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Seamus Heaney talking to the BBC's Kirsty Wark
"It's about exhaustion of all feuds"
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The BBC's David Sillitoe
"Heaney only just beat a children's book: Harry Potter"
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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 06:40 GMT
Heaney wins second Whitbread prize

Seamus Heaney with one of the judges, Jerry Hall

Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney has won his second prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year Award.

Heaney, from Bellaghy, County Londonderry, pipped children's favourite JK Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, to win the 21,000 prize for his translation of epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.

The work had already been named the winner of the Whitbread poetry award, beating the late poet laureate Ted Hughes.

Rowlingq Harry Potter creator JK Rowling

JK Rowling won the 1999 Whitbread Children's Book award for the third of her hugely successful novels about an apprentice wizard - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The book was named by the judges as runner-up to the overall winner. It is unusual for judges to reveal which book came second.

The Harry Potter books have been so popular that they have taken on cult status: the novels have sold more than 27.5 million copies worldwide. The author wins 10,000.

Joint favourites

Literary experts and authors gathered in London to hear the overall winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award announced.

The Harry Potter books were joint favourite to win with Seamus Heaney's reworking of Beowulf.

cairns David Cairns, author of biographies on Berlioz

It was the first time a novel written for children had been considered alongside other serious works.

Heaney's award success comes four years after he scooped the same prize for The Spirit Level, and marks the fourth successive time the Book of the Year title has been awarded to poetry.

He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

Heaney told BBC2's Newsnight he had hoped to be able to dedicate the book to his great friend Ted Hughes while he was still alive.

He said: "Ted in my understanding spoke almost the Anglo-Saxon language that Beowulf was written in.

"He was a great nurturer to me since I was a young poet and he was shoulder to shoulder in the work I did, so I dedicated it to his memory.

"I hoped indeed to dedicate it to him alive, but that wasn't to be."

Heaney said the book reflected some of the themes of the new millennium.

He said: "In my own local home in Northern Ireland we have gone through something and have seemingly come to the end of something - to a little tremulous peace and possibility of a new beginning. So all of that was there in the piece."

Announcing the result, judges' chairman Dr Eric Anderson said the winners had been chosen only after a "lively and spirited debate" during which, at one time or other, each of the five finalists had looked to be the front runner.

Dr Anderson said of the winner: "We felt this was a master poet breathing new life into a work that has only been known to a tiny number of academics in the past."

It was "retrieving for the reading public a buried treasure".

He said the only element of doubt about Heaney's suitability as winner was that he had provided a translation, rather than an original work.

But the doubt was dispelled by the "remarkable" quality of his writing.

Accepting the award, Heaney said he was receiving it on behalf of the "master" who conceived Beowulf 1,000 years ago.

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Dark Age hero triumphs across the centuries
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Heaney scoops Whitbread title

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