The Walter Scott Prizen for Historical Fiction has announced its 2020 longlist, along with the appointment of a new chair of judges.
Katie Grant, who has been on the judging panel since 2017, succeeds Alistair Moffat, who has stepped down as chair after 10 years.
The 12 books in contention for the £25,000 prize are:
The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey (Atlantic); The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (Jonathan Cape); How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (OneWorld); To Calais, In Ordinary Time by James Meek (Canongate); The Offing by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury); The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan (Serpent’s Tail); Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker); The Redeemed by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury); A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland (Penguin South Africa); Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield (Doubleday); This Is Happiness by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury); The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood (Picador).
The judges said: ‘In its eleventh year, with more submissions than ever before, the 2020 Walter Scott Prize longlist reflects the energy and dynamism of modern historical fiction, a genre presenting authors with very particular challenges and delights. As always with our longlist, readers will find themselves in all kinds of places in all kinds of centuries, both in the company of familiar authors and hearing newer voices. It’s a privilege to bring these books to wider attention through the prize. So much to savour, so much to think about and, most importantly, so much to enjoy.’
The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is open to books published in the previous year in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth.
Reflecting the subtitle of Scott’s most famous work ‘Waverley: Tis 60 Years Since’, the majority of the storyline must have taken place at least 60 years ago. A shortlist, usually of six books, will be chosen and announced at the beginning of April.
The winner will be announced at the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival in Scotland on 12th June.
The Duke of Buccleuch, the prize sponsor, expressed warm thanks for Alistair Moffat’s skilful chairmanship, and his delight that Katie Grant was taking on the mantle.
He said: ‘Alistair shared the determination my wife and I had that Sir Walter Scott’s pivotal contribution to literature should be recognised through a significant prize bearing his name. His chairmanship through the crucial early years nurtured the prize and helped establish it as the internationally recognised accolade that it has become for writers of historical fiction. Our ties will remain extremely close through the Borders Book Festival, but I am delighted that Katie Grant has agreed to lead it forward into its second decade. She brings wide literary knowledge and a passion for good writing.’
Katie Grant said: ‘It’s a great privilege to chair the Walter Scott Prize judging panel; a challenge, too, to steer this prize through the choppy waters of contemporary literary debate. Luckily, I don’t face the challenge alone. As we often remark, our judging meetings are like the best book club in the world, with vigorous analysis in line with the submission criteria, all of us acutely aware of our responsibility towards a prize of such value and influence. This year’s debates have already been lively. They’ll be livelier still before we announce the shortlist. Every year, there are tough calls to make!’
The announcement of the winner will take place once again at the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival, which was founded and is directed by Alastair Moffat, who said he was delighted to be maintaining his close relationship with the prize: ‘The announcement is one of the highlights of the festival, full of anticipation and excitement, and we love welcoming the shortlisted authors to Melrose. It’s been a wonderful ten years but it’s time to pass on the chairmanship, and I wish Katie all the very best in her new role.’
The judges of the 2020 Prize are Katie Grant (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark.
First awarded in 2010, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction honours the inventor of the historical fiction genre, Sir Walter Scott, and is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. Previous winners include Hilary Mantel, Andrea Levy, Sebastian Barry, Tan Twan Eng, Robert Harris, John Spurling, Simon Mawer, Benjamin Myers, and Robin Robertson. The winner receives £25,000, and this year each shortlisted author will receive £1,500, making the Walter Scott Prize amongst the richest fiction prizes in the UK.
Find out more about the competition at www.walterscottprize.co.uk