The shortlist for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was announced today by the Duke of Buccleuch, at the launch of the Borders Book Festival programme in Melrose. With settings ranging from pre-revolutionary France to the Wild West of the 1850s, via two World Wars, the shortlist of six books was chosen by a new panel of judges from novels published during 2011.
The star-studded shortlist of authors is:
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry (see Guardian review here)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt (shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award)
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (Guardian review)
Pure by Andrew Miller (Costa prize winner)
The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth (brilliant sequel to his 1992 Booker prize-winning novel, Sacred Hunger – review in NYTimes)
The books are by authors from Ireland, Canada and England, and cover such diverse subjects as the jazz age in Nazi-occupied Europe, slavery in the English coalmines, and the closure of a cemetery in 18th-century Paris. The Walter Scott Prize, founded in 2009, is the largest annual UK prize to be judged outside London, and honours the legacy and achievements of Sir Walter Scott, founder of the historical novel.
The judging panel for the Walter Scott Prize this year included new judges Kirsty Wark, Professor Louise Richardson, and Jonathan Tweedie, who joined existing judges Elizabeth Laird and Elizabeth Buccleuch, and chair Alistair Moffat. The judges’ criteria include originality and innovation, quality of writing, and the ability of a book to shed light on the present as well as the past. The judging panel described making a very difficult choice from ‘the strongest longlist for the Prize so far’.
Also announced today, a new sponsorship deal with Jura Single Malt Whisky means that each of the shortlisted authors, as part of their prize, will have the opportunity to stay for a week in the exclusive Writer’s Retreat on the Hebridean Isle of Jura, sample the award-winning whisky and write a short story inspired by their stay. This will be the first time writers of historical fiction have made use of the retreat.
Shortlisted authors are invited to attend the award announcement and ceremony on 16th June, which is a public event as part of the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, and which will include exclusive readings from the works by the actor John Sessions, and a presentation by former prizewinner Hilary Mantel.
The Judges said of the shortlisted books:
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry
‘This is a real historical novel, writing that reeks of the period. The simplicity of the writing belies a deep empathy and understanding of his subject and characters’
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
‘A tremendously enjoyable story, with really valuable historical detail as well as dark humour’
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyuan
‘Illuminates a corner of history as yet unilluminated, with emotions that almost become characters in their own right’
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
‘You cannot help relishing the elegance of his writing and the quality of the prose’
Pure by Andrew Miller
‘A wholly unexpected story, richly imagined and beautifully structured’
The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
‘A terrific story which successfully knits political, historical and personal strand’