The Young Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction: Winners Selected
By Ameenah Khan, Emma Carey, Caitlin Evans, and Holly Mahoney
Historical fiction is a thriving genre which connects us to the past and tells stories relevant to the present in unique settings. They provide an escape from the world we know and insight into the daily lives of the world’s ancestors. In honour of the early 19th century Scottish novelist Walter Scott, the Walter Scott Prize has been rewarding UK writers of historical fiction with big cash prizes since its founding in 2010. In more recent years, the prize has expanded to recognise budding youth writers of historical fiction through the Young Walter Scott Prize.
Often referred to as the pioneer of the 'historic novel,' Sir Walter Scott is no stranger to narratives exploring historical worlds. Straddling both the Romantic movement and historical literature, Scott’s literary career sees him identified as playwright, poet, novelist and historian. With an impressive portfolio including The Waverley Novels series, Ivanhoe, and the poetry of The Lady of the Lake, Scott’s legacy is one that certainly deserves to be honoured as namesake of such an accomplished literary prize. Born in Scotland in the late 18th century, Scott’s literary prowess was not the only string to his bow. Scott was also prevalent within the political world, namely the Tory Party in Edinburgh, and incorporated his astute historical and political awareness within his literature as well. This aspect of historical fiction lives on and is successfully reflected in the Young Walter Scott Prize.
The prize is aimed at 11–19 year olds, spanning smaller age group categories and naming a winner for each. While the older prize has several eligibility criteria, including that the submitted content must have been officially published, the younger prize provides leeway. The youth are instead asked to submit a short piece of fiction, with the only requirement being that it must be set in a time before they were born. This flexibility accommodates the relative, ever-changing and all-encompassing quality of historical fiction.
Through the past tricky months of lockdown and getting to grips with a new digital world of schooling, one could wonder what impact these circumstances had on children, teenagers and their creativity. This prize proves that, if anything, the creative juices have been flowing in abundance, as the award faced a dramatic increase in submissions compared to previous years. Among a bountiful pool of submissions are some fantastic stories, and these works of historical fiction exhibit the sheer talent in our young writers today.
Winning the 11–15 age group is the fifteen-year-old Atlas Weyland Eden for his story We Wolves. Set in the Ice Age and written from a wolf's perspective, We Wolves is a wonderfully unique contribution to historical fiction. His sustained 'poetic voice' all the while 'brilliantly inhabit[ing] the mind of a wolf' especially impressed the judges and, undoubtedly, readers alike.
The winner of the 16–19 age group is the sixteen-year-old Madeleine Friedlein. Her winning story Slaying Holofernes draws inspiration from the famous painting Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. It follows her fictionalised take on the trial of Artemisia Gentileschi back in 1621 and is another empowering piece of historical fiction that we ought to delve into.
It is safe to say that this unique award won the hearts of many young people. Despite the current circumstances we face, many young children exerted all their best efforts in creating stories of the past which for people like Madeleine and Atlas resulted in great success. Not only is the award encouraging young people to project their voices, but also honouring the memory of Sir Walter Scott. Though many will agree that some young people are losing touch with their roots and history, it is awards such as these which reignite that connection and create an interest in exploring past events to see how they have shaped our world today.