The WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2023 Longlist has been announced – @waltscottprize

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and am delighted to be sharing the details of this year’s longlist for the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The Walter Scott Prize celebrates outstanding historical novels published in the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth. Last year’s winner was James Robertson’s excellent News of the Dead which was one of my favourite reads of 2022. Now I have to confess that I’ve not read many of the books on this year’s list but have already added a few to my to-be-read list!

Twelve novels are in contention for the £25,000 prize, with settings spanning the globe and the centuries: from ancient Tahiti to Australia and Tasmania at the dawn of colonisation; from seventeenth-century Massachusetts to the nineteenth-century literary salons of Europe; from the shores of Suffolk to the quiet countryside of Thomas Hardy’s Dorset; from the gold-rush-giddy American south to Belfast under siege during the Blitz; and from the cramped streets of eighteenth-century London to the sogginess of an Irish bog in the 1950s.

The longlist

THE ROMANTIC William Boyd  (Viking)

A return to the ‘whole life’ novel form for William Boyd, namely the life of Cashel Greville Ross – an Irishman by birth, turned travel writer, soldier, restless romantic and confidante to some of history’s greatest writers in the form of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley. The Romantic is a novel in which death, and the notion of what we leave behind when we die, looms large and life intervenes – with all the bathos and humour that brings – the playful author’s note at the outset implying that the inspiration is the “unfinished, disordered, somewhat baffling” autobiography of Cashel Greville Ross, 1799-1882.

THESE DAYS Lucy Caldwell  (Faber & Faber)

Set against the 1941 Belfast Blitz, the novel tells the story of two sisters, Emma – “kind, stubborn, awkward” – and Audrey – “flighty, impulsive, earnest” – the latter engaged to a doctor whose sexual reticence is becoming a problem and the former falling passionately in love with a woman eleven years her senior.  With the surreal backdrop of wartime violence, and of course the nod to the violence that was to unfold in the city over the coming decades, Caldwell sets a novel about family, parenting, loss and love, even if that love – however real — remains always elusive.

MY NAME IS YIP Paddy Crewe  (Doubleday)

A filmic debut set in early nineteenth-century , gold-rush-giddy Georgia in the American south, with a mute protagonist in the form of Yip seemingly narrating events from the perspective of his later life, having been freed by the gift of a slate from a retired doctor on which Yip learned to write.  The society he presents is one in flux, on the eve of religion being abandoned in favour of the wealth-driven individualism, and Yip also veers from the righteous path, forced to flee across the continent on his trusty horse after killing a man in a bar brawl.  The novel – with its rich depictions of landscape and character – pivots on Yip’s quest to return to Heron’s Creek, claim his gold, avenge his father’s death and be reunited with his mother.

THE GEOMETER LOBACHEVSKY Adrian Duncan  (Tuskar Rocks)

Told from the perspective of a mathematician, the eponymous narrator of the novel – the third from structural-engineer-turned-visual-artist-turned-writer, Adrian Duncan – is a Russian hired by an Irish state-owned company based in Kildare to measure land set for drainage in 1950s rural Ireland.  At its core is Lobachevsky’s attempts to understand his hosts — whom he scrutinises as if they were maths problems to be solved – and their culture, before receiving an ominous letter ordering him back to the USSR, at which point he quits the scene for the low-key safety afforded by an island in the Shannon Estuary.

ACT OF OBLIVION Robert Harris (Hutchinson Heinemann)

After the Restoration of the Monarchy in England in 1660, two of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers flee to the US to avoid execution, leaving behind their families – through whom some of the narrative subsequently comes – and pursued by Richard Nayler, Privy Council member and lead hunter of the regicides.  The novel tells the fictionalised escape of and quest to find William Goffe and his son in law, Edward Walley, two die-hard Puritans with nothing for it but to flee for their lives.


The dark streets of 1746 London are no place for a black man and, after the relative safety of daytime hustle and bustle ceases, Sancho – an escaped slave – is alone.  All the more so because the Duke who has taught him to read, and whom Sancho had hoped would help protect him, is dying.  The debut from actor Paterson Joseph recounts the extraordinary story of how a man’s life can begin as one thing and draw to its close all-too-soon as something very different indeed.  Sancho’s life’s journey is one that takes him from a birth into slavery all the way to the very centre of London life, meeting the King, playing and writing highly acclaimed music, being the first black person in Britain to vote, and leading the fight to abolish slavery.

THE CHOSEN Elizabeth Lowry  (Riverrun)

When Thomas Hardy’s wife, Emma Gifford, died in 1912, aged 72, her diaries – telling of a tortuous marriage, of being abandoned to two rooms in the attic and playing second fiddle to Hardy’s creation of his novels’ characters – were eventually destined to be burned by Florence Dugdale, Hardy’s second wife and his posthumous biographer.  Shocked by the revelations made in the diaries, set starkly against the memories of the young woman he had loved, Hardy had been driven to write a series of elegies, Poems of 1912-13 for which he is, by many, judged to have been an even better poet than a novelist.  Imaginatively inhabiting Max Gate, Hardy’s Dorset home, Lowry poses the question time and time again – at what price comes literary success and at whose cost comes great artistic talent.


1754, and, as Zachary Cloudesley enters the world, his mother dies, leaving her son to be raised by his doting father Abel and the men who populate the clocks and automatons workshop he owns at London’s Leadenhall.  But Zachary is no ordinary child, possessing a gift for reading the futures of himself and those around him, able to see into the hearts and minds of others with the touch of a hand.  But Zachary suffers a near-fatal childhood accident which leaves him blind and destined to be raised by his Aunt Francis as his father has to leave London for Constantinople.  Years later, and as an empathetic and curious young man, Zachary must find out what has happened to the father who never returned.

THE SUN WALKS DOWN Fiona McFarlane  (Allen & Unwin)

This tale of a farming community’s search for a missing child, set in 1883’s arid Australian south, spans the seven days and nights of the search for Denny. The Sun Walks Down addresses issues of race and class, and art and life, with Australian-born McFarlane weaving her cast of characters – Denny’s sisters and broke parents; a bride and groom; the wealthy members of a ranching family;  a Swedish artist and his wife; and the indigenous people always ignored by the Whites — around the ever-present, ever-urgent narrative of Denny’s disappearance and subsequent attempts to navigate a frightening world with only his 6-year-old’s intuition.

ANCESTRY Simon Mawer  (Little, Brown)

Opening on a beach in Suffolk where a young Abraham Block strips a drowned corpse of its gold coins, Mawer’s family-history-turned-fictionalised account quickly leads into Abraham’s life at sea and onwards to a train carriage where a seamstress on her way to London for the first time is seduced by a fellow passenger and, pregnant, rents a room from Abraham’s uncle, near London’s docks.  A tale of ancestry necessarily requires two parts, and the second shifts to Mawer’s paternal lineage in the form of George Mawer, private soldier in the 50th Regiment of the Foot and husband to Ann Scanlon, with whom he subsequently has children.  But family life is interrupted by the involvement of British forces in Crimea fighting Russia, and here the narrative splits between the dual narratives of George on the war front and Ann, who, along with her children, finds herself reliant upon parish charity in the absence of her husband.

I AM NOT YOUR EVE Devika Ponnambalam (Blue Moose Books)

This bold debut is the story of Teha’amana, Tahitian muse and child-bride to the impressionist painter Paul Gauguin – so young that she ages with the painter’s own daughter Aline, whose diary entries also populate the narrative.. As Gauguin works on his painting The Spirit of The Dead Keeps Watch, which became so central to his being that it even haunts his later self-portrait, Teha’amana tells her story, weaving together myths and legends from the island of Tahiti – from Polynesia before French colonialists introduced Christianity – as a polyphony rising from the island to help to allow The’amana’s story to be heard: Hina goddess of the moon; a lizard watching from the eaves; Gauguin’s mask of Teha’amana carved from one of the trees. A tragic and complex history of a time and place explored little in literature until now.

THE SETTLEMENT Jock Serong  (Text Publishing)

Newly colonised Australia, 1831, and The Man (identified in the foreword as George Augustus Robinson) brings a small group of convicts and Aboriginal locals to attempt to locate the Big River Tribe.  The aim is to move them off their land and onto one of the remote Furneaux Islands before settlers move in and kill them.  Once there, The Man will become The Commandant and continue his colonisation experiment, attempting to ‘Europeanise’ the natives. In this, the final part of Serong’s three historical novels series – preceded by Preservation and The Burning Island — and narrated by Whelk, a boy who sees the worst of colonisation but still finds his own way to fight back, the themes of colonialisation, exploitation and resilience loom large and the beauty of the Furneaux Islands stands in constant and affecting contrast to the abhorrent ugliness of the colonialist project and its brutality.

 Here’s what Katie Grant, chair of the judging panel, has to say about this year’s longlisted books

“This year’s submissions to the Walter Scott Prize offered, as ever, many hours of globe-trotting, centuries-spanning pleasure, and our longlist is reflective of the breadth of literary talent, research and imagination displayed by many fine entries. Our longlist also reflects the development of historical fiction from a relatively straightforward depiction of times past to something more complex and ambitious.

“It’s still true that the past is a ‘foreign country’, but as our twelve longlisted novels illustrate, however ‘foreign’ it seems, the past helps us address the big questions of the present: is art its own justification? What do we leave behind when we die? What is freedom? As well as posing these and many other questions, in the 2023 WSP longlist you’ll find comfort and discomfort, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the heights of love and the depths of obsession, and perhaps a few surprises — in other words, a longlist to read, enjoy, debate and share. “

First awarded in 2010, and founded by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction honours the inventor of the historical fiction genre, Sir Walter Scott. The Prize judging panel comprises Katie Grant (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and new judge for 2023, award-winning investigative journalist, writer and documentary maker Saira Shah.   

The winner receives £25,000, and each shortlisted author is awarded £1,500, setting the Walter Scott Prize amongst the richest fiction prizes in the UK.

A shortlist – usually six books — will be announced in April, and a winner announced in mid-June at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland.

5 thoughts on “The WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2023 Longlist has been announced – @waltscottprize

  1. I’ve read These Days by Lucy Caldwell. A very poignant book the further along you get, with vivid, heartbreaking descriptions of the aftermath of the blitz.

    Liked by 1 person

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