Three Australian authors are on the shortlist for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, including Pip Williams, whose debut novel explores the beginnings of the Oxford English Dictionary. Hilary Mantel and Maggie O'Farrell are also on the list.
The Australian-dominated list includes The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte (HarperCollins Australia), set in a military hospital near the Russian-German in 1941, A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville (Canongate/Text Publishing), about a young bride moving from Devon to New South Wales at the start of the colonies, and Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words (Affirm Press/Chatto & Windus) about the creation of The Oxford English Dictionary and set against the suffragette movement.
Also nominated is Mantel’s final Thomas Cromwell novel, The Mirror and the Light (4th Estate), 11 years after she won the inaugural prize, while O’Farrell is recognised for her fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet (Headline).
“For the first time in the history of the Walter Scott Prize, Australian authors comprise the majority of our shortlist,” the judges said. ”With imaginations and styles as varied as they are inspired, we have Pip Williams slipping us gently, hauntingly, into the Oxford English Dictionary; Steven Conte’s unflinching weaving of war and peace in the shadows of Tolstoy’s estate; and Kate Grenville expertly stitching the unreliable but compelling testimony of the remarkable Elizabeth Macarthur into an exploration of the meaning of home.
“And as if this wasn’t riches enough, we are launched so vividly into Tudor England with Hilary Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell that we live and die—what a death—with Cromwell, and die and live, through a heart-crunching transformation, with Shakespeare’s son Hamnet. In short, the 2021 Walter Scott Prize shortlist isn’t just a masterclass in writing, it offers readers five experiences they’re unlikely to forget.”
First awarded in 2010 to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, the award honours the inventor of the historical fiction genre, Sir Walter Scott, and this year will join the celebrations for the 250th anniversary of his birth. The Prize judging panel comprises Katie Grant (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark.
The winner receives £25,000, and each shortlisted author receives £1,500, making the Walter Scott Prize amongst the richest fiction prizes in the UK. Its previous winners include Mantel, Andrea Levy, Sebastian Barry, Tan Twan Eng, Robert Harris, John Spurling, Simon Mawer, Benjamin Myers, Robin Robertson and Christine Dwyer Hickey.
The winner will be announced mid-June. Because of the postponement of the Borders Book Festival this year, the winner will be announced online and through media partners. Details of events will be announced at a later date.