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Walter Scott Prize

When you think about it, the phrase historical fiction is somewhat of an oxymoron. Despite the conundrum, historical fiction has grown to be a well-defined and established literary genre that mixes fictional events and characters with historical ones. Historical fiction books provide an interesting look into the way people lived and experienced events in times foreign to us today.

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Walter Scott Prize

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When you think about it, the phrase historical fiction is somewhat of an oxymoron. Despite the conundrum, historical fiction has grown to be a well-defined and established literary genre that mixes fictional events and characters with historical ones. Historical fiction books provide an interesting look into the way people lived and experienced events in times foreign to us today.

The Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (1771‐1832) is credited with creating the historical fiction genre with his 1814 novel, Waverley. Today, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is one of the most prestigious British literary awards, awarding first-prize-winning authors £25,000.

Walter Scott Prize, Scott Monument Edinburgh, StudySmarterFig. 1 -The Scott Monument is a famous landmark dedicated to Sir Walter Scott in his home city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is a prestigious British literary award. Winners have been announced each year since 2010. First prize winners receive £25,000 and shortlisted authors receive £1,500 each. Around 13 novels are announced as contenders in the longlist and 5 to 6 books are selected for the shortlist.

As of August 2022, £25,000 is about $29,000.

The winners are determined by a judging panel of seven members. The 2023 judging panel consists of novelists, children's book authors, journalists, broadcasters, and prominent members of British art trusts and foundations.

Eligibility for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

The Walter Scott Prize is eligible for novels published in the UK, Ireland, or the Commonwealth in the past year. The story must take place at least 60 years back, and it cannot be based on the personal experiences of an author. Books must be submitted by publishers before the contest deadline.

The rule that storylines must take place at least 60 years ago was established based on the subtitle of Sir Walter Scott's historical fiction novel, Waverly; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since.'

About the Historical Fiction Genre

The historical fiction genre balances researched history with creativity in writing a story that takes place in the past. Many historical fiction novels combine fictional and real events and people to tell a unique story. Capturing the settings, social customs, and traditions of the time period is essential to the genre.

Historical fiction originated in the early 1800s and has grown in popularity since. Here are some famous historical fiction books:

  • War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy is set during the French invasion of Russia in 1812.
  • Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell is set in Georgia during the American Civil War and Reconstruction period.
  • The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak is set in Germany during World War II and the Holocaust.
  • The Song of Achilles (2011) by Madeline Miller is a retelling of The Iliad by Homer set during the Greek Heroic Age.

History of the Walter Scott Prize

The Walter Scott Prize (WSP) was established in 2009. It was founded by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, along with Alistair Moffat, the director of the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland. The Buccleuch family are distant relatives of the Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, and established the prize to honor his accomplishments and to support present historical fiction writers.

Who is Sir Walter Scott?

Sir Walter Scott (1771‐1832) was a lawyer by profession but is better remembered as a notable Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian. Scott is credited with inventing the historical fiction genre with his 1814 novel Waverly; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since.'

Waverly follows the life of an Englishman called Edward Waverley, who joins the army right before the Jacobite uprising in 1745. The novel was published anonymously as Scott was already an established poet, and this was his first venture into writing a novel.

Sir Walter Scott wrote a series of over two dozen anonymously published historical fiction novels known as The Waverley Novels. These novels were extremely popular in the 19th century. Some of the titles include Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), Ivanhoe: A Romance (1819), and Quentin Durward (1823).

Scott is also known for narrative poems including "Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field" (1808) and "The Lady of the Lake" (1810).

The first Walter Scott Prize was awarded to Hilary Mantel in 2010 for her novel, Wolf Hall (2009). The prize was awarded at Sir Walter Scott's home called Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders.

The 10th Duke of Buccleuch and his wife helped restore Scott's historical home.

In 2011 the Walter Scott Prize was awarded at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, where is presented to this day.

Walter Scott Prize, Melrose Abbey Scotland, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Melrose is a town in the south of Scotland known for Melrose Abbey.

While originally the award was only available for novels published in the UK and Ireland, in 2012 books published in British Commonwealth countries became eligible as well.

In 2015 the Young Walter Scott Prize was launched, awarding young people of ages 11 to 19 for their creative historical fiction writing efforts.

In 2016 the Walter Scott Prize Academy was founded.

Walter Scott Prize Winners

The winners of the Walter Scott Prize include:

  1. 2010Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  2. 2011The Long Song (2010) by Andrea Levy
  3. 2012On Canaan’s Side (2011) by Sebastian Barry
  4. 2013The Garden of Evening Mists (2012) by Tan Twan Eng
  5. 2014An Officer and a Spy (2013) by Robert Harris
  6. 2015The Ten Thousand Things (2014) by John Spurling
  7. 2016Tightrope (2015) by Simon Mawer
  8. 2017Days Without End (2016) by Sebastian Barry
  9. 2018The Gallows Pole (2017) by Benjamin Myers
  10. 2019The Long Take (2018) by Robin Robertson
  11. 2020The Narrow Land (2019) by Christine Dwyer Hickey
  12. 2021The Mirror & the Light (2020) by Hilary Mantel
  13. 2022News of the Dead (2021) by James Robertson

Walter Scott Prize Novels

Here is a deeper look into three novels that have won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

2010 Winner: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is a historical novel set in the time period between 1500 to 1535, during Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in King Henry VIII's court, after Sir Thomas More's death. The book follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, a man who comes from a working-class family in England and ends up being the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the advisor of the king.

Walter Scott Prize, Thomas Cromwell, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Thomas Cromwell lived from 1485 to 1540 and was briefly the Earl of Essex.

In addition to winning the WSP, Wolf Hall won the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Hilary Mantel and Sebastian Barry are both two-time winners of the Walter Scott Prize.

2013 Winner: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists is a novel by the Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. The book follows a woman named Teoh Yun Ling, who was in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. She later becomes a Supreme Court Judge in Malaysia dealing with war crime cases. Teoh Yun Ling apprentices a Japanese gardener she hopes will help her design a memorial garden for her sister who was also a war prisoner but did not survive.

In addition to winning the Walter Scott Prize, The Garden of Evening Mists won the Man Asian Literary Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The book was made into a film produced by HBO Asia that was released in 2019.

2022 Winner: News of the Dead by James Robertson

News of the Dead ties together the stories of Glen Conach, a fictional place in the mountains of northeast Scotland. Robertson makes this fictional glen concrete by giving it a unique history. His novel spans centuries, detailing the experience of the glen from the perspective of an 18th-century Christian hermit who writes a medieval manuscript about it, a 19th-century man who studies antiques and seeks a translation of the hermit's manuscript, and a 21st-century woman living in the Covid-19 lockdown.

Influenced by his own experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, James Robertson explores the idea of refuge in his novel.

The Young Walter Scott Prize

The Young Walter Scott Prize is a historical fiction story writing competition for people between the ages of 11 and 19. Winners of this creative writing contest receive a £500 travel grant, an invitation to the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, and the opportunity to have their writing published in the Young Walter Scott Prize Anthology.

If you are interested in creative historical writing, the Young Walter Scott Prize runs writing workshops called Imagining History. The workshops are available online or in various locations around the UK.

Winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize

The winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize (YWSP) are split into two categories by age: 11 to 15 years old and 16 to 19 years old.

The 2021 Young Walter Scott Prize winner for the 11 to 15 years category was a 14-year-old from Oxfordshire, England named Leo Wilson. Leo Wilson wrote a story called "For the Love of the Sun," which is set in China before the Cultural Revolution. Wilson spoke to his grandmother about her experiences and memories of living in communist China. He said that he works on his writing for half an hour each day for a month in order to perfect his stories and make sure every line is impactful.

The 2021 Young Walter Scott Prize winner for the 16 to 19 years category was an 18-year-old from Glasgow, Scotland named Oliver Dhir. Oliver Dhir wrote a story called "A Lost Generation," which is about the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic. Dhir said he hopes to represent LGBTQ+ people in his work and remember the lives of HIV/AIDS victims.

If you wrote a historical fiction story, what time period would you choose to write about? Why?

Walter Scott Prize Announcements at The Borders Book Festival

The winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is announced at the annual Boarders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland. The book festival includes talks, readings, and performances by a series of writers and entertainers from around the world. The 2022 Borders Book Festival took place from June 16th to the 19th.

Along with the announcement of the first prize winner, the Borders Book Festival honors the Young Walter Scott Prize winners and hosts talks for shortlisted authors to discuss their books.

Walter Scott Prize - Key takeaways

  • The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is a prestigious British literary award established in 2009.
  • First prize winners receive £25,000 and shortlisted authors receive £1,500 each.
  • The Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott (1771‐1832) is credited with creating the historical fiction genre with his 1814 novel Waverley.
  • Winners of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction include Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Garden of the Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, and New of the Dead by James Robertson.
  • The winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is announced at the annual Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland.

Frequently Asked Questions about Walter Scott Prize

Hilary Mantel won the 2021 Walter Scott Prize

Walter Scott from the Walter Scott Prize is famous for being a notable Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian. Sir Walter Scott wrote a series of over two dozen anonymously published historical fiction novels known as The Waverley Novels.

The Walter Scott Prize is the most prestigious literary prize for historical fiction in Britain. The most prestigious literary prize in Britain is the Booker Prize.

Past winners nominated for the Walter Scott Prize include Hilary Mantel, Andrea Levy, Sebastian Barry, Tan Twan Eng, Robert Harris, John Spurling, Simon Mawer, Benjamin Myers, Robin Robertson, Christine Dwyer Hickey, and James Robertson.

Sir Walter Scott (1771‐1832) is a Scottish author and poet credited with creating the historical fiction genre with his 1814 novel, Waverley. The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is one of the most prestigious British literary awards, awarding first-prize-winning authors £25,000.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

True or False: Historial fiction novels are purely based on true occurrences. 

What is the first prize award for the Walter Scott Prize?

True or False: The Walter Scott Prize is eligible for novels published in the UK, Ireland, or the Commonwealth in the past year.

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