Sunday 16 September 2018

Lindsey Fraser, on the Young Walter Scott Prize - talking to Sue Purkiss

I recently had a chat with Lindsey Fraser – my Literary Agent – about a creative writing initiative for young people with which she’s involved, The Young Walter Scott Prize, and I thought readers of the History Girls – particularly any teachers out there – really should hear about it . It’s a terrific opportunity for young writers aged between 11 and 19 to take their inspiration from history, with the chance of winning a £500 travel grant and attending the Borders Book Festival next June. So here’s Lindsey, to tell you all about it.

What’s the background to YWSP?
It was devised in response to the success of The Walter Scott Prize – an award for historical fiction which boasts such writers as Hilary Mantel, Sebastian Faulkes, Andrea Levy and Tan Twan Eng among its winners. The Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch – the driving force behind that award – were keen to find a way of supporting young unpublished writers under the Walter Scott banner and the idea of YWSP emerged. The guidelines are simple – use the past as the inspiration for your writing. And the resulting entries have been fascinating. Welsh settlers in Patagonia in the 19th Century, Cornish smugglers, missionaries in China, 11th Century Constantinople, America in the 1950s, the Great Fire of London – history provides such rich pickings for young writers and although there are obvious favourites, I’m so impressed by the variety.

YWSP has run workshops in the summer that take place in historical settings - this one is at Holkham.

Surely you are inundated with manuscripts – you’re a literary agent! Why look for more work?
True… but as so many of our clients write for young people, I’m always interested in what young people write for themselves. And we’re often approached by young writers keen to find places to submit their work. We’ve been involved with the Pushkin Prizes – a creative writing initiative for young people in Scotland – for over 20 years; it keeps us in touch with young writers and readers, which is very important when you’re involved in the business of making books for them.

And I love historical fiction. I’ve long been irritated by rumours that historical fiction for young people is unpopular and our post bag around the end of October proves that there is huge interest in the past, and that these young writers will delve into some extraordinary corners to find the right settings and characters. Reading and writing go hand in hand. Historical fiction seems particularly appropriate for this age-group – young people looking out from their own familiar worlds, examining the past, seeking information from what happened there. Curiosity is a great driver.

Exploring Castle Urquhart

What are the prizes?
The winner in each age category – 11-15 and 16-19 – receives a travel grant of £500. And they’re invited to the Borders Book Festival where the Walter Scott Prize is announced. The organisers are very keen to emphasise the importance of YWSP and our most recent winner, Leonard Belderson from Norwich, found himself being presented with his prize by Sebastian Barry, then meeting Ben Myers and all the authors shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize. It’s heady stuff!

Runners up receive a book token – we’re obviously keen for reading to be involved! – and the Prizes publish an anthology of the winning pieces every year. So several young writers see their work in print, which is a big thrill – as any grown-up writer knows.

At the prize-giving – Leonard Belderson and Darcie Izatt

And the key dates?
All entries must be in by the end of October – information and the entry form are on the website -

How can History Girls writers help?
Many writers already help to spread the word, on their website or on social media, taking our leaflets into schools their visiting – that kind of signposting has been very helpful. This will be YWSP’s fourth year, and we’re hoping for another bumper entry. So do encourage young writers – your readers - to enter. I’m always happy to provide further information.

Facebook – Walter Scott Prize
Instagram – Walter Scott Prize
Twitter @waltscottprize


Penny Dolan said...

Thank you both for these interesting and useful details about this prize.

michelle lovric said...

What a wonderful idea. And imagine getting to meet Sebastian Barry!

Joan Lennon said...

An excellent initiative! Thanks, Sue and Lindsey!

Rowena House said...

Shared! Great idea, btw.