Novelist Alan Warner wins James Tait Black Prize

Alan Warner, winner of the James Tait Black prize for fiction, with  Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday. Picture: Chris James
Alan Warner, winner of the James Tait Black prize for fiction, with Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday. Picture: Chris James
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A SCOTTISH novelist whose latest work was inspired by a seaport in the Highlands has scooped one of the UK’s oldest literary awards.

Writer Alan Warner has been awarded the James Tait Black Prize for his novel, The Deadman’s Pedal.

Art historian Tanya Harrod’s book about a renowned potter won best biography at the prestigious ceremony.

The winners were announced by broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday.

Oban-born author Warner is the writer-in-residence at the University of Edinburgh and is best known for his 1995 work Morvern Callar, which was adapted for a film starring Samantha Morton.

The Deadman’s Pedal tells the story of a teenage boy leaving school to work as a driver on the trains and becoming immersed in a new world with difficulties he must navigate.

Fiction judge Lee Spinks said: “Alan Warner’s The Deadman’s Pedal is an exceptionally fine novel, richly evocative in detail, beautifully poised in execution, which in the story of one young man’s journey to adulthood through the mysteries of childhood, sexuality, work, the realities of class society and the experience of divided family loyalties, offers a compelling poetic vision of a changing Scotland.”

Tanya Harrod took the biography prize for her book The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture.

She is co-editor of the Journal of Modern Craft.

Biography judge Professor Jonathan Wild said: “Tanya Harrod’s The Last Sane Man offers an exceptional portrait of a remarkable craftsman and his world. Harrod constructs this biography with the same eye for form and purpose that marked the work of her subject.”

Both authors were picked from weighty shortlists. Alan Warner’s rivals for the fiction prize were Jenny Fagan (The Panopticon), Kirsty Gunn (The Big Music) and Ben Lerner (Leaving The Atocha Station). Tanya Harrod’s book was chosen from a shortlist that featured Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: A Memoir; Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of a Modern American Masterpiece; and Thomas Wright’s Circulation: William Harvey’s Revolutionary Idea.

The £10,000 prize is awarded annually by Edinburgh University’s English Literature department.

The prize was endowed in 1919 by the publisher James Tait Black’s widow Janet Coats, who wished to commemorate her husband’s love of good books. The inaugural James Tait Black Prize for Drama was awarded recently to a play by Tim Price about Bradley Manning – the US soldier convicted of espionage for leaking secrets.

Alan Warner and Tanya Harrod are the latest in a series of glittering names to win the prize. In its first decade alone, the prize was awarded to DH Lawrence, EM Forster, Siegfried Sassoon, John Buchan and 
Arnold Bennett.

More recently, the prizes have been awarded to Cormac 
McCarthy and Michael Holroyd.