Simon Mawer has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his novel Tightrope. Originally shortlisted for the Prize in its inaugural year, the author returned to Melrose, Scotland six years later to receive his award from the Duke of Buccleuch, at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival on Saturday 18th June.
Tightrope follows Marian Sutro, who has survived Ravensbruck and is back in dreary London trying to pick up the pieces of her post-War life. It is Simon Mawer’s tenth novel; his seventh, The Glass Room, was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize in 2010.
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. It is a worthy winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
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. ‘
The Walter Scott Prize is awarded to the best UK, Irish or Commonwealth novel of the previous year, which is set more than sixty years ago. It was founded to honour the achievements of Sir Walter Scott, considered to be the inventor of the historical novel. However the Prize has a broad interpretation of what constitutes historical fiction, and Simon Mawer commented on being shortlisted for Tightrope:
‘I don’t consider myself a historical novelist at all – all I do is write novels about what interests me at the time... and the recent past is where my particular interests lie. However, I think our collective past should be important to everyone: if we don’t comprehend where we’ve come from then we won’t have any idea where we are going.’
The core criteria for the Judges of the Walter Scott Prize are the quality, longevity and innovative nature of the writing, and their shortlists and winners over the six year life of the Prize, who include Hilary Mantel, Robert Harris and Andrea Levy, have reflected these criteria.
The Judging Panel for the 2016 prize comprised Elizabeth Buccleuch, Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and Chair Alistair Moffat. One of the UK’s biggest fiction prizes, the Walter Scott Prize is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.
Tightrope was chosen from a shortlist of six novels, with settings ranging from Canada, Australia, and 20th century Europe. The other authors on the 2016 shortlist were William Boyd, Patrick Gale, Gavin McCrea, Allan Massie, and Lucy Treloar.