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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 00:02 GMT
Whitbread winners square up
Matthew Kneale and Zadie Smith
Matthew Kneale and Zadie Smith go head-to-head
Novelists Matthew Kneale and Zadie Smith have won two of the coveted Whitbread Book Awards and are shortlisted for the overall Whitbread Book of the Year.

Kneale, 40, who was also shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize, has won the Whitbread Novel Award for his fourth work, English Passengers.

Smith wins the Whitbread First Novel Award for White Teeth.

Whitbread winners
Novel Award: Matthew Kneale - English Passengers
Poetry Award: John Burnside - The Asylum Dance
First Novel Award: Zadie Smith - White Teeth
Biography Award: Lorna Sage - Bad Blood: A Memoir

The other category winners are Lorna Sage, who won the Biography Award, and John Burnside, who picks up the Poetry Award, won last year by Ted Hughes. All four receive a cash prize of 3,500.

Each goes forward to compete for the main title of Book of the Year - and the 22,500 prize money - to be announced later this month.

The Whitbread Book Awards aim to celebrate and promote the best of contemporary British writing.

Kneale's book English Passengers beat 105 novels, including those of Will Self and fellow Booker-nominee Kazuo Ishiguro.

John Burnside
John Burnside follows Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes

It follows the story of Reverend Geoffrey Wilson on his quest to discover the Garden of Eden on the island of Tasmania in 1857.

The book's success follows in the footsteps of the author's three previous works Whore Banquets, winner of the 1987 Somerset Maugham Award - Inside Rose's Kingdom and Sweet Thames, which won the 1992 Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

Cambridge graduate Zadie Smith, 25, has had a glowing first year as a published writer.

Her debut novel White Teeth has already won the Guardian First Book Award and was on the shortlist for the Orange Prize last June.

Set at the end of the 20th Century against the multi-cultural landscape of London, the book chronicles the lives and loves of the Joneses, the Iqbals and the Chalfens.

Smith wrote White Teeth at the relatively tender age of 23.

Lorna Sage
Lorna Sage's life story is described as 'exquisite'

She described her work as "the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired tap-dancing 10-year-old".

In the poetry category, John Burnside's win comes after a prolonged period in which poets Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney dominated the Whitbread awards.

They won the previous three Book Of The Year titles. Hughes won in 1999 with Birthday Letters and 1998 with Tales From Ovid, while Heaney won the year before that with The Spirit Level.

Burnside's winning collection The Asylum Dance is his seventh, although he is also known for his two novels The Dumb House and The Mercy Boys. The Scot, who lives in Fife, is also writer-in-residence at Dundee University.

Burnside, 46, told BBC News Online he was "hugely honoured to follow Heaney and Hughes - two of the most important poets of the last century".

Asked why he thought The Asylum Dance had won, Burnside added: "I deal with a lot of issues such as man's relationship with the planet which I hope have a broad appeal among many readers."

Penny Smith
Broadcaster Penny Smith is one of nine judges

Lorna Sage's Bad Blood: A Memoir tells the tragic but comic story of her extraordinary family life in bleak, post-war Britain.

Judges described 57-year-old Sage's book as an "exquisite personal memoir and vital piece of our collective past".

There will be a fifth entrant for the overall Book of the Year title when the winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year prize is awarded later this month.

Four authors have been shortlisted - but not Harry Potter writer JK Rowling, who won the category last year.

David Almond, who won the prize in 1998, is in the running with Heaven Eyes. He is up against Kevin Crossley-Holland for The Seeing Stone, Adele Geras for Troy and Jamila Gavin for Coram Boy.

The winners of the Book Of The Year and Whitbread Children's Book of Year will be chosen by a panel of nine judges.

David Almond's Heaven Eyes
David Almond's Heaven Eyes could lead to a second children's prize

They include chairman Sir Tim Rice, writer Sally Beauman, comedian and actor Alan Davies and broadcaster Penny Smith.

The winners will be announced on 23 January at a dinner in Whitbread's London headquarters and broadcast live on BBC Two.

The Whitbread awards are now in their 30th year, although the Book of the Year category was not introduced until 1985.

See also:

04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread winners profiled
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread 2000: The Reviews
15 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Rower Pinsent to judge book prize
07 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Smith takes first book prize
07 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Atwood wins Booker Prize
25 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Heaney wins Whitbread book prize
06 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Booker outsiders eye prize
06 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Booker Prize 2000: The Reviews
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