Benjamin Myers has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction with The Gallows Pole, published by small Yorkshire-based independent press Bluemoose Books.
Bluemoose triumphed over some of the UK’s biggest publishing houses and saw its author Benjamin Myers receive his £25,000 award from sponsor the Duke of Buccleuch at the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival in Melrose on Saturday, June 16.
Myers was handed his winner’s cheque by last year’s winner Sebastian Barry, who gave an eloquent speech about the importance of the prize.
On being awarded the Walter Scott Prize, Benjamin Myers thanked his ‘small but perfectly formed’ publishers, and said he would be spending the prize money on ‘going to see the original line-up of Guns ‘N’ Roses in Reykjavik’, and to have a break after publishing seven books in eight years, to ‘sit in his back garden and listen to the birdsong.’
The prize judges, who include Elizabeth Buccleuch, journalists James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and Kate Figes, writers Katharine Grant and Elizabeth Laird, the Abbotsford Trust’s James Holloway, and historian and Borders Book Festival director Alistair Moffat serving as chair, said: ‘Judging this prize is always tough, and our 2018 shortlist was such a cornucopia of different styles, themes and historical episodes that we had our first ever hung jury and secret ballot.
Before the ballot, the judges reminded themselves of the core values of the Walter Scott Prize, one of which is that the winning book, whether expansive or intimate, should be powerful enough to remain with readers for years to come. In the end, our final choice was between delicate porcelain and earthy clay, and clay triumphed.’
The Gallows Pole, assembled from historical accounts and legal documents, is a story of resistance that combines poetry, landscape, crime and historical fiction.
The judges’ agonising choice of winner was made in the face of fierce competition from the other five books on the shortlist: Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, Jane Harris’ Sugar Money, Paul Lynch’s Grace, Patrick McGrath’s The Wardrobe Mistress and Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves.
The other shortlisted authors were presented with cheques for £1,000 each.