“Winning makes you beam, giving you a real sense of vindication and achievement.”

That was author Ian Mortimer’s reaction on hearing that he had won the Royal Institution of Cornwall’s Winston Graham Prize with his novel ‘The Outcasts of Time’, published by Simon and Schuster. As an award-winning historian, with a doctorate from the University of Exeter and a long list of academic books to his name, Ian’s credentials as an expert in his field are clear. Venturing into the world of fiction, however, brought its own, very different challenges.

“Writing fictional narrative exposes you in a way that factual, historical research does not,” he says. “That’s why I was so delighted when I heard I’d won. You keep asking yourself, ‘am I good enough to be a writer?’ Scholarly accolades are one thing, being judged as a novelist quite another.”

Winston Graham Prize judges Peggotty Graham (Winston Graham’s daughter-in-law and a former Dean and Director of Studies at the Open University), Tracey Guirey (Director of the Poetry Archive), Jane Bingham (writer and Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund) and Ian Wall (Director of the RIC) were unanimous in their decision to award Ian the £3000 cash prize.

Summing up their verdict, Peggotty said: “Ian Mortimer’s book is extremely well researched, provides tremendous breadth, lively writing and a very satisfying plot and conclusion”.

Set on Dartmoor, ‘The Outcasts of Time’ tells the story of two brothers travelling back to their home town of Moretonhampstead in December 1348, at the height of the Black Death. They become infected with the plague and, desperate to avoid their horrible fate, go to a moorland stone circle to try and sell their souls to the devil, in return for a longer life. Their request is denied but instead a supernatural power offers them an unexpected choice: either to go home and spend their last six days in familiar surroundings, or search for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last.

“Medieval people didn’t have mirrors and were therefore defined by what they did,” say Ian. “The brothers choose the future but struggle to come to terms with change and the huge impact it has.”

Since its publication in 2017, ‘The Outcast of Time’ has attracted excellent reviews. The Times described it as ‘beautifully written and superbly executed’, The Guardian as a ‘joyous romp through England’s dark past’ and the Daily Express as a ‘clever and moving Faustian tale…packed with fascinating historical detail’.

When Poldark author Winston Graham died, he left a legacy to the Royal Institution of Cornwall that enables the literary competition named after him to take place every two years. Entries have now opened for the 2020 prize, which will be judged after the closing deadline of 30 June 2020. Only works of historical fiction, published since June 2017 and set in the South West, are eligible for consideration.

“We’re delighted to be able to run such a prestigious prize and very grateful to Winston Graham’s family for their ongoing involvement,” says RIC Director Ian Wall. “Ian Mortimer’s book is an absorbing read and a very worthy winner.” 

‘The Outcasts of Time’ is now available in paperback. For more information on the 2020 Winston Graham Prize for Historical Fiction, visit the website.