Walter Scott Prize 2013: Using the Language of the Dead.

Helen Boyd, Richard Lee

images-57Last year we looked at the Walter Scott Prize shortlist trying to define ‘literary historical fiction‘.  This year we want to think about language in novels. How did people think and speak in the past, and how appropriate is it to pastiche this in a modern novel? How do novelists use unfamiliar detail, attitude and voice to present lost worlds, and how do they suggest that the unfamiliar is familiar to their characters? Given that authenticity is impossible – even undesirable – how do authors tread the line between believability and reader engagement to ‘make the dead speak’?

This year’s shortlist is interestingly different from last year’s. There are three female authors, three male. Three of the books are sequels, or continuations (Bring Up the Bodies, Merivel and Toby’s Room). The authors as a group are more garlanded than last time: between them they must hold every literary accolade, including four Booker Prizes. Several of their books have been made into films – most successfully Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, filmed by Stephen Spielberg as Schindler’s List.

The varied settings of these novels give their authors different opportunities with language. Thomas Cromwell’s witty precision in Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies; Sir Robert’s poetic grit in Rose Tremain’s Merivel; the raw, personal informality of Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars; the poise of Anthony Quinn’s The Streets; the lyrical grace of Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists; the unflinching candour of Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room.

The Historical Novel Society will be looking at each of the novels in turn, assessing these approaches – so please mark these dates in your diaries. Following on from this series the authors will describe in their own words the choices they make.

Monday May 20th: Kate Braithwaite on Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

Wednesday May 22nd: Helen Boyd on Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally

Friday May 24th: Helen Boyd on The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Wednesday May 29th: Helen Boyd on The Streets by Anthony Quinn

Thursday May 30th: Kate Braithwaite on Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Thursday June 6th: Helen Boyd on Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

Walter Scott Prize Masterclass Series 2013: the shortlisted authors speak about their work.

Sunday June 2nd: Rose Tremain on ‘musicality’

Tuesday June 4th: Pat Barker on the ‘deepest drives’

Thursday June 6th: Anthony Quinn on ‘astonishing disparities’

Saturday June 8th: Hilary Mantel ‘like some inky clerk with a quill, scratching to keep up’

Friday June 14th: Prize winner announced at the Borders Book Festival.

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