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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 12:27 GMT
Whitbread winners profiled
Profiles of the four winners of the Whitbread Book Award 2000 individual categories, which go forward to compete for the Whitbread Book of the Year.

Matthew Kneale: Novel Award
English Passengers

Matthew Kneale's English Passengers is a period piece of travel, fantasy and adventure - greatly inspired by the interests and experiences of Kneale's own life.

Kneale, 40, developed a passion for roaming the world as a student. He has since visited 82 countries in seven continents.

This includes a trip to the highlands of New Guinea which fuelled his desire to write about the Tasmanian aboriginals featured in English Passengers.

And as a former student of modern history at Oxford University, specialising in the 19th Century, Kneale's fascination with the past was evident from an early age.

English Passengers also put Kneale on the shortlist for last year's prestigious Booker Prize. But before that, his previous works had already won praise.

His novel Whore Banquets won a 1987 Somerset Maugham Award and Sweet Thames won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1992.

Kneale has recently moved with his wife from Oxford to a home in the Italian countryside, where he his working on his next novel.

Zadie Smith: First Novel Award
White Teeth

Zadie Smith, 25, first sprang to public attention three years ago when her first novel, White Teeth, was bought by a publisher based on just 100 completed pages.

Smith had just graduated from Cambridge University with a double first in English. Once her book was accepted, she went back to the city to finish it.

White Teeth has since gone on to become one of the most talked about books of last year.

It won Smith the Guardian First Book Award and put her on the shortlists for both the Orange Prize for fiction and the Booker Prize.

Smith was born in 1975 in Hampstead, London to an English father and Jamaican mother. The family moved to the London district of Kilburn and then on to Willesden Green.

In a recent interview, Smith said she originally wanted to be a musical movie actress.

"Slowly but surely the pen became mightier than the double pick-up timestep with shuffle," she added.

She now lives again in Willesden, where she is working on her second novel.

Lorna Sage: Biography Award
Bad Blood: A Memoir

Sage's Bad Blood: A Memoir has been praised by the Whitbread judges as an "exquisite personal memoir and vital piece of our collective past".

The book recounts her bleak family life growing up in post-war Britain on the border of North Wales and England.

It was a world of rural despair, teenage pregnancy, and stiff social hypocrisy.

Sage, 57, herself went very much against the grain by becoming pregnant as an unmarried teenager.

She went on to marry the equally teenage father of her child. Yet, the young couple succeeded in leaving their homes to go together to Durham University to study English.

Sage has since established herself as an influential literary critic and lecturer.

Her written works include Women in the House of Fiction and The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English.

Sage has taught English at British and American universities and is currently professor of English at the University of East Anglia.

John Burnside: Poetry Award
The Asylum House

John Burnside, 46, is no stranger to prizes. His 1992 poetry collection Feast Days won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

The Asylum Dance was also shortlisted for the 2000 TS Eliot Prize.

Burnside began writing poetry in his 20s and his other collections are The Hoop, Swimming in the Flood and A Normal Skin.

However, Burnside is also the writer of two acclaimed novels, The Dumb House and The Mercy Boys and a collection of stories called Burning Elvis.

Burnside was born in 1955 in Dunfermline but moved to Corby in Northamptonshire at the age of 11 with his Scottish Catholic family.

He was expelled from his Catholic school but managed to earn the necessary qualifications to go on to study English and European Thought at Cambridge Polytechnic.

Burns returned to Fife in 1994 to work as a computer programmer. But in 1996, he decided he to take up writing full-time.

He is currently writer-in-residence at Dundee University.

See also:

07 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Smith takes first book prize
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread winners square up
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread 2000: The Reviews
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