Borders Book Festival: Tale of China wins £25,000 prize

A novel rejected 44 times by publishers has won the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival.

Set in imperial China, The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling was one of 100 novels entered by publishers for the sixth annual prize at the Melrose event.

Spurling was at the festival to receive his prize from the Duke of Buccleuch this evening (Saturday).

The Ten Thousand Things is set in 14th-century China, during the final years of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty, and is the story of Wang Meng, one of the era’s four great masters of painting.

It Spurling’s fourth novel; he is also a prolific playwright. The Ten Thousand Things took him 15 years to write and was rejected 44 times before being published by Duckworth last year.

Speaking just minutes after finding out he had won, Spurling told The Southern he had not been expecting to hear his name announced as the winner: “I think my wife was more confident than I was.

“My younger brother always seems to win raffles, I never do. So I’m absolutely delighted to win such a wonderful prize this evening - and my publisher will be very pleased his judgement has been borne out!”

The award ceremony in Melrose was presented by chair of judges Alistair Moffat, and extracts from each of the seven shortlisted books were read by broadcaster James Naughtie. The shortlist also included novels by Martin Amis, Helen Dunmore, Hermione Eyre, Adam Foulds, Kamila Shamsie.

Spurling was awarded with his cheque and an evocative coloured glass trophy commissioned from Lindean Glass, depicting the colours and landscapes of Sir Walter Scott’s Border country.

Chair of the judges, Alistair Moffat, commented: “In the end, it was the illumination shone by John Spurling on this fascinating and little-known period that lit us up for the longest time.

“It is a book which deserves enormous credit, and we hope that the Walter Scott Prize can help bring it for him.”