Full Reviews
Claire-Marie Watson
Winner of Scotland's Biggest Book Prize

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Full reviews

21st June 2003
Martin Tierney

"It is late seventeenth-century Scotland. In a heady elixir of war, pestilence and its unholy handmaiden superstition, the climate for persecution is ripe. Grissel Jaffray, an historically factual figure executed for witchcraft, comes from a long line of women with ancient knowledge of herbs and medicine. This fiction uses the form of a diary to tell her tragic tale. Beautifully written it is an utterly convincing tale of fear and injustice."

 June 2003

"Claire-Marie Watson won the sought-after Dundee Book Prize for The Curewife, and it's easy to see why. This is a truly original tale of a 17th-century healer."

Highland News Group
Highland News, North Star, Lochaber News
30th June 2003

"Hilary Mantel's reputation as a novelist is used by way of a glowing quote on the front cover of The Curewife by Dundonian Claire-Marie Watson (Polygon, 8.99).
But the book has its own magic tale. The writer submitted it for the Dundee Book Prize competition, won it, and then had her book picked up by Polygon.
Telling the story of Grissel Jaffray, who arrives in Dundee from Aberdeen, it is set in the 1600's and shows what happens in an era when those who practice witchcraft come up against a land of war, plague and turbulent politics - and a superstitious people.
Grissel traces her history, back to her great great grandmother Grizelda and her herb-smart, disabled great granny Mhairi "who lived by Fortrose".
But brought up in Aberdeen by her grandmother Elspeth, Grissel learns the skill of the curewife. "...I went with her to find the roots and herbs and and we would dry them. I watched when she tended folk who called for her. And I listened close when she spoke of what ailed them. This is how the wisdom passed to me..."
She keeps a diary through the eventful times in Dundee to pass on her knowledge to following generations. But the goodness is tempered by a dark side, and Grissel is never afraid to risk all to take a satisfying revenge on her greatest enemy. But based, as she is on a real-life character, the end of her life is mapped out for a tragic end from the start.
A well-written story that races on, the book still shocks as it ends."

The Scots Magazine
September 2003
Ian Smith

Dundee's Witch Doctor
A gripping novel set in strife-torn 17th Century Scotland

"Most of us will have seen that well-known television programme where chefs conjure up a mouth-watering dish out of little more than their imagination and a goodly dollop of professional expertise. So it is with Claire-Marie Watson, winner of the Dundee Book Prize in 2002.
Her prize-winning novel, The Curewife, is a superb feat of imagination, while expertise comes in the form of deep research into the minutiae of everyday life in the poor, strife-torn land that was mid-17th-century Scotland.
Ms. Watson has had to weave a tale around the meager ingredients which have filtered down to us - and a wonderful, page-turning job she has made of it.
In this her first novel, she elects to tell Grissel Jaffray's story through her diary - or "book" as Grissel terms it. Unusually for the time, Grissel can read and write, thanks to the good sense of her grandmother who did a deal with a grateful mother of a child she cured of a fever.
And "curing" is the central theme. For Grissel Jaffray is, according to the author, a curewife, descended from a long line of such gifted women whose herbs and potions were much more effective than the pathetic efforts of the so-called doctors.
We even have a fictitious family tree detailing the female line of Grissel's ancestors, beginning with Mhairi, born in 1297, the year Wallace defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
It is in the detail of the day-to-day life in Dundee that Ms Watson really comes into her own. The poor food the drunkenness, the filth, the utter hopelessness of poverty. Grissel writes it all down. She has the time and, as the wife of a maltsman and town burgess, she, her husband and son are better fed than most others of the period.
Grissel, says the author, was born in Aberdeen in 1615 and came down to Dundee after marrying James Butchart, a maltsman whom her seafaring father had picked out for her. By Grissel's account it was a good match and they eventually had a son, Alexander, their only child, also destined to go to sea.
But Dundee turned into a truly terrible place in 1644 when Montrose launched the first of his two attacks on the town. Plague struck in 1648 and in 1651 the English General Monck besieged and took the place, his garrison not leaving until 1659. Grissel records it all for her readers in her quaint yet flowing style - the burnings, the murders, rape and pillage.
Naturally Grissel becomes weel kent throughout the town as a curer of ailments - even an unwanted pregnancy is terminated with a potion of "aiten berries" - but it is these very skills which will eventually prove her undoing.
In the superstitious, sermon-dominated climate of the time, it took but a jealous whisper or two in the ministers ear for an innocent woman to be arraigned on a charge of witchcraft. Thus it was for Grissel Jaffray.
The reader - unlike poor Grissel - is spared the horrors of faggots and the flaming tar barrels. But such a grim era will be long remembered."

general press coverage

Celebration of Scots creativity
The Courier and Advertiser  Nov 2003

"This weekend sees the third "winter weekend" of events at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
With the first-ever winter season well under way, the events from Friday feature the best of Scottish creativity in celebration of St Andrew's Day. Friday evening features Sheena Wellington in Concert and a one-day creative writing workshop with Dundee Book Prize winner Claire-Marie Watson is offered on Saturday from 10 to 5. Numbers are limited, so places should be booked, and participants will be asked to prepare a piece of writing to bring with them. In a one-off performance on Saturday two of Scotland's best loved actors, Edith Macarthur and Tom Fleming, present an evening of poetry and prose, Border and Ballad."

Acclaimed author visits village
Stirling Observer 5th Nov 2003

"Cambusbarron Library hosted a visit by best-selling Scots author Claire-Marie Watson recently.
Winner of the Dundee Book Prize, Scotland's most prestigious literary award, the author entertained a capacity attendance with tales of her writing experiences and revealed that she has a futher two titles in preperation."

Library-books famous author
Stirling Shopper Nov 2003

"Cambusbarron Library hosted a visit by best-selling Scots author Claire-Marie Watson ...."

Author to give talks
The Courier and Advertiser  July 2003

"Last years Dundee Book Prize winner has been invited to give a series of readings at Edinburgh Castle during the upcoming Fringe Festival.
Claire-Marie Watson who won the UK's largest prize for a previously unpublished novel, will be giving a series of short talks and readings each day from August 8-18 in the Royal Apartments Laich Hall.
Her prize-winning novel, The Curewife, became a Scottish best-seller following its release 10 weeks ago with its first print run already having sold out.
Set in Dundee in the mid 1600's the novel deals with witchcraft, war, plague and politics.
Mrs. Watson will also tell visitors about the next book prize, which is to be judged by poet and novelist John Burnside, radio journalist Edi Stark and crime writer Ian Rankin.
Mrs. Watson said, "Eminent, prize-winning judges awarded me the Dundee Book Prize and they changed my life, I would urge other aspiring authors to have a go..."

Author visits Overgate
The Courier and Advertiser  30th June 2003

"Winner of the Dundee Book Prize, Claire-Marie Watson, was in the Overgate Centre on Saturday signing copies of her book The Curewife.
Claire-Marie won the book prize in 2002. Her book was launched just over a year later and now she is getting great  satisfaction from watching it fly off the shelves.
She said, "It feels wonderful to sit here and look at it and have people ask about the book or to dedicate it."

Dundee's third book prize launched
The Courier & Advertiser  May 2003

"Today's launch of the third Dundee Book Prize at DCA was not only a celebration of the cultural and literary life of the city but of Dundee itself.
It also coincided with the publication of last year's winner Claire-Marie Watson's novel The Curewife..............Managing Director of Birlinn and Polygon, Hugh Andrew, also spoke about the sense of place that vibrates in Dundee and said the Dundee Book Prize was Scotland's premier writing prize, before presenting the first copy of The Curewife to Claire-Marie Watson.
Creative process - She reflected on the creative process and told of how she had come up with her award-winning work last year saying "Words love to play hide and seek and mine could do it for days and weeks."
She also wished those who were competing in the next prize the best saying that, "Unless a game is difficult, it isn't worth playing."

Writing in Focus
The Courier & Advertiser  May 2003

"The Dundee Book Prize and Scottish Arts Council are joining forces to celebrate writing and reading at Dundee Contemporary Arts on May 3.
In the morning, to launch the Dundee Book Prize search for new writing, writers and readers are invited to hear poet and novelist John Burnside discuss the craft of writing.
This years winner Claire-Marie Watson will be on hand to offer advice.
Claire-Marie's winning manuscript The Curewife will be published on may 2 by Polygon.
The Scottish Arts Council will celebrate the long list for this year's book of the year awards in the afternoon....."

A word on witchcraft
The Courier & Advertiser 23 May 2003

"THE CUREWIFE, Claire-Marie Watson's winning entry in last years prestigious Book Prize competition is published this week.
Chosen from a shortlist described by author and awards presenter Hilary Mantel as "fascinating and outstanding", the book fulfilled in every respect the Book Prize organisers' aims of discovering superb, new unpublished works of fiction....."

Helen Brown talks to Dundee Book Prize Winner
The Courier & Advertiser 3 May 2002

"............At the time of her win, her awestruck comment was, "This is the best day of my life!" and a few weeks further on, with an intervening holiday break to help the news sink in properly, she clearly hasn't changed her mind about the feeling of being a published author. And it should be said, one chosen from a worldwide entry as the winner in Scotland's biggest literary prize.......Claire's success may have taken her by surprise but the three distinguished judges - Don Paterson, Marion Sinclair and Kasia Boddy - were in no doubt that her novel was something special........"

Dundee Evening Telegraph  10 April  2002

"This year's Dundee Book Prize was won by a Dundee-born writer, telling the story of one of the city's historical figures........"         

The Courier and Advertiser  11 April 2002
By Joy Watters

"This year's Dundee Book Prize attracted entries from all over the world but was won by a Dundee-born writer, telling the story of one of the city's historical figures ......."

The Herald  11 April 2002
By Chris Holme and Angela Henshall

"An unemployed woman carried off one of Britain's most prestigious literary awards yesterday with her first attempt at writing a novel...........Mrs Watson now joins best-sellers A L Kennedy, Rosamunde Pilcher and Kate Atkinson alongside 20 books about Dundee published since 1999..."

The Scotsman  11 April
By Frank Urquhart

"A new novel, telling the story of the last witch to be burnt at the stake in Dundee, yesterday won Scotland's main book award for an unpublished novel. Ms Watson, a former personal assistant, beat off competition from across Britain as well as the rest of the world to win her prize......"

Daily Record  11 April
By Bob Dow

"A rookie novelist yesterday won Scotland's richest book award. Claire-Marie Watson scooped the 6,000 Dundee Book Prize......"

Scotland on Sunday  21 April
By Dani Garavelli

"Witchcraft and torture might not pull the tourists in, but they are likely to enhance Dundee's role on the literary stage..... Having exposed Dundee's weakness for burning old ladies, Watson is about to engage in some more PR work for the City of Discovery, and her next novel is inspired by a murder from the late Victorian era...... Witchhunts, murders, miscarriages of justice? At least with Watson as its new ambassador, no-one will ever accuse Dundee of being dull."

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