Simon Mawer has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his 10th novel Tightrope (Little, Brown).
Mawer received his winnings from prize sponsor the Duke of Buccleuch, during the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, on Saturday (18th June).
The Walter Scott Prize, founded in 2010, rewards historical fiction of "exceptional quality" annually every June, based on criteria including "longevity and innovative nature of the writing". Founded to honour the achievements of Sir Walter Scott, considered by many to be the inventor of the historical novel, entries must be set more than 60 years ago, with previous winners including Hilary Mantel, Robert Harris and Andrea Levy. Mawer was also shortlisted for the prize in its inaugural year for his seventh book, The Glass Room, which also made the Man Booker shortlist in 2009.
His winning novel Tightrope is an historical thriller about an "enigmatic" secret agent, Marian Sutro, who back in 1950s London is trying to pick up the pieces of her post-War life. Riddled with guilt for knowing her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the development of the Atom Bomb, she is further drawn into "the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War" after a Russian diplomat emerges offering her the chance to make amends.
It was chosen from a shortlist of six novels, with settings spanning Canada, Australia, and 20th century Europe: William Boyd’s Sweet Caress (Bloomsbury), A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press), Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (Scribe UK), End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie (Quartet) and Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar (Picador Australia).
The judges, comprising Duke of Buccleuch's wife Elizabeth Buccleuch, Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and Chair Alistair Moffat, said: "Tightrope is a spy story in the grand tradition, sweeping the reader irresistibly into the harrowing life of a secret agent in World War Two. Impeccably researched, it perfectly inhabits its time and place. It is a worthy winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction."
They added: "Tightrope, however, is more than a very good spy thriller. We are used now, in a century already scarred by wars, to the concept of post traumatic stress disorder. There was no such diagnosis in the aftermath of the twentieth century's terrible wars, but it afflicted millions, nevertheless. Simon Mawer has given us, in the character of Marian Sutro, a study of how the terrifying events she endured in her youth shaped and transformed the rest of her life."
Mawer said: "I don’t consider myself a historical novelist at all – all I do is write novels about what interests me at the time... and the recent past is where my particular interests lie. However, I think our collective past should be important to everyone: if we don’t comprehend where we’ve come from then we won’t have any idea where we are going."