‘Strongest shortlist yet’ in running for £25,000

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The winner of the Costa Book of the Year and the novel most critics were surprised missed out on last year’s Man Booker prize are both shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction – the largest annual UK prize to be judged outside London.

Andrew Miller’s Costa-winning novel Pure, set in pre-revolutionary France, is one of six novels on what the judges claim is the “strongest shortlist yet” for the £25,000 prize, which will be awarded at the Borders Book Festival in June.

One of its biggest rivals will be Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, whose absence from the Man Booker shortlist last year was almost universally deplored.

Two novels that did make the Man Booker shortlist are also in the running for the Walter Scott Prize, which is funded by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The Sisters Brothers, by Canadian novelist Patrick de Witt, set in the Wild West of the 1850s, makes the cut, along with Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, which looks at African-American jazz musicians in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Barry Unsworth’s The Quality of Mercy, which fuses a story of slavery and the 18th-century Durham coalmines, and Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side, about an elderly Irishwoman’s reflections, complete the line-up.

The judging panel included Kirsty Wark, Dr Louise Richardson, principal of St Andrews University, Elizabeth Buccleuch, Elizabeth Laird and Jonathan Tweedie. Chair Alistair Moffat said that, thanks to a sponsorship deal with Jura Single Malt Whisky, all of the shortlisted writers will be offered a week’s stay on the island’s writers retreat.