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Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 14:02 GMT


Bennett's short story first

Alan Bennett: His is the first short story to be nominated

Alan Bennett has made literary history by writing the first short story to be nominated for one of Britain's top book awards.

His novella, The Clothes They Stood Up In, is shortlisted for the WH Smith Literary Award alongside works by Beryl Bainbridge and Julian Barnes, who were both unsuccessfully nominated for last year's Booker Prize.

[ image: Beryl Bainbridge: Master Georgie was nominated for a Booker Prize]
Beryl Bainbridge: Master Georgie was nominated for a Booker Prize
Bennett's story was originally a short story for the London Review Of Books. But when he read it on BBC Radio 4 in December 1997, its popularity prompted it to be released on tape, then in print.

"The point about the WH Smith award is there are no boundaries on genre and no ban on length," said the judging panel's chairman, John Carey.

The other books on the short list are: Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge; England, England by Julian Barnes; Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor; Armadillo by William Boyd; and The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling.

[ image: Julian Barnes: Shortlisted for England, England]
Julian Barnes: Shortlisted for England, England
Carey, who is Professor of English at Merton College, Oxford, added: "These are books that take hold of you and make you forget everything else until you have finished them. We think they are at the pinnacle of contemporary writing."

Now in its 41st year, the WH Smith award is open to any non-fiction or fiction title written in English and published in the UK.

One notable absentee is Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, which won this week's Whitbread Book Of The Year award. The late Poet Laureate won in 1998 with Tales Of Ovid, and is ineligible this year.

"It is magnificent, and in any other circumstances it would have been on the shortlist," said Carey.

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