Harry Potter v Beowulf in literary combat

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The Independent Culture

The children's hero Harry Potter has been given the chance to battle it out with a former poet laureate and Nobel prizewinner for the country's biggest literary prize.

The children's hero Harry Potter has been given the chance to battle it out with a former poet laureate and Nobel prizewinner for the country's biggest literary prize.

J K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has been shortlisted for this year's Whitbread Children's Book Prize and the organisers have changed the rules so that the winner can compete with writers on the adult shortlists for the Book of the Year award.

The organisers said the rule change was in recognition of the appeal of children's books among adults since the Harry Potter phenomenon began. Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Potter books, has issued the series with covers designed to appeal to adults because of the demand among grown-ups for the books.

Ms Rowling, who has already won the children's Smarties Book Prize for one her Potter books, has been nominated by the Whitbread judges for the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If she wins the children's award she could be taking on one of the two poetry winners who have dominated the Whitbread prize for the past three years.

Ted Hughes, the poet laureate who died last year, has been nominated for his translation of Euripide's Alcestis, a project he began in 1993 that was published last Thursday. He won the 1997 Whitbread Book of the Year for Tales from Ovid, and last year won it again, for Birthday Letters.

The other poetic heavyweight to make this year's list is the Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Seamus Heaney. He won the 1996 Whitbread Book of the Year for The Spirit Level a year after winning his Nobel Prize. This year he has been nominated for his translation of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem about the slaying of the man-eating monster Grendel.

In the best novel shortlist Chocolat , by the relatively unknown Barnsley writer Joanne Harris, is up against the established writers Jim Crace, Rose Tremain and Michael Frayn.

The first novel shortlist is dominated by journalists who have turned to novel writing. Francine Stock, a former BBC foreign correspondent, is now a presenter on Radio 4's Front Row and has presented Newsnight. Tim Lott, who has been nominated for White City Blue, which looks at contemporary "lad" culture, is a former music journalist and editor of City Limits. Andrew O'Hagan, who is nominated for Our Fathers, is the film critic for The Daily Telegraph.

Nominated for the best biography is the music critic David Cairns, who began researching his biography of Berlioz 30 years ago. Also nominated is Nicholas Shakespeare for his biography of the traveller and writer Bruce Chatwin. Appropriately enough, Shakespeare does not yet know of his nomination because he istravelling in Australia and his publishers have been unable to trace him.

Joanne Harris has given upher day job as a French teacher thanks to the word-of-mouth success of her Whitbread nominated novel Chocolat - and a lucrative Hollywood film deal.

Ms Harris, 35, said: "I wouldn't have given up the job, only there have been so many more things going on now with the book's success." Chocolat is her third published novel. It tells the story of a woman who moves to a small French village dominated by the local priest. She starts making and selling chocolate in a shop opposite the church and incurs the wrath of the priest, who believes she is encouraging people to break their fasting for Lent.

Miramax has secured an option on the rights to the book and lined up Lasse Halström, the director of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, to make it.

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