New chapter for book prize

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TWO new judges will help select the winner of this year’s £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction held in conjunction with the Borders Book Festival.

Television’s Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and the principal of the University of St Andrews, Louise Richardson, have agreed to join the judging panel.

Judges meet in April to select a shortlist of authors and the winner will be announced during the festival at Melrose in June.

The award is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The duke is a kinsman of Sir Walter and patron of the Abbotsford Trust which is carrying out a major re-vamp of the novelist’s home near Galashiels.

Kirsty Wark commented: “It is a great honour to be a judge of the Walter Scott Prize. All the more so because the winner is announced at the Borders Book Festival, one of my favourite weekends in the calendar.”

Louise Richardson said: “I am delighted to have an excuse to read so many good books and to participate in celebrating Scotland’s great literary tradition.”

The duo join writers Elizabeth Laird and Alistair Moffat, as well as former BBC documentary producer Elizabeth Buccleuch on the 2012 panel.

This is the third year of the award and the criteria has been extended to works written in English, but published in Commonwealth countries. The prize is awarded for work of quality, originality and innovation, which “inhabits the past and enriches our historical understanding, while changing our perspective on the present”. Books must be set at least 60 years ago, echoing Sir Walter Scott’s subtitle from his Waverley series: “Tis Sixty Years Hence...”

Hilary Mantel, winner in the prize’s inaugural year, said: “Much the best thing that has happened for lovers of historical fiction is the founding of this prize. It is such a startlingly-generous and imaginative gesture, an appropriately old-fashioned act of patronage of the arts. In the years to come, this prize will magnetise attention and stimulate debate.”

Last year’s winner, Andrea Levy, said of the prize: “This is a generous literary award which focuses attention on an important aspect of the role of fiction. Fiction can – and must – step in where historians cannot go because of the rigour of their discipline.”

The Walter Scott Prize is the fifth richest book prize in the UK.