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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January 2005, 11:21 GMT
Levy's year of literary success
Andrea Levy
Andrea Levy previously won the Orange Prize for Small Island
Andrea Levy has won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize just months after being awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel Small Island.

The London author's tale of life in post-Colonial Britain, including an immigrant former soldier from Jamaica, is her fourth novel. It has brought her name into the public eye after a long but relatively obscure literary career.

When she won the Orange Prize, awarded to women writers, last June, she told the BBC News website: "I was shocked - I didn't think this would happen. It was a fantastic shortlist with fantastic authors."

The same book won the 48-year-old writer the Whitbread novel award earlier this month, which saw her automatically put forward for the main Whitbread prize.

On Tuesday it was hailed "a clear winner" by judges including broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, actor Hugh Grant and Conservative MP Michael Portillo.

Levy's two main characters in the novel, Gilbert and Hortence, are named after her parents, who arrived in Britain on the SS Windrush - the first ship to carry immigrants from the Caribbean in 1948.

Immigrant parents

The author grew up on a council estate in north London, the youngest of four children, and worked at the BBC and at the Royal Opera House before starting to write in her 30s.

Her experiences of growing up as a black woman in north London formed the basis of her first two novels, Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994) and Never Far from Nowhere (1996).

Small Island does what the best novels can do - make the political personal
The Times on Small island

Her third novel, Fruit of the Lemon (1999), told the story of a young British black woman who travels back to her family's home in Jamaica following a nervous breakdown, only to discover secrets from their past. It was also nominated for the Orange Prize.

Levy's viewpoint as the child of immigrant parents has seen her work compared to Asian-British authors such as Hanif Kureishi and Meera Syal, as well as the work of Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby.

Her fourth novel, Small Island, received glowing reviews on its release last year.

"Small Island does what the best novels can do - make the political personal - and accomplishes this with style, humanity, grace and a true gift for storytelling," the Times newspaper said.

Levy toasts Whitbread book prize
26 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
Levy takes Whitbread novel prize
06 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
Whitbread review: Small Island
06 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
Levy 'thrilled' by Orange award
09 Jun 04 |  Entertainment

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