw and Diana Evans, are graduates of the East Anglia creative writing factory. Aw's novel is set in Malaysia, where he was brought up, Evans's in north London - she was acclaimed on publication as "the new literary voice of multicultural Britain" and is this year's Monica Ali. Another contender is Peter Hobbs, a former foreign office executive who became a writer while recovering from a long illness, with his novel A Short Day Dying.

A strong contender for the overall prize must be Hilary Spurling's ground-breaking life of Matisse, a painter much derided (and oddly under-biographised) in his own country.

The Whitbread, however, has a famous weakness for "human interest" stories of mental or physical breakdown. So Alexander Masters's story of Stuart, the homeless but charismatic street casualty, and Richard Mabey's Nature Cure, a memoir of how his chronic depression was lifted by rediscovering his love of the natural world, are both hot contenders.

In other categories, the poet David Harsent has already won the Forward Prize for his collection Legion, a disjoined series of fragments and snapshots from an unnamed conflict. But he will have a fight on his hands against Christopher Logue, whose Cold Calls is the second-to-last of his six translations from The Iliad, all rapturously received.

The children's list is dominated by Geraldine McCaughrean, who has won the award three times already. The White Darkness concerns a girl called Sym who is obsessed with Captain Titus Oates the late Antarctic hero.

It's 20 years since the genre heats for the Whitbread Book of the Year were first announced in 1985, and they have drawn predictable tuts of disapprobation every year - for how can you hope to compare the relative merits of a novel, a first novel, a collection of poetry, a biography and a children's book in a way that makes any critical sense?

Nevertheless, the winners in each category (who receive £5,000 apiece) will be judged for the overall Whitbread Book of the Year.

Whitbread Book Awards 2005 shortlists

* 2005 WHITBREAD NOVEL AWARD

Nick Hornby A Long Way Down (Viking)

Salman Rushdie Shalimar The Clown (Jonathan Cape)

Ali Smith The Accidental (Hamish Hamilton)

Christopher Wilson The Ballad of Lee Cotton (Little, Brown)

* 2005 WHITBREAD FIRST NOVEL AWARD

Tash Aw The Harmony Silk Factory (Harper Perennial)

Diana Evans 26a (Chatto & Windus)

Peter Hobbs The Short Day Dying (Faber and Faber)

Rachel Zadok Gem Squash Tokoloshe (Pan Macmillan)

* 2005 WHITBREAD BIOGRAPHY AWARD

Nigel Farndale Haw-Haw (Macmillan)

Richard Mabey Nature Cure (Chatto & Windus)

Alexander Masters Stuart: A Life Backwards (Fourth Estate)

Hilary Spurling Matisse The Master (Hamish Hamilton)

* 2005 WHITBREAD POETRY AWARD

David Harsent Legion (Faber and Faber)

Christopher Logue Cold Calls (Faber and Faber)

Richard Price Lucky Day (Carcanet)

Jane Yeh Marabou (Carcanet)

* 2005 WHITBREAD CHILDREN'S BOOK AWARD

Frank Cottrell Boyce Framed (Macmillan)

Geraldine McCaughrean The White Darkness (Oxford University Press)

Hilary McKay Permanent Rose (Hodder Headline)

Kate Thompson The New Policeman (Bodley Head)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice