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)

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?