Harry Potter v Beowulf in literary combat

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The Independent Online
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.

t 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 Halstrom, the director of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, to make it.

Leading article, Review, page 3

THE CONTENDERS FOR THE BOOK WORLD'S BIGGEST PRIZE

THE NOVEL AWARD

Being Dead, Jim Crace

The story of a couple in their fifties who are murdered while visiting the beach where they first made love. The physical decay of their bodies is blended with a history of their life together. The judges said: "A moving portrait of marriage - beautifully written, evocative and inventive."

Headlong, Michael Frayn

Comic story of a young would-be art historian who finds a long-lost Breugel painting and sets up a "sting" to secure the picture.

The judges said: "An unlikely but entertaining combination of slapstick farce and artistic theory."

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

Vianne Riocher arrives in a sleepy French village and sets up a shop selling chocolates. A priest believes she is tempting his flock away. The judges said: "One of the most enjoyable books of the year. You can taste and smell the `chocolat'."

Music & Silence, Rose Tremain

Englishman Peter Claire arrives at the Danish court in 1629 to join the orchestra and is immersed in the machinations of the Royal circle. The judges said: "She writes with huge imaginative sympathy - all characters are lit from the inside."

FIRST NOVEL AWARD

The Great Ideas, Suzanne Cleminshaw

A rites-of-passage and comic mystery novel in Seventies Ohio. Two teenagers investigate the accidental death of a sister 13 years earlier. The judges said: "Sensitive depiction of teenage friendship and sexuality."

White City Blue, Tim Lott

The narrator, an estate agent in London, tries to extricate himself from male friends as he prepares to marry. The judges said: "Technically assured and funny."

Our Fathers, Andrew O'Hagan

The story of three generations of a Glaswegian family set in tower blocks that symbolise lost dreams of socialism.

The judges said: "The birth and death of British socialism, revisiting old ideals that have passed out of the collective memory."

A Foreign Country, Francine Stock

The story of Daphne, 74, who has to account for her War Office work 50 years earlier.

The judges said: "A serious look at contemporary and historical issues with a highly technical and assured attempt to stitch the two together."

THE POETRY AWARD

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney

Beowolf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, tells of Beowulf, a mighty warrior. The judges said: "In a translation that brilliantly combines the faithful with the original, Heaney has reclaimed the first classic of the English language for a contemporary readership."

Approximately Nowhere, Michael Hofmann

Hofmann continues to explore his relationship with his father, the German novelist Gert Hofmann. The judges said: "The intricacy and precision of his language gives Hoffman a singular vantage point on the contemporary world."

Euripide's Alcestis, Ted Hughes

The story of a king who is able to escape death because his wife volunteers to die in his place. The judges said: "Hughes has managed to breathe new life into this classic story by the simplicity of his narrative, the strength of his imagery and the restraint of his style."

The Eyes, Don Paterson

Paterson's poem draws on the work of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939). The judges said: "Paterson's versions have a wonderful candour and a ranging speculative intelligence."

THE BIOGRAPHY AWARD

Berlioz, Volume II, Servitude and Greatness, David Cairns

Berlioz was one of the 19th century's great composers - his works include The Requiem, Romeo and Juliet, The Damnation of Faust and The Trojans

The judges said: "Brilliantly captures the high romantic world of the mid-19th century as well as one of its most gifted and haunting figures."

Bruce Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare

Bruce Chatwin's life involved working as an art specialist at Sotheby's, a journalist with The Sunday Times, and a restless traveller.

He died in January 1989 aged 49 of an Aids-related illness.

The judges said: "He has stylishly and tirelessly penetrated to the complex heart of this enigmatic and elusive writer."

The Unknown Matisse (1869-1908) Volume 1, Hilary Spurling

This covers the artist's first 40 years and his transition from amateur to professional and the leader of the Fauve movement.

The judges said: "With the magnificent first volume, Hilary Spurling has illuminated the evolution of a great artist."

THE CHILDREN'S AWARD

Meeting Midnight, Carol Ann Duffy

A poetry collection that includes a boy who thinks he's Elvis, ghosts and a girl infatuated with a tree.

The judges said: "We liked this, it was nice, and cheap at half the price. Cracking book, take a look, Carol Ann Duffy, she's not stuffy."

Kensuke's Kingdom, Michael Morpurgo

Michael's parents sail around the world. Hel is washed overboard with his dog, Stella Artois, and reaches a Pacific island. The judges said: "Classic adventure."

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling

The third title in the series about Harry Potter, the boy wizard. An escaped mass murderer is trying to kill Harry.

The judges said: "It's funny and unputdownable even while exploring the darker side of life."

The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson

The poignant story of two girls, Dol and Star, whose mother, Marigold, has manic depression. The judges said: "Jackie Wilson offers a new approach to children's writing which is not afraid to deal with difficult issues."

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