Children's writer told £200,000 prize is no fantasy

BRITISH novelist Philip Pullman, the author of the acclaimed His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, was awarded a prize bigger yesterday than most of the country’s top literary awards put together.

The 200,000 he won for this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is thought to be the largest sum yet won by a British writer of children’s literature.

The Swedish prize was set up following the death in 2002 of Astrid Lindgren, whose Pippi Longstocking books have sold well over 80 million copies worldwide.

Unlike many literary awards, it is based on the author’s entire body of work. In Pullman’s case, this is an enormously wide range, as his books range from historical novels to fairy stories.

He is best known for the trilogy featuring the feisty teenager Lyra Belacqua. In 2001, The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the series, won 25,000 as Whitbread Book of the Year - the first "children’s novel" ever to win a major British literary award.

The trilogy, which has been adapted into two plays at the National Theatre, is also being turned into a feature film and is widely accepted as a modern classic in the same league as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Judges for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award - the world’s largest international prize for children’s literature - praised Pullman’s "inventiveness, linguistic brilliance and psychological insight".

"Through his strong characters, he stands firmly on the side of young people, ruthlessly questioning authority and proclaiming the power of love ... even in the darkest of situations."

Japanese illustrator Ryoji Arai is the other winner of this year’s Astrid Lindgren award. Both men will be presented with their prizes by Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria at a ceremony in Stockholm on 25 May.

Meanwhile, the first annual review yesterday of the Edinburgh International Book Festival showed the strongest year ever in the festival’s history, with 207,000 visitors and authors from more than 30 countries.

The book festival has doubled its audience in the past four years and is now easily the biggest of its kind in the world.

Such figures backed up Edinburgh’s claim to be one of the world’s leading literary cities, said Catherine Lockerbie, the festival’s director. This was underlined by last month’s news that the city will host the inaugural Man Booker International Prize ceremony in June, its status as UNESCO’s first City of Literature, and a series of other recent literary initiatives, she added.