by Margaret Chrystall
SANDSTONE Press writer Ajay Close's novel A Petrol Scented Evening has been named in the longlist for the Walter Scott Prize.
Thirteen books are in contention for the prize which recognises historical fiction, with settings as diverse as ancient Rome, wartime Europe, and Japan, Canada and Australia in previous centuries.
Born in Sheffield, Ajay Close took an English degree at Cambridge, worked as a newspaper journalist for which she won many awards, before becoming a full-time author and playwright. Her 1996 novel Official and Doubtful was long-listed for the Orange Prize and she has since written three more - A Petrol Scented Evening appearing last September .
The book opens the day after Donella Ferguson Watson's wedding when she finds herself tied to a man - prison doctor Hugh - who offers no explanation for their sexless marriage. But she starts to suspect the answer lies with a hunger-striking suffragette who was force fed and held in solitary confinement.
The longlist of 13 for the Walter Scott Prize is: A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Sweet Caress by William Boyd, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale, Dictator by Robert Harris, Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt, Death And Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea, End Games In Bordeaux by Allan Massie, Tightrope by Simon Mawer, Signs For Lost Children by Sarah Moss, Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn and Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
Two new judges have been appointed this year - Jackie Kay and James Naughtie.
The chair of Judges, Alistair Moffat, commented on behalf of the panel: “The last year saw both a flowering and broadening of the historical fiction genre that is the backbone of the Walter Scott Prize.
"The 13 books that make up our longlist are the most illuminating, entertaining and sweeping of those submissions that fitted our rules on timespan. The judges and readers who collate the longlist had to make difficult decisions, and also had to ask pertinent questions about the nature of fiction that flows between the past and the present.
"What is the relationship between contemporary recollection and the reliability of memory? Where does history cease and myth begin?
“Walter Scott was the first in a long line of authors who have transformed history into stories that transport the reader straight into the epicentre of another time and place, where characters live and feel, and are pounded by forces beyond themselves.
"We believe that this is the central strength of the books that make up our 2016 longlist, and we salute the authors that make this great literary genre thrive and move forward.”
A shortlist from the 13 will be announced in March and the winner is announced at the Borders Book Festival on June 18.
Ajay's book is currently available at £8.99. For more info: www.sandstonepress.com