A Capital schoolgirl has taken home one of the top awards at this year’s Young Walter Scott Prize, the UK’s biggest accolade for historical fiction.
Jenny O’Gorman entered the competition, which is in its fourth year, with a piece titled Shadow of Hunger, on the subject of the effects of the Irish potato famine. Her entry was awarded best in the 11-15 age group.
The 15-year-old said she was inspired to write on the subject after visiting the National Famine Memorial in Ireland: “The Memorial is near the foot of Croagh Patrick (a mountain in County Mayo). The monument is of a boat with twisted skeletons in the rigging, and depicts the refugees it carries as dead souls hanging from the sides; symbolising all those who tragically died on the coffin ships during the Irish Potato Famine.
“This was a humbling and emotional experience that stuck with me. My grandparents lived in Galway; the misty Irish landscape is steeped with fascinating history, fairies, goblins, songs and stories which have always captured my imagination.”
Jenny, along with 17-year-old Joseph Burton who won the top prize in the other age group of 16-19, will be awarded with a £500 travel grant, a two-day trip to the Borders Book Festival in Melrose and the opportunity to have a book of their work published.
Among the various other entries from across the country was Andrew Pettigrew of The Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, who suffers severely with both his sight and hearing. Andrew’s piece focused on the Battle of Loos, which he became interested in after stumbling across it in a history textbook. “The account was of a Scottish soldier who fought in the Battle of Loos during the Great War, and who, despite his significant injuries, continued to play the bagpipes in order to encourage his fellow members of the King’s Own Scottish Borders regiment to continue their advance across no-man’s-land”, Andrew said.
“I thought this was an admirable example of how bravery manifests in so many different forms, and, as a pacifist at heart, I wanted this story to shrug off the stereotype of bravery as much as possible. All that, and I really, really wanted an opportunity to write the word ‘codswallop’ because it is a great word, and is rarely used nowadays, sadly”.
Chair of the judging panel Elizabeth Laird said: “It’s been a bumper year both for the quantity and quality of the stories submitted.”
The Duchess of Buccleuch, who sponsors the prizes, added: “I am both proud and moved by the imagination and strength of feeling that I have read in this year’s submissions.
“It is when history is ignored that troubles flare up in our world, and when history is forgotten or warped, that the problems begin. I believe that the future belongs to the young, and it is their desire to look back and learn from the mistakes of past, that gives me hope”