Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell winner of Walter Scott Prize 2023

Caldwell scoops £25,000 prize for her novel These Days set during air strikes on Belfast during Second World War

Paul Cargill
Friday 16 June 2023 05:16 BST
Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell interviewed survivors of the Belfast blitz for her novel (BBC/Tom Routh/PA)
Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell interviewed survivors of the Belfast blitz for her novel (BBC/Tom Routh/PA)

Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell has won the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction at the Borders Book Festival being held in Melrose.

She scooped up the £25,000 prize for her novel These Days, a story about loss and love set during the aerial bombardment of her home city during the Second World War.

Her win was announced at a public event on Thursday which also celebrated the short list, with some of the authors attending from as far away as Australia.

Judges described her novel as a “pitch-perfect, engrossing narrative ringing with emotional truth” and praised the story for its “great tenderness” amid “great violence”.

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

Lucy Caldwell

The winning author immersed herself in eyewitness accounts of the Belfast blitz while she was writing the novel, interviewing survivors and mining the Mass Observation archive diaries of the 1940s and 1950s.

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.”

Founded in 2009, the Walter Scott Prize is one of Britain’s most important literary awards with previous winners including the likes of Sebastian Barry, Robert Harris, Andrea Levy and Hilary Mantel.

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

Other shortlisted stories included The Geometer Lobachevsky by Adrian Duncan, Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris, The Chosen by Elizabeth Lowry, The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane, Ancestry by Simon Mawer and I Am Not Your Eve by Devika Ponnambalam.

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.

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