Wednesday, 23 March 2016 15:55

SHORTLIST FOR 2016 WALTER SCOTT PRIZE ANNOUNCED

The shortlist for the 2016 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been announced by its newly appointed judging panel.  The six books are:

SWEET CARESS by William Boyd (Bloomsbury)

A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)

MRS ENGELS by Gavin McCrea (Scribe UK)

END GAMES IN BORDEAUX by Allan Massie (Quartet)

TIGHTROPE by Simon Mawer (Little,Brown)

SALT CREEK by Lucy Treloar (Picador Australia)

The 2016 panel of judges includes the newly-announced Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay, and James Naughtie, the BBC’s Special Correspondent.  Announcing the shortlist, the Judges said:

“Each place in our shortlist was hard fought, as it has been another exceptional year for historical fiction.  This embarrassment of riches forced us to focus our lens more closely on fiction which evokes an authentic atmosphere of the past, rather than that which solely deals with the nature of memory. 

The six books we have chosen are certainly evocative – transporting us from the Great Northern prairies to the South Australian coast, via a wide sweep across pre-war and post-war Europe  - but they also tell great stories, and bring periods of history alive, much as Walter Scott did in his time.”

The Walter Scott Prize, founded in 2009 by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and awarded at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in June, is the largest annual fiction prize to be judged outside London, and honours the legacy and achievements of Sir Walter Scott, founder of the historical novel.  The winner receives £25,000, and each of the shortlisted authors receive £1000.

The judging panel for the Walter Scott Prize was refreshed this year, and new judges and Jackie Kay and James Naughtie joined Elizabeth Buccleuch, Elizabeth Laird, Kirsty Wark, and Chair Alistair Moffat.  The judges’ criteria include originality and innovation, evocation of the past, quality of writing, and a strong narrative.  For the purposes of the Prize, ‘historical’ means that the majority (ie more than 50%) of the events described must have taken place at least 60 years before publication, ie. 1955 or earlier.  This definition comes from the subtitle of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverley; Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since.

To be eligible, books must be written in English and must have had their publication in the UK, Eire or the Commonwealth, between 1st January and 31st December 2015. Books written in English by authors of British nationality first published outside the UK, Eire or the Commonwealth in 2015, are also eligible provided they are also published in the UK in that calendar year.

Shortlisted authors are invited to attend the award ceremony and announcement on Saturday 18th June 2016, which is a public event as part of the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders. 

 

ABOUT THE SHORTLISTED BOOKS

 

SWEET CARESS by William Boyd (Bloomsbury)

The Judges said:

‘Sweet Caress is a beautifully controlled, written through book and a terrific piece of fiction.  Taking us from post-First World War England to Berlin in the late 1920s, the New York of the 1930s, to the Blackshirt riots in London and to France in the Second World War, this is an enthralling story of a life fully lived, told with energy, inventiveness and humour.

William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of 20th century history, using the brilliant device of seeing it through one woman’s camera lens.  And what a woman – the unforgettable Amory Clay, a fantastically ambivalent and interesting character.’

A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)

The judges said:

‘There is a feeling of jeopardy on every page of A Place Called Winter. Secrets are at the heart of many families, and Harry Cane’s have devastating physical and emotional consequences as he is banished from a comfortable life in Edwardian England to the hard rural homesteading existence of Saskatchewan. Yet for Patrick Gale’s central character there is a kind of happiness to be found there in the midst of menace. The author takes us on Harry’s journey, and reveals in it wonderful detail of the lot of the Frontiersman at the turn of the twentieth century. This is a moving atmospheric story which remains with the reader long after the final page.’

MRS ENGELS by Gavin McCrea (Scribe UK)

The Judges said:

‘Set in the circles of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, this is a novel that surprises and engages.  But this is not the story of Marx or Engels; it is the story of two working class sisters, Mary and Lizzie Burns. Gavin McCrea in this accomplished debut pulls off the quite incredible feat of writing the novel from Lizzie’s point of view. In a prose style that is at turns poetic, lyrical and full of wit, McCrea brings vividly to life this working class, illiterate woman who made such an impact on two of the greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century.  Unusual in its focus, and broad in its reach, Mrs Engels does that thing that good historical novels should do: it allows you to see a piece of the past that you have never seen before, and opens your eyes to a story that has not yet been told.’

END GAMES IN BORDEAUX by Allan Massie (Quartet)

The Judges said:

End Games in Bordeaux is the brilliant climax to Allan Massie’s four novels about wartime France, and the last to feature Superintendent Lannes, a superb fictional creation. Set in the early summer of 1944 and the coming Liberation, the novel follows Lannes’ attempts to anticipate and resolve the consequences of the German occupation. One of his sons is with the Free French while another has worked with the crumbling Vichy regime. And Lannes’ marriage is convulsed by circumstance as he investigates the case of a missing girl and historic sex abuse.

Massie’s narrative gifts are matched by the way in which he evokes the city of Bordeaux. Uncertainty and fear stalk the streets as those who collaborated cover their tracks, and those who were passive identify with the Resistance. It is a masterful piece of story telling.’

TIGHTROPE by Simon Mawer (Little,Brown)

The Judges said:

Tightrope is a spy story in the grand tradition, sweeping the reader irresistibly into the harrowing life of a secret agent in World War Two. Impeccably researched, it perfectly inhabits its time and place.

Marian Sutro, who made her first appearance in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, is a commanding character, enigmatic and fascinating. Damaged by her experiences, by the dangers she has faced, by those who have betrayed her and those she has been forced to betray, Sutro walks the tightrope between the people in her life who have sent her into danger, those whom she must fear, and those she seeks to protect.

Tightrope, however, is more than a very good spy thriller. We are used now, in a century already scarred by wars, to the concept of post traumatic stress disorder. There was no such diagnosis in the aftermath of the twentieth century's terrible wars, but it afflicted millions, nevertheless. Simon Mawer has given us, in the character of Marian Sutro, a study of how the terrifying events she endured in her youth shaped and transformed the rest of her life. ‘

SALT CREEK by Lucy Treloar (Picador Australia)

The Judges said:

Salt Creek is a novel alive with character, history, and poetry, leading us with careful understatement, into the unfamiliar world of the Coorong region of Southern Australia.  It is the story of a family’s unrelenting descent into the poverty and despair of colonial hardship in the 1830s, but even in its saddest moments, and in the carnal darkness of life at the time, it does not ever become maudlin. As Hester, the central character says, “It is strange to me that I never felt so alive as then, when we had so little and the possibility of death was our constant companion.”

The book also draws us into the unlikely beauty of that remote and wild coastland, which the family share with the Ngarrindjeri Aborigines, and leaves us in little doubt about the horrors wrought by trying to impose an alien civilisation on to an indigenous culture.  Lucy Treloar navigates these ultimately implacable currents with a sense of building tension and dread, but without melodrama.  She creates real people, especially Hester, the oldest daughter of the Finch family who is left trying to hold life together when her mother dies in childbirth.  A complex and intriguing character who is willing to sacrifice intimacy because she values her independence above all.

It is a fascinating book maintaining a sense of high emotion and uncertainty to the last chapter. ‘
 
 

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