7th August, 2017

Demelza and Alice honoured at Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival

By Lindsey Fraser, administrator of the Young Walter Scott Prize


Every year we invite our two Young Walter Scott Prize-winners to the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, and we were delighted to welcome Alice Sargent and Demelza Mason, and their families, in June. They had both travelled quite a distance – Alice from Wales and Demelza from Cambridgeshire – but they immediately threw themselves into a busy programme of events and meetings, all taking place during one exceptionally glorious midsummer weekend.

The Borders Book Festival is a live celebration of the written word, at the heart of which is the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. So the first event attended by Alice and Demelza was an evening discussion with authors Jo Baker, Sebastian Barry and Charlotte Hobson, all shortlisted for that prestigious award. It was chaired by the novelist Elizabeth Laird, Chair of the Judging Panel for the Young Walter Scott Prize, and was the best kind of book festival event. The writers read from and talked about their novels, and there followed a discussion that made the event very special – offering unique insights into the world of the novelist (you can read a blog about the event here.) The five writers – the two young winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize plus those published authors shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize – met in the signing tent thereafter.

The following day, Alice and Demelza were given a guided tour of Abbotsford, the fascinating home created by Sir Walter Scott near Melrose on the banks of the River Tweed. An internationally renowned author, Scott had his fingers in any number of political and cultural pies – and he was also an inveterate collector. We could have spent hours on the entrance hall alone, with its eclectic mix of extraordinary artefacts.

Tour of Abbotsford

Back at the festival, there were all manner of events on offer, and Alice and Demelza had an appointment with the actor, voice coach, and Walter Scott Prize ‘reader’ Bridget McCann. Having gone to so much trouble to write their outstanding stories, she talked to them about how to present them to best advantage, and how to read aloud.  This involved getting inside their characters’ heads – even if they had recently died, as alarmingly illustrated by Demelza in our video!

In the evening, the packed event to announce the winner of the Walter Scott Prize began with the Duke of Buccleuch welcoming Alice and Demelza to the stage. Tan Twan Eng, a previous winner of the Walter Scott Prize, presented them each with a certificate, and a cheque for £500. Copies of the new Young Walter Scott Prize anthology which includes their winning stories were given to everybody attending the event. With the presentation over, everybody relaxed over a very happy meal at a local restaurant.

On Sunday morning, Alice and Demelza and their families were invited to brunch at Bowhill, the Borders home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, who instigated the Young Walter Scott Prize. In the garden, under cloudless skies, they mingled with a party of writers, journalists, politicians and other guests.

Thereafter we did some exploring, stopping for tea and cake and books in The Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells on our way to Scott’s View with its lovely outlook towards Melrose and the Eildon Hills. The weather was fabulous throughout, and sitting there on the hillside in warm sunshine was the perfect end to a very happy, laughter-filled weekend.

It was a privilege to welcome Alice and Demelza. Who knows? Perhaps in the future we’ll welcome them as published writers, greeting that year’s winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize.

You can watch our splendid video of Alice and Demelza’s visit below, with thanks to our friends at VOMO for the videography.  For more photographs of their visit, go to our Gallery.