The winners of this year’s Young Walter Scott Prize for writers of historical fiction have been announced, with first places awarded to Iyla Latif in the 11-15 years category for her story Portrait of a Great Leader, which the Judges termed, “an imaginative reconstruction of an artist's feelings as he paints a portrait of Stalin”; and to Elise Withey in the 16-19 years category, for her story Juditha Triumphans, described by the judging panel as “a gently sinister story of revenge woven round the tender awakening of love.” The Young Walter Scott Prize is open to young writers aged 11-19 who are invited to submit a short story set in a time before they were born.

Chair of the Judging panel, Elizabeth Laird, said:

“As usual this year, when the bundle of entries for the Young Walter Scott Prize arrived, I had no idea what to expect. The young writers had explored an astonishing variety of themes and styles. We were with a firefighter at Chernobyl, then with a soldier at Rorke's Drift and a moment later with a ruby miner in Myanmar. There were stories from Japan, Uganda, Napoleonic France and Franco's Spain.  

“The entries were heartfelt, original and ambitious, and, above all, a pleasure to read. It was hard to select the ones which will be printed in our 2023 anthology, but the readers of it are in for a treat!

“After much discussion, the judges picked two winners. There is such talent in both these stories. I'm sure we'll hear from the writers again.”

The winning entry in the younger age group, Portrait of a Great Leader, by Iyla Latif, follows an artist working on a painting of Stalin, who then becomes disillusioned with the regime by which he has been commissioned.

Talking about her winning short story, Iyla, from London, said:

“I am fascinated by the history of the USSR, particularly under Stalin, and have been wanting to explore the era in writing for a while. I wished to delve into the role of artists, an unconventional perspective not often explored in fiction about the period, despite them being key producers of propaganda. I find it interesting to consider how much responsibility an artist, acting as a vehicle for the state, has in upholding a regime, and how that may conflict with their personal principles.”

Winner in the 16-19 years category is Elise Withey with her story Juditha Triumphans, which is set at the turn of the twentieth century, amid the claustrophobic atmosphere of Edwardian society.

Elise, from Bathford in Somerset, said:

“I began more with a painting than a period. I love Klimt’s Golden Phase, and his languidly murderous ‘Judith und Holofernes’ is one of my all-time favourite works of art. I knew I wanted to set my story in 1901, when’ Judith’ was painted, which led me to start exploring dynamics of violence and desire towards (and between) Edwardian women—and the restrictions they faced.”

The two winners each receive a £500 travel grant, their stories will be published in this year’s Young Walter Scott Prize Anthology, and they will be special guests at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, in June (13th-16th) to be presented with their prizes.

Runners-up and highly commended young writers were also awarded in each age category.  In the 11-15 age group, two runners-up were awarded: Sylvia Davidson for God is Over All and Maymady Kyaw for Rubies.  There were also four highly commended writers in the younger category: Uthman Ahmed for The Nakbah, Elin Day-Thompson for The Girl with Hope, Isabelle Edwards for This Is It, Then, and Sara Musabbir for The Canary Girls.

In the category for writers aged 16-19, two runners-up were awarded: Ide Crawford for Remember Me, and Atlas Weyland Eden for Mora.   Four highly commended writers were also recognised: Alexa Baumann for The Newspapers Told of His Death, Alexander Drysdale for Coronation Day, Hersh Singh for Fighting Girlfriend and Aaran Thakore for I Am Uganda.

On the judging panel this year was award-winning author Elizabeth Laird (Chair); Young Walter Scott Prize director Alan Caig Wilson; literary agent Kathryn Ross; former Literary Editor of The Scotsman, David Robinson; and previous winner of the Young Walter Scott prize, Rosi Byard-Jones.

Founded in 2015, the YWSP has an association with the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, which was last year awarded to Lucy Caldwell for These Days.  The 2023 Walter Scott Prize longlist was released in February from Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott himself, with the shortlist due in May, and the winner set to be announced at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose in June (13th-16th).  The winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize will also be presented with their awards at the same event.

The YWSP was founded by the Duke and the late Duchess of Buccleuch. Sir Walter Scott was a kinsman of the Dukes of Buccleuch; Henry, 3rd Duke to whom his first major success The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border was dedicated; Charles, 4th Duke, his close friend; and Walter Francis, the 5th Duke, for whom he was guardian and mentor.  The 10th Duke founded the Walter Scott Prize in 2010 to honour the immense contribution Scott made to cultural life worldwide.  The Walter Scott Prize is now managed by The Abbotsford Trust, an independent Scottish charity, and supported by Hawthornden Foundation.  Both prizes are supported by the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust.

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