Forty years after he began it, poet wins prize for epic work

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After more than 40 years of work, the poet Christopher Logue completed Cold Calls, his contemporary version of Homer's Iliad.

The poet, now in his eightieth year, was rewarded for the work when he was announced yesterday as the winner of the Whitbread Poetry Prize. The epic project began as a commission for the Third Programme, the precursor to Radio 3.

This is the fifth volume, starting nine years after the Greeks have launched a thousand ships to capture Helen of Troy.

"Of course I haven't written it consistently. There have been gaps of several years between," he said.

Although philosophical about prizes, he was pleased to receive one at last for his work on the Iliad. "It's very nice. You always want to do your best, that's all."

Logue, who cannot read Ancient Greek, consulted pre-existing translations of the epic, and then invented new episodes, re-naming characters and creating his own narratives.

The judges described the book as: "A graphic, blood-soaked, bawdy adaptation of the Iliad. Modern references pepper the book and bring it bang up to date."

Logue, who lives in London, served as a private in the Black Watch, has written several volumes of poetry and a pornographic novel and was a contributor to Private Eye for many years.

Cold Calls is now on the shortlist for Book of the Year. The other category winners, who all receive £5,000, were Tash Aw for The Harmony Silk Factory, winner of the First Novel Award; Hilary Spurling for Matisse the Master, which won the Biography Award; The Accidental, by Ali Smith, which won the Novel Award and Kate Thompson's The New Policeman, winner of the Children's Book Award.

Thompson, 49, triumphed in a shortlist that included Geraldine McCaughrean, who has won the prize three times. But with a literary family behind her - her father was EP Thompson, the author of The Making of the English Working Class - she had "always done a bit of scribbling," and turned to writing a decade ago after having two daughters.

She was delighted. "I've been very well recognised in Ireland for the last few years but recognition has been a long time coming in England," she said. Thompson has now produced 10 children's books, three for adults and a volume of poetry.

The winner of the 2005 Whitbread Book of the Year will be announced on 24 January. Smith's The Accidental, which was named Novel of the Year against a shortlist that included Salman Rushdie and Nick Hornby, is being tipped by Waterstone's as the winner.

Rodney Trourbridge, fiction buyer for Waterstone's, said: "This is an intelligent and daring novel and I was personally disappointed to see the book lose out on the Booker Prize. So I am thrilled she has beaten some tough competition to win Novel of the Year, and I hope she goes on to triumph with Book of the Year and finally get the accolades she so thoroughly deserves."

Yesterday, Smith was simply pleased to have won the category: "There's nothing not lovely about it when a book that would sell less will sell more and get a little attention, and when you also have something in the bank for it."


Poetry Award
Christopher Logue

In his 80th year, Logue is being acclaimed for his rendition of Homer's Iliad which he began more than 40 years ago.The judges said: "A graphic, blood-soaked, bawdy adaptation of the Iliad." Logue, who lives in London, has written several volumes of poetry and a pornographic novel, and has contributed to Private Eye.

Novel Award
Ali Smith

The Accidental is the story of a 12-year-old girl and her family whose holiday in Norfolk is interrupted by a mysterious stranger. The judges said: "[It] stood out as a glorious work of fiction that inspired both laughter and sadness." Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and now lives in Cambridge.

First Novel Award
Tash Aw

Aw, 33, delved into Asia in his story of four interwoven lives. He was born in Taipei to Malaysian- Chinese parents and raised in Malaysia. He came to England in his teens and read law at Cambridge then studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia. The judges said: "Aw effortlessly draws the reader into a fascinating world."

Biography Award
Hilary Spurling

Spurling's second volume of the life of Henri Matisse has been widely acclaimed. It was, the judges said "a masterpiece". Spurling had unprecedented access to family correspondence during the 15 years it took to complete the project - the first biography of the artist. Born in Stockport in 1940, she was a theatre critic and literary editor for The Spectator in the Sixties and is a regular reviewer for newspapers.

Children's Book Award
Kate Thompson

Thompson, 49, trained racehorses in America and travelled extensively in India before settling on Ireland's west coast, the setting for this book. She turned to writing a decade ago after having two children, and has produced 10 children's books, three for adults and a volume of poetry. The judges said: "A captivating Irish tale, enthralling from the gripping beginning to the surprising conclusion."