Early in 2013, author Tan Twan Eng agreed to travel from his Cape Town home to the Borders Book Festival before knowing where Melrose was.
He came for the announcement of last year’s Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction – and as it turned out, was not disappointed, either by his win or the warmth of the welcome he found in the Borders.
This week he sent comments specially penned for The Southern on what the win and its £25,000 cash prize meant.
Tan Twan Eng writes: “I had never been to Scotland, and when I arrived in the Borders region, its beauty took my breath away. I’d love to stay there for a few months, just to write and explore the area.
“I suspect, like the other three writers on the shortlist – Pat Barker, Anthony Quinn and Thomas Keneally – we all expected Hilary Mantel to win, and I would have been absolutely delighted if she had.
“We had already met during the month of the Booker Prize shortlisting in 2012, and I found her to be a lovely person – warm and generous-hearted. When my name was announced as the winner, she reached across from her seat, squeezed my hand and gave me a huge, delighted smile.
“To be the first writer from the Commonwealth to win the Walter Scott Prize was a tremendous honour.
“It made me feel connected to a long tradition and to a part of a world I had never been to, but which made me feel immediately at home when I arrived there.
“Because of the prize, The Garden of Evening Mists has now been read by countless people who would never have picked it up before; it has made more readers aware of the novel, and of Cameron Highlands, and Malaysia.
“What made the Walter Scott Prize so special for me were the people behind it: the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, who made us writers feel so at home, the panel of talented and discerning judges, the organisers of the event and the volunteers, and all the many, many warm and friendly people I was privileged to meet in Melrose.
“With all these elements in place, the Walter Scott Prize will only go from strength to strength and take its place as one of the premier literary prizes in the world.”