Do you ever wonder how the Walter Scott Prize chooses its longlists? Every year we receive over one hundred entries for the Prize, and we also ‘call books in’ from publishers, based on recommendations from our judges who keep a beady eye on reviews and bookshops throughout the year.
So who sifts through all the books to find the hidden gems and to rate the contenders, before they go through to the Judges and our Academy list? Step forward our band of expert Readers, who work tirelessly throughout the year reading and thoughtfully appraising each and every book received.
Our Readers come from all walks of life and are spread across the UK – we’ve had reading teams as far apart as Shetland and Dorset. They are voracious readers with an interest in real people’s history and an eye for what might become a future classic. Over the years, the Readers have been responsible for picking out many titles that might otherwise have been overlooked, playing a vital part in the success of the prize. Motivated purely by their enjoyment of the books, they are our unsung heroes!
We thought you might like to see some of the things our Readers said about this year’s longlist and Academy Recommends books. Their salty summaries and insightful comments make great reading in themselves!
My Beautiful Imperial by Rhiannon Lewis (Academy Recommends)
“A mighty read this, I feel bereft now that I’ve finished it, always a sign of a writer who can fascinate and engross the reader over 500 pages or so. This novel has at its heart the Chilean civil war – who knew? Not me. It is also inspired by the life and exploits of the author’s great great uncle, a Welsh lad who ran away to sea and became the captain of a steamship carrying mail and cargo up and down the Chilean coast in the latter years of the 19th Century.
Forced to turn his ship over to the government side in the insurrection he then carried troops and ammunition, facing all the usual moral quandaries of loyalty and betrayal amongst his colleagues and shipmates as well as the horrors of engagement. Other strands of the story are deftly woven in to the complex tapestry of events and provide richness and increased understanding of the pressures involved. Parliamentary questions are asked about the danger to British commercial interests in Chilean minerals and an English journalist dispatched by The Times to report on the rebellion finds that the ‘facts’ required by his editor do not match up to the facts he finds on the ground in Valparaiso.
I found this a totally satisfying novel, full of history told with a light hand and with the spark of adventure, with credible characters and a sure touch with the setting of an important Chilean port in the late 1800s. A cracker!”