“Tis Sixty Years Since”: Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

The shortlist for the inaugural Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was  published yesterday.  The winner will be announced in June and the presentation will take place – as is fitting – in Walter Scott’s own home at Abbotsford House.  With a prize value of £25,000, this is the most valuable UK literary prize to be judged outside London – beating even the Tait Black Prize which “only” comes in at £10,000 each for two prizes, one for the best work of fiction and the other for the best biography published the previous year.

The advent of this new Scottish prize follows an exciting year for historical fiction,  which culminated with Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning novel Wolf Hall.  Unsurprisingly, it’s in the running once again.

Here’s the shortlist:

Hodd by Adam Thorpe

Lustrum by Robert Harris

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Abbotsford House has been newly restored and will form a magnificent setting for the prize ceremony in June.  This is also timed to coincide with the Borders Book Festival, now in its 7th year, which has quickly grown into a highly successful literary event.

For enthusiasts of historical fiction news of the prize provides welcome confirmation of the success and importance of this fascinating – if difficult to define – category of novels.  Some authors fiercely resist the label, while others insist that “all fiction is historical”.  The new Prize has come clean with a definition that forms part of the rules for submission:

For the purposes of this Prize, ‘historical’ is deemed to be where all of the events described take place at least 60 years before the publication of the novel, and therefore stand outside any mature personal experience of the author. This comes from Walter Scott’s subtitle for Waverley: ‘Tis Sixty Years Since’.

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