Book Group Guides to our 2018 Shortlist

15th November, 2018

Avid readers are hugely important to the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. We know that both individually and as part of book groups, keen readers delve into the themes, craft and historical context of our long- and shortlisted novels, debating and enjoying the books much as our judges do.

If you or your reading group would like to explore this year’s Walter Scott Prize shortlist, we have brought together discussion guides, Judges comments, and our shortlisted author Q&As all here in one place, to help spark conversation. And if you’ve discussed this year’s Walter Scott shortlist in your Book Group, do let us know – we’d love to hear from you. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Here is what the Judges said about each of the six books, along with web links to each book group guides.  Happy debating!

2018 Walter Scott Prize winner THE GALLOWS POLE by Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books) – Click here for the Book group guide

The Judges said:

“Imagine the wild moors of Calderdale in Yorkshire in the 18thcentury where stealing a loaf of bread could result in hanging. The only profit to be made was in the manufacture of fake money from melted down clippings of fake coins. Under the ‘protection’ of King David Hartley, the tough folk of that harsh valley had at least some hope of sustenance. As Hartley said, ‘we live as clans ….protection was our purpose especially from any incomers’. But historical progress was one incomer that could not be halted. The writing is brutal but lyrical and deeply affecting. This is an important book.”

2018 Walter Scott Prize shortlisted MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan (Corsair) – Click here for Book Group guide

The Judges said:

“This is a novel from a writer at the top of her form. Jennifer Egan handles her glittering cast of characters with subtlety and ease, leading them with confidence into the dark underbelly of wartime New York. A city of mobsters and con-men, gamblers and jazz men springs to life with such energy that you can hear the streets, and in the cacophony she weaves a rich story that is part thriller and part family drama. Her feeling for time and place is pitch-perfect, and Egan demonstrates that she is solidly established in the first rank of contemporary authors.”

2018 Walter Scott Prize shortlisted SUGAR MONEY by Jane Harris (Faber) – Click here for the Book group guide

The Judges said:

“Sugar Money by Jane Harris is a thrilling adventure story with a warm, human heart. Set in the world of slavery in eighteenth century Martinique and Grenada, there is no turning away from cruelty and horror, but the voice of the narrator Lucien, still little more than a child, is so spirited and innocent that the reader is swept along on the tide of his enthusiasm, even though the venture he and his brother must undertake is fraught with hideous danger. Jane Harris has created an unforgettable character in Lucien, and the lilt of his English, French and Creole speech gives a marvellous vibrancy to this superb novel.”

2018 Walter Scott Prize shortlisted GRACE by Paul Lynch  (Oneworld) – Click littlebrown-rgg-grace-rgg to download the Book group guide (PDF)

The Judges said:

“Paul Lynch’s novel Grace is a work of great lyricism. Its beautiful prose is put to devastating effect in his vivid story of the Irish potato famine which killed at least a million people. From the opening page we travel with fourteen year old Grace as she is sent out from Donegal, seemingly banished by her mother, but actually in a desperate attempt to save her life. We never leave her side as starving Grace navigates her way south, encountering myriad dangers on the desolate roads. Lynch’s narrative gripped us from the start and never let us go. It haunted the judges long after the final line. “

2018 Walter Scott Prize shortlisted MISS BOSTON AND MISS HARGREAVES by Rachel Malik  (Fig Tree) – Click here for the Book group guide

The Judges said:

“Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a quietly beautiful and brilliant novel that captures the heart and essence of a love story in the years during and after the Second World War. Astonishingly, it is Rachel Malik’s debut, and her handling of the richness and simplicity of this story of farming life suggests that she is on the brink of a distinguished literary career. And this is no bucolic idyll but an unfolding of a plot that constantly twists and turns and surprises. A truly wonderful, memorable novel.”

2018 Walter Scott Prize shortlisted THE WARDROBE MISTRESS  by Patrick McGrath(Hutchinson) – Click The Wardrobe Mistress – reading group questions to download the Book group guide [PDF]

The Judges said:

“The Wardrobe Mistress is, above all, a novel of voices: the echo of the actor ‘Gricey’ whose funeral we attend; the snipsnap of his wife Joan, hair pulled back ‘the better … to come at the world like a scythe’; and the chatty omniscience of ‘we ladies of the Chorus’. McGrath’s stage is London’s theatreland where 1947’s bitter winter is compounded by the revelation that for some, the war continues in unpleasant form. With fictional characters playing fictional characters, McGrath slyly plays with his reader in a novel which, whilst superbly evoking post-war theatrical life, pulses with contemporary disquiet.”