Hilary Mantel has won the inaugural Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction, for her much-acclaimed novel Wolf Hall. The prize, worth £25,000, was awarded on Saturday 19 June at Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford home in the Scottish borders, as part of the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival.
The author was unable to accept the prize in person due to illness, but gave the following statement, which was read out by broadcaster James Naughtie, accepting on her behalf:
“I am astonished and delighted and gratified to be the first winner of the Walter Scott prize. Intense involvement in history was what started me writing. And now - although I hope to go on writing contemporary novels - the challenges and perplexities of historical fiction have become my preoccupation. And just in time, because this has been an interesting year for writers and readers of the historical novel - perhaps a turning point year.“
The Walter Scott Prize is in the top five richest UK literary prizes, and is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch (pictured above), distant kinsmen of Scott. To qualify, novels must be set sixty years ago or more.
Wolf Hall was chosen from a shortlist of seven, which included books with settings ranging from ancient Rome to pre-war Czechoslovakia. The prize was awarded by veteran parliamentarian Tam Dalyell, at Scott’s home Abbotsford. Five of the seven shortlisted authors had congregated at Abbotsford for the ceremony, including Robert Harris, Adam Foulds, Simon Mawer, Adam Thorpe and Iain Pears. The sixth shortlistee, Sarah Dunant, was unable to attend because of a long-booked birthday celebration in Italy, the setting for her books.
The prize has been supported by national events agency EventScotland. Paul Bush OBE, Chief Operating Officer at EventScotland, said:
“The Borders Book Festival attracts thousands of people to the Borders each year along with some of the country’s most prestigious authors, making it a real highlight in Scotland’s cultural events calendar. The Walter Scott Prize adds another dimension to the festival and serves only to strengthen an already stellar event.”