I've had the opportunity to do a bit of reading for pleasure over the last couple of weeks, as opposed to reading for research, and I managed to get through quite a few books, including Hilary Mantel's Booker prize winner Wolf Hall. Once I got used to the slightly idiosyncratic use of the personal pronoun I really enjoyed her tale of Thomas Cromwell's life at the heart of Henry VIII's court and its portrayal of sixteenth century London. It did, though, leave me puzzling over where an enjoyable, well-written historical novel ends and an award-winning work of literature begins. What makes, for instance, Wolf Hall, a better literary novel than Robert Harris's Lustrum or Tracey Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures? For me, they're both the Booker winner's equal in creating a fascinating picture of remarkable people living in remarkable times.
Anyway, no-one was more pleased than I was to see a top book prize being awarded to a popular work of historical fiction, because, by and large, authors of historical fiction haven't had many prizes to aim at. So I was delighted to read this weekend about a major new prize being launched - and in God's own country too. The £25,000 Sir Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction will be awarded at the Borders Book Festival in June, from a shortlist of UK authors that will be revealed in March.
The Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, whose family has a long association with Scott, are behind the award and are keen that the great author's name should be linked with such a prestigious prize. It's also a huge coup for the festival's livewire organiser Alistair Moffat and his team and another step towards ensuring that the Melrose-based event is one that nobody who is interested in books can afford to miss.