And in a related piece in the Scotsman, written before the prize was announced, academic Jerome de Groot (The Historical Novel) explains historical fiction's current popularity and relevance. This is one of the best essays of its type that I've seen, and I say this not just because I'm in agreement with its sentiments and have written similar things myself.
Historical novelists like Catherine Cookson, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer have become regular targets in the press, especially by writers who otherwise praise the genre. Plaidy et al are blamed for pushing historical fiction back into the Dark Ages, meaning the creators of the new breed of historical novel -- those written with a more literary flair -- had to overcome a decades-old stigma in order to gain critical acceptance. However, as de Groot points out, this wasn't so much a problem with the works themselves, which are quite good, as with their downtrodden status as "genre fiction" and their immense popularity. To quote: "Historical fiction became the preserve of the popular novelist, and those who were good at it – Bernard Cornwell, Philippa Gregory – were ignored or patronised despite their massive popularity and at times compelling narratives." How refreshing to see these and other writers given their proper due alongside their more literary counterparts.