The 'latter-day Robert Louis Stevenson' nets top prize

A FORMER postman won a top Scottish literary prize yesterday with a page-turning tale of the sea that critics have compared to the classic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Malcolm Archibald, a 47-year-old father of three, penned his first books after his morning deliveries in the Borders.

He was "euphoric" yesterday after his novel, Whales for the Wizard, was named the winner of the Dundee Book Prize, out of 240 entries from around the world. His book was chosen for a shortlist of three and then picked as the clear favourite by a readers in 19 book clubs around Scotland.

Ian Rankin, the writer behind the Inspector Rebus novels, helped judge the contest. He sang the praises of a book billed as "Rebus meets The Onedin Line". "It’s an old-fashioned, traditional, rip-roaring adventure story. The kind of thing we all enjoy reading, but nobody seems to write," Rankin said.

He singled out the description of a bare-knuckled boxing match where readers could "feel the blows and see the blood".

Entries for the three-year-old prize jumped last year when it was thrown open to any unpublished novel. All three books that made the shortlist were printed by the independent Scottish publisher Polygon last month - which Rankin said was the biggest prize a struggling author could win.

Archibald’s book appeared in Scottish bookshops alongside Treading Water, by the photographer and short story writer Claire Collison, and The Curiosity Cabinet by the Scottish playwright Catherine Czerkawska.

A Scotsman reviewer praised Whales for the Wizard, set in the 19th century heyday of Dundee’s whaling industry and featuring snatches of Scottish seamen’s songs, for evoking the spirit of Sir Walter Scott and the Treasure Island author Stevenson with a rollicking mystery of the sea.

The book’s hero, Robert Douglas, is a former soldier whose eerie hunt for the truth of ship lost in the ice finds him heading to the Arctic on a steam whaler.

Archibald, originally from Edinburgh, worked as a postman for ten years in Peebles before moving to study at Dundee University, where he continued part-time postal deliveries.

He has had several non-fiction books published, on topics ranging from Scottish battles to Scottish folklore, but has only earned "peanuts", he said.

Now a part-time history lecturer, he won a cheque for 6,000 yesterday and is preparing the next installment in Douglas’s adventures.