BELFAST writer Lucy Caldwell has won the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for her novel These Days, a story of loss and love set during the aerial bombardment of her home city in 1941, which caused some of the worst urban devastation in the UK in the whole of the Second World War.

Her win was announced at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose on 15th June, in a public event which also celebrated the shortlist, and with shortlisted authors attending from as far away as Australia.

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The Walter Scott Prize, founded in 2009, is one of Britain’s most important literary awards. Previous winners include Sebastian Barry, Robert Harris, Andrea Levy and Hilary Mantel.

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The Judges said: “In historical setting, ambition and style, the 2023 Walter Scott Prize shortlist was at its most varied, and the judges' discussions lengthy and impassioned. But in Lucy Caldwell’s These Days we found a pitch-perfect, engrossing narrative ringing with emotional truth.

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“Through the visceral shock of the 1941 Belfast Blitz the reader learns exactly what war means - ‘the twinkling of an eye, and all of us changed’, as Florence Bell, mother to Emma and Audrey, recalls of a previous agony. Change comes to the city of Belfast in the form of utter destruction, and to the Bell family in the form of love.

“A story of both great violence and great tenderness, These Days ends at eleven minutes past eleven o’clock, carrying all the freight that number holds. ‘Have you lived a life that is true?’ Lucy Caldwell asks. For the 2023 Walter Scott Prize, it was a winning question.”

The background to her story is the Belfast Blitz, the four German raids on the city in April and May 1941 which left much of the city in ruins and two-and-a half thousand people killed or injured. Lucy Caldwell immersed herself in eyewitness accounts while she was writing the novel, interviewing survivors, including a 103-year-old, and mining the Mass Observation archive diaries of the 40s and 50s.

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She said: “These Days felt so alive to me as I was writing it, so urgent – it didn’t feel like “history” at all, it didn’t even feel like it had happened, it felt like it was happening as I wrote it.”

The Prize is open to novels published in the previous year in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth, and set at least 60 years in the past.

It was founded by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch to honour the nineteenth-century achievements of Sir Walter Scott, considered to be the inventor and father of the historical novel.

The 2023 Walter Scott Prize judging panel comprised Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie, Saira Shah, Kirsty Wark, and was chaired by Katie Grant.

The judges were deeply saddened by the death of their fellow panel member and co-founder of the Prize, Elizabeth, Duchess of Buccleuch, a few weeks before the announcement.

The counterpart of the Prize for young writers, the Young Walter Scott Prize, was also awarded at the Borders Book Festival event, and its two young category winners, Rosie Brooker and Ellie Karlin, were presented with £500 travel grants and printed anthologies containing their work. The Young Walter Scott Prize has grown rapidly in recent years, attracting hundreds of entries from budding historical novelists aged 11 to 19 from across the UK.

Lucy Caldwell paid tribute to the two young writers when accepting her award, explaining how winning a writing prize when she was young had given her 'rocket fuel' to become a writer herself.

The Duke of Buccleuch also held a Colloquium event the day after the Prize at his home Bowhill near Selkirk, in which an invited audience of writers, historians and thinkers discussed the past, present and future of historical fiction.