‘Mesmerising’ tale of Yuan Dynasty China wins £25,000 award for historical fiction at Borders Book Festival
It is among the UK’s top literary prizes, funded by relatives of one of Scotland’s most famous authors.
Now the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2015 has been awarded to English author John Spurling for his novel Ten Thousand Things at the Borders Book Festival held in Melrose.
Spurling, whose novel tells the story of the final years of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty in 14th-century China, trounced such acclaimed authors as Martin Amis, Hermione Eyre and Helen Dunmore.
Extracts from each of the seven shortlisted books were read by broadcaster James Naughtie at the awards ceremony in Melrose last night before the winner was announced to the crowd of book lovers.
The judges described the winning book as a “mesmerising, elegantly drawn picture of old imperial China”.
Alistair Moffat, chair of the judges and former director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, said: “The judging panel had an apples-vs-pears choice this year, from a bumper shortlist of seven books – our biggest shortlist ever.
“From the audacity of Martin Amis’ concentration camp satire to a postmodern mash-up of 17th-century court and contemporary references, via Sicily, India, Turkey and France, we journeyed and lived 10,000 lives ourselves during the reading and discussion of these books.
“In the end, it was the illumination shone by John Spurling on this fascinating and little-known period that lit us up for the longest time. It is a book which deserves enormous credit, and we hope that the Walter Scott Prize can help bring it for him.”
Speaking after the announcement, Spurling, 78, said: “I am quivering with astonishment and not really believing it’s me. It came as a total surprise. Such literary prizes are a lottery and all seven of the books were extremely good – I am thrilled of course. I have been writing for a long time and I’ve always said that if I was to have success I would prefer it to be when I am in my 70s.”
The shortlist, announced in March, included Amis’s The Zone of Interest, which tells the story of an Auschwitz Nazi officer enamoured with the camp commandant’s wife.
As well as Moffat, the judging panel for the 2015 prize included journalist Kirsty Wark, St Andrews University principal Louise Richardson and author Elizabeth Laird.
The prize, established in 2009, is funded by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, who are distant relations of Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverley novels.
The winner receives £25,000 and a glass trophy depicting the colours and landscapes of Sir Walter Scott’s Border country, while there are runner-up prizes of £1,000 for each shortlisted author.
To qualify to take part, novels must be set at least 60 years ago, be written in English and have been published in the preceding year.