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Salman Rushdie out of race for Whitbread Award

January 04, 2006 11:14 IST

Controversial India-born novelist Salman Rushdie has been knocked out of the race for the £25,000 Whitbread Book award this year as five relatively unknown writers were pushed into the ring for the final round.

Those chosen include novelists Ali Smith and Taiwan-born Tash Aw, the biographer Hilary Spurling, Christopher Logue, the veteran poet and iconoclast Kate Thompson.

They each won, respectively, the £5,000 best novel, best first novel, best biography, best poetry and best children's book sub-sections of the prize on Tuesday night and must now fight it out for the main prize on January 24.

Ali Smith ousted Salman Rushdie, Nick Hornby and Christopher Wilson in the best novel category. Rushdie's latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, a love story set against a background of Islamic terrorism, failed to progress further than the long-list for the rival Man Booker Prize this year.

He was given another chance when it was short-listed for the Whitbread best novel category but it has fallen again, to Ali Smith's The Accidental, named by leading betting house William Hill as 5-4 favourite.

The judging panel, headed by novelist Philippa Gregory, described The Accidental, the story of 12-year old Astrid, who is spending the summer with her family in Norfolk, as 'a glorious work of fiction that inspired both laughter and sadness'.

Tash Aw, a bookies' outsider, took the first novel award for The Harmony Silk Factory, an exploration of Malaysia during the Second World War written with what the judges called 'immense confidence and grace'.

Aw, a graduate of the University of East Anglia creative writing programme, beat fellow short-listed authors Rachel Zadok, Diana Evans and Peter Hobbs.

In the biography category, Hilary Spurling was successful with Matisse the Master, the second part of her masterful account of the life of the artist, which has taken her 15 years to complete.

Kate Thompson beat three-times Whitbread winner Geraldine McCaughrean to take the children's book award with The New Policeman, and Christopher Logue edged out the 2005 Forward prize winner David Harsen in the poetry category.

Logue won with the penultimate instalment of his celebrated account of the LLiad, Cold Calls, praised by the judges as 'graphic, blood-soaked and bawdy'.

Whitbread will cease its £300,000 sponsorship of the prize this year, ending a tradition going back to 1971 when it was established to reward 'enjoyable books' - a direct challenge to Booker Prize, which, then, recognised only highbrow literature.

It soon established itself as a close rival, often picking more popular winners than the Booker. Past winners are an eclectic lot: Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney (twice each), Philip Pullman, Kazub Ishiguro and William Trevor.

H S Rao in London