John Spurling has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his novel set in imperial China, The Ten Thousand Things (Duckworth), a book which is said to have been rejected 44 times by publishers.
Spurling beat off competition from Martin Amis, Helen Dunmore, Hermione Eyre, Adam Foulds, Damon Galgut and Kamila Shamsie to take the award.
The Ten Thousand Things is set in 14th-century China, during the final years of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty, and is the story of Wang Meng, one of the era’s great masters of painting. It is Spurling’s fourth novel, which took him 15 years to write and was rejected 44 times before being published by Duckworth last year.
The judges said of the book: “The Ten Thousand Things is subtle and rewarding. Through John Spurling’s writing you feel as though you are reading Wang Meng’s paintings as he created them. It is a mesmerising, elegantly drawn picture of old imperial China, which feels remarkably modern.”
Moffat added: “The judging panel had an apples-vs-pears choice this year, from a bumper shortlist of seven books – our biggest shortlist ever. 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.”
A spokesperson for Duckworth said the publisher was "thrilled" by Spurling's win, adding: "We have always believed this book to be a masterpiece of story-telling and scholarship, and an insightful study on the nature of art and Chinese history. John Spurling is clearly a master of historical fiction."
The Walter Scott Prize honours Scott’s achievements and his influence as a novelist. To qualify, novels must be set at least 60 years ago, be written in English, and have been published in the preceding year. The judging panel for this year’s prize comprised Kirsty Wark, Louise Richardson, Jonathan Tweedie, Elizabeth Laird and Elizabeth Buccleuch, in addition to Moffat. The judges’ criteria include originality and innovation, quality of writing, a strong narrative, and the ability of a book to shed light on the present as well as the past.