Sebastian Barry has become the first double winner of the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction – just seven years after the honour was first presented. Barry’s “glorious and unusual” Days Without End beat a strong shortlist to take the prestigious £25,000 award. He previously won the award in 2012 with his novel On Canaan’s Side.
The Walter Scott prize judges included journalists James Naughtie and Kate Figes, writers Katharine Grant and Elizabeth Laird. They were joined by prize co-founder Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway of the Abbotsford Trust – which manages Scott’s grand home in the Scottish Borders – and historian Alistair Moffat. Moffat, who served as chair, said: “Days Without End took the lead, for the glorious and unusual story; the seamlessly interwoven period research; and above all for the unfaltering power and authenticity of the narrative voice, a voice no reader is likely to forget.”
Barry emerged as winner on Saturday night after fierce debate among the judges. “‘Our decision to award Days Without End was one of the hardest the Walter Scott Prize has ever had to make,” they said in a statement. All seven shortlisted books had strong supporters among the judges, who had “championed their cause in a protracted and passionate debate about the nature and purpose of historical fiction. The very books themselves seemed to fight tooth and nail for the accolade”.
Narrated by Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty, who has fled the Great Famine for the nascent US, Days Without End takes in an epic sweep of his adopted land’s history and landscape. McNulty and his lover John Cole travel the country to fight in the Indian wars and the American civil war.
It is the second major accolade for Days Without End this year, after the novel won the Costa book of the year award in January. The Costa judges hymned “a miracle of a book – both epic and intimate – that manages to create spaces for love and safety in the noise…