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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 00:05 GMT
Whitbread victory for Kneale
Matthew Kneale
Kneale's book was described as "the perfect novel"
Matthew Kneale has won the Whitbread Book of the Year for his novel English Passengers.

It was a close-run competition and the judges took the unusual step of announcing a runner-up - the late Lorna Sage's memoir Bad Blood.

In accepting the 22,500 prize Matthew Kneale expressed his admiration for Sage and sadness that she was not present at the ceremony.

He went on to say: "This prize means a great deal to me and not just for the money.

Lorna Sage's book Bad Blood
Lorna Sage's memoir was described as "exquisite"
"Most of all it gives me confidence to go on writing."

Kneale, who lost out on the Booker Prize to Canadian author Margaret Atwood, had earlier won the Whitbread Novel of the Year award for English Passengers.

The book took him seven years to write and tells the story of a voyage to Tasmania.

It is also an exploration of the behaviour of English colonialists in that country.

Bad behaviour

"The English think they're gentler and would never do things other people did around the world," said Kneale.

Matthew Kneale
English Passengers took seven years to write
"But I wanted to show that people were given a grant of land here and went over to Tasmania and behaved extremely badly."

The 2000 Whitbread Book Award was judged in two parts, from an original field of 426 books.

Lorna Sage had won the Biography of the Year award for her memoir Bad Blood, a highly acclaimed story of her bizarre upbringing on the Welsh borders.

Sage died on 11 January.

Also announced was the winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, which went to Jamila Gavin for Coram Boy.

That book tells the story of Toby, who is saved from an African slave ship, and Aaron, the illegitimate son of the heir to a great estate.

Jamila Gavin was born in India but settled in England at the age of 11.

She likes to depict her dual background in her books.

The Whitbread judges described Coram Boy as: "Brilliant, moving and ultimately completely compelling."

Eclectic judges

Also competing was first time writer Zadie Smith with her novel White Teeth and poet John Burnside with his collection The Asylum Dance.

The judging panel was led by lyricist Tim Rice and included comedian Alan Davies, Olympic rowing gold medallist Matthew Pinsent and broadcaster Penny Smith.

This line-up did attract criticism in the literary world.

There were fears that the books would be judged for their populism rather than literary merit.

The Guardian said the panel was all very well, "as long as we can be assured that, in reciprocal fashion, Julian Barnes and Beryl Bainbridge will have a hand in selecting the next England team".

The BBC's David Sillito
"After seven years, a reassurance for a nervous novelist"
Lorna Sage, interviewed last December
"I didn't invent any dialogue"
See also:

23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Portrait of an author
24 Jan 01 | Entertainment
High praise for Whitbread winner
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread winners square up
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread winners profiled
15 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Booker near-misses aim for Whitbread
12 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread winner dies
12 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Tributes to 'brilliant' Sage
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