A touch of class

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Anne Donovan, one of 20 authors hoping to become a Whitbread prizewinner on Wednesday (January 7), has not only her publisher, Canongate, to thank for her success, but Sandra Malcolm, a "great job-sharing partner" at Hillhead high school in Glasgow. Donovan wrote most of her novel Buddha Da (now up against Booker winner DBC Pierre on the Whitbread first novel shortlist) while sharing an English post with Ms Malcolm (who has recently published a local history book, Old Scotstoun and Whiteinch; order on www.stenlake.co.uk).

Buddha Da is written in the voices of a working-class Catholic Glaswegian family: Jimmy, a painter and decorator who sees new potential for exploring his spirituality after a meditation course, his sceptical wife and their ever-observant daughter. Jimmy's path to enlightenment puts the family under strain, but the cracks are eventually repaired.

It was shortlisted for the Orange prize last summer, which encouraged its author to move into full-time writing. "If I can't do it now, I never will," she says, six months into her new life. "I was able to carve out time when I was teaching, but it was exhausting."

She started as "a Sunday writer", publishing short stories through the 1990s and studying part-time for an M Litt in creative writing at Strathclyde University. She won the MacallanScotland on Sunday short story competition in 1997 and appeared in the Canongate Prize for New Writing anthology in 1999. Canongate then published her first collection, Hieroglyphics and Other Stories. Donovan is grateful for an Arvon Foundation residential creative writing courses "at just the right point".

Poet Jean Sprackland, on the Whitbread poetry prize shortlist for her second collection Hard Water ("vivid poems - full of light and weather and water," say the Whitbread poetry judges, including Poet Laureate Andrew Motion), also found her writing life regenerated after a few years' primary teaching on Merseyside by an Arvon course in 1992.

"From that moment, poetry was central for me - I knew it was what I wanted to do," she says. Her first book, Tattoos for Mother's Day, published by Spike in 1997, was shortlisted for the Forward prize's best first collection category. Hard Water has also been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize.

Sprackland manages the Poetry Society's Poetryclass training and resources project for teachers (www.poetryclass.net). She is also a tutor on Arvon courses for young poets.

On the Whitbread children's book of the year shortlist, David Almond's Smarties prizewinner The Fire-Eaters, set in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, meets Private Peaceful, a First World War novel by Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, plus Catherine Fisher's fantasy novel The Oracle and Naked Without a Hat by Jeanne Willis, which was shortlisted for the 2003 NasenTES special needs children's book award.

The winners in the five categories (there's also novel and biography), will each receive pound;5,000. Mark Haddon, on the novel shortlist for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is hot tip for the overall book of the year prize, worth pound;25,000. The winner will be announced on January 27 at the Whitbread book awards ceremony in London.

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan is published by Canongate.Hard Water by Jean Sprackland is published by Cape Poetry (Jonathan Cape)

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