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Witchcraft captures £6k book prize

photo of Claire Marie Watson

A powerful story of witchcraft and healing powers set in sixteenth century Dundee has won the Dundee Book Prize 2002, setting first-time author Claire-Marie Watson on a voyage into the publishing world. Claire Marie will join a growing cluster of writers to achieve publication through the UK's premier award for new writers, organised jointly by the University and the City of Discovery Campaign.

Judges of the Dundee Book Prize unanimously commended the novel I am Grisell Jaffray for its "highly charged atmosphere" and "real sense of the dark and Brooding". Claire Marie receives 6,000 and the promise of publication by Polygon.

Best selling author Hilary Mantel, who flew from London to front the awards ceremony at DCA spoke of the far-sightedness and perspicacity of the city and the university in initiating the prize. She told them: "Scottish writing is the envy of the world. Over the last 20 years it has produced some excellent authors and some wonderful books. It's very far sighted of Dundee to support that and to continue a tradition of encouraging new writers to find their voice...I see a competition like this as a very important way to break down barriers. I wish other cities would take a leaf out of Dundee's book."

Judges poet Don Paterson, Polygon consultant Marion Sinclair and lecturer in contemporary fiction Kasia Body have read their way through a mountain of anonymous manuscripts over the last few months corresponding by telephone and email to arrive at a shortlist of five. Two books were chosen independently by all three judges - the winner and Three West Fifty Six North. The latter, which Polygon are also considering, is by Hertfordshire based Paul Gorman who studied English at the University in the early 90s. Paul describes his book as "an attempt at a literary map of Dundee, taking the reader down a different street in each chapter". Also named were Gifts by James MacIlravie, Dundee; Seton by Mark Chalmers, Dundee and the Fountain by Canada based Brian Von Norman.

Award winner Claire Marie Watson outlines her book: "Almost 350 years of uncommon sagacity shaped Grissel Jaffrey's character but the terrible consequences of this were violent death and the obliteration of her name. Grissel is at the centre of 700 years of war, intrigue, greed and political manoeuvring and her compelling and tumultuous life in war-ravaged Dundee reflects the unchanging nature of these evils."

All five authors will now be nurtured by Polygon who are committed to helping them fulfil their potential.

Mervyn Rolfe, chair of Dundee's image building initiative the City of Discovery Campaign believes the award is fulfilling its aim in promoting both new talent and the city.

Speaking of the unexpected number of books set in Dundee, including four out of the five shortlisted, Carol Pope, said: "Dundee is a diamond as far as writers are concerned, eternally offering new facets to the light for writers to capture and reflect; and the Dundee Book Prize provides just the right driving force."

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