The Young Walter Scott Prize

Adventures in Time Travel

Write up to 2,000 words set in time before you were born when the world was recognisably different to the world of today

The Young Walter Scott Prize (YWSP) is much more than a creative writing competition for teenagers. It challenges young writers to investigate their history, their world and the stories of their people, tasking them to roam, explore, research and be courageous in their fiction-writing.

I was invited in 2014 to become director of this innovative creative writing initiative by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. In 2013 and 2014 they had commissioned me to adapt  two of Sir Walter Scott’s works (The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Waverley respectively) for performance at the Borders Book Festival to precede the award of the international Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Research for my direction of The Ragged Lion, Allan Massie’s speculative biographical play giving voice to Scott, had drawn me to the extraordinary life and philosophy of one of Scotland’s seminal figures. Scott can be  credited with the underpinning of the modern idea of his native country, quite apart from being a novelist of unparalleled influence both in his lifetime and since.

YWSP reflects our desire to honour the creative drive of Scott in his youth, before scaling the heights of fame – a young man overcoming physical disability and gathering inspirations that would spark his mould-breaking life of writing.

Historical fiction is the genre that is suspended between scholarly history and more free-floating fiction writing, sharing the best qualities of both. Currently, in the academic study of history, the notion of Time Travel describes the activity of delving into and traveling around in a historical period, letting the mind wander amongst available facts and hypotheses. For a young person encountering past eras for the first time, all history is historical fiction.

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Dreaming in time

YWSP is growing as a creative ‘destination’ for young writers keen to explore their past worlds. In 2017, we had a four-fold increase of entries over our first two years. Entries have come from all parts of the UK, from members of the many communities that make up our country to young people who have recently come to live in this country.

To date, our winning, runners-up and short- and long-listed writers have fulfilled their challenge with inspiration and courage. The range of their inspirations is truly humbling.

Given the world we live in now, with our attention is being drawn again and again to  ‘historic’ events, the Young Walter Scott Prize offers young writers a relevant and important channel for taking the long view on current events, motivations and consequences.

2015

  • Joe Bradley (11-15yrs category winner) from Oxford based his story A Most Unusual Childhood on a trunk full of memories of a Scottish missionary to China in the 1900s.
  • Iseabail Duncan (11-15yrs category runner up) from Banchory wrote her story Whales Don’t Care inspired by the history of 4 woollen hats found in the graves of Dutch whalers in Spitzbergen dating from the 17th Century, seen in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam.
  • Rosi Byard-Jones(16-19yrs category winner) from Reading was inspired to write In Time of Shadows by family stories of the consequences of brutal civil war in Indonesia for members of the ethnic Chinese population.
  • Alexander Leggatt (16-19yrs category runner-up) was inspired to write The Oak Tree about the tree under which Wilberforce did much of his thinking before the historic anti-slavery vote.

2016 

  • Demelza Mason (11-15yr category winner) from Wisbech wrote Smuggler’s Moon, a rite -of-passage tale set amongst Lincolnshire smugglers in the 18th Century;
  • Sophia Bassi (11-15yrs category runner-up) from Berwick-upon-Tweed explored the life of the children of a Suffragette imprisoned for her actions.
  • Alice Sargent (16-19yrs category winner) from Carmarthen was inspired by her reading of the history of Welsh settlers in Patagonia in the mid-nineteenth century to write about the actions of native Patagonians on meeting the settlers.
  • Gregory Davidson (16-19yrs category runner-up) from Sutton wrote the story of an ordinary man of colour in the crowd listening to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech and reflecting on his own life.

2017

11-15yrs

  • Winner: Leonard Belderson from Norwich wrote The City of World’s Desire, a tale of politcal intrigue set amongst the splendours of ancient Constantinople.
  • Runner-up: Haaris Luqman from Glasgow wrote The Very Thought of You, the story of a man’s impossible dilemma during the dark days of the Second World War in Glasgow.
  • Runner-up: Emma Strutt from Faversham in Kent, wrote The First Bullet a fascinating exploration of the private thoughts of the man who fired THAT fatal shot in 1914 at Sarajevo.

16-19 yrs

  • Winner: Miranda Barrett from Twickenham in London wrote The New Neighbours a drama describing the dilemma faced by a 1950s small-town American family when their new neighbours turn out to be Black. A tale of ordinary people at the cusp of a new world.
  • Runner-up: Maisie Beckett from Gwent wrote The Hidden Enemy exploring a hidden moment in the life of V I Lenin at the very start of the Russian Revolution
  • Runner-up: Darcie Izatt from Stenhousemuir near Larbert wrote The Last Leaf the story of young post-girl tasked with delivering telegrammes at the height of World War Two.

In a very strong year, the judges also highly commended:

  • Vaneeza Butt from Egham for her story, The False Prophet, about a young journalist interviewing Malcom X.
  • Krishna Gowda from Liverpool for Crossing The Line, a story about a family who found their way safely through the horrors of Partition.
  • Vhairi Jordan from Perth for The Tay Bridge Survivor, about two surprising escapes on the same day!

Each one over three hundred entries since we opened the first competition tussled with the task of creating absorbing fiction based on verifiable historical facts, often producing startling results.

Read for yourself! – this link takes you to the official YWSP website, where you can view and download the stories written by the young authors mentioned above.

And now click here to find out more about Imagining History , our innovative and growing workshop programme, specially tailored to inspiring the kinds of thinking and writing that produces fascinating Historical Fiction .