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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
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.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York