Christine Dwyer Hickey wins £25,000 Walter Scott Prize

This year’s Dublin One City One Book author wins for novel about artists Edward and Jo Hopper

Christine Dwyer Hickey: “Writing a novel takes a big chunk of one’s life – The Narrow Land was six years 	in the making – which is why I really, really appreciate this recognition.”

Christine Dwyer Hickey: “Writing a novel takes a big chunk of one’s life – The Narrow Land was six years in the making – which is why I really, really appreciate this recognition.”

 

Christine Dwyer Hickey has won the 11th Walter Scott Prize for her novel The Narrow Land, in which she explores the marriage of the artists Edward and Jo Hopper.

The author wrote an essay for The Irish Times last year describing how inspiration for the novel came to her from watching a TV documentary while convalescing after an operation to remove a cancerous kidney.

In normal circumstances the prize would have been awarded at a live event at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, but because of lockdown restrictions the winner was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row arts programme this evening, with Dwyer Hickey joining the programme from her home in Dublin.

Dwyer Hickey said in her video acceptance speech: “Writing a novel takes a big chunk of one’s life – The Narrow Land was six years in the making – which is why I really, really appreciate this recognition. I would like to send my thoughts to a grave in a hillside cemetery in Nyack, overlooking the Hudson river, a few miles from New York City, where the artists Edward and Jo Hopper lie, and where I hope they have at last found peace. I also hope they will forgive me the intrusion.”

It is hoped that Sebastian Barry, the Laureate for Irish Fiction and the only writer to have won the Walter Scott Prize twice, can present the winner with her trophy in Ireland in the coming weeks. Dwyer Hickey also receives a cheque for £25,000 (€28,000) and an original framed print by the renowned photographer, Walter Scott, who is also the great writer’s namesake. The print is of the Borders landmark Smailholm Tower, described by Sir Walter in his poem Marmion as “the mightiest work of human power”.

The judges said: “It’s a risky business, portraying the marriage of two artists, particularly when both the marriage and the art have already been picked over by biographers and art historians. Christine Dwyer Hickey has embraced the risk and created a masterpiece.”
The judges said: “It’s a risky business, portraying the marriage of two artists, particularly when both the marriage and the art have already been picked over by biographers and art historians. Christine Dwyer Hickey has embraced the risk and created a masterpiece.”

The Narrow Land has also been shortlisted for the €20,000 Dalkey Literary Award. Another Dwyer Hickey novel, Tatty was this year’s Dublin’s One City One Book selection.

The judges, who included James Naughtie, Kirsty Wark and chair Katie Grant, said: “It’s a risky business, portraying the marriage of two artists, particularly when both the marriage and the art have already been picked over by biographers and art historians. Christine Dwyer Hickey has embraced the risk and created a masterpiece.

“In The Narrow Land, she reaches into the guts of the marriage of Jo and Edward Hopper and into the heart of the creative impulse itself. And more, much more. Quietly, inexorably, and with pinpoint perception, our winner has brought to dramatic life not just the Hoppers’ intimate eruptions but the tensions and complexities in those around them, from two young boys scarred by war to the transient summer crowd at Cape Cod, and though this forensic lens we glimpse the upheavals that were to shake all Americans in the post-war world. With the pull of a shifting sea, The Narrow Land drew the judges back again and again, each reading richer than the one before.”

The Irish Times review said: “Christine Dwyer Hickey shows a profound understanding of human weakness and longing and regret and uses the full range of tools at her disposal to express them.”

The Narrow Land edged Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor and novels by Isabella Hammad, James Meek, Tim Pears, and Marguerite Poland to the top slot. The Walter Scott Prize was founded in 2009 to reward the best fiction set 60 or more years ago, to honour the achievements of Sir Walter Scott, considered to be the inventor of the historical novel.

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