The distinguished journalist and television presenter, Kirsty Wark, has been a regular interviewer and contributor to the Borders Book Festival, coming every year since 2009. In 2014 her first novel was published. The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle was hailed as ‘original and enthralling’ by The Guardian. Kirsty has also been a member of the Walter Scott Prize jury since its inception in 2010. For her the Borders Book Festival is an unmissable event, the start of summer.
“There’s a feeling of excitement in my stomach as I travel the beautiful tree lined road from Edinburgh to Galashiels, watching out for a train on the Borders railway on the weekend of the Borders Book Festival. There is nothing quite like this festival, intimate yet international, filling the grounds of the handsome Harmony House and spilling into the orchard beyond it where there are wonderful food wagons, a performance venue, tented bars and children’s events.
The walled gardens of Harmony House are in full floral bloom during the festival, full of colour – and excitement as the marquees fill with audiences for the sessions. Beyond the garden rises the majestic ruin of Melrose Abbey and in the distance the Eildon Hills look down. I love the Edinburgh Book Festival, contained in Charlotte Square as it is, but there is something especially friendly in Melrose – crowds of people from near and far who have one thing in common – a love of literature and eclectic non-fiction, poetry and even stand up comedy. There is also a Family Book Festival and a special Schools Gala Day.
At the heart of it all is the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction, now in its eighth year. It is one of the best funded literary prizes in Britain – and one that is awarded outside of London. The winner receives £25,000 and £1000 goes to each of the shortlisted authors. And all of this is due to the sponsorship of Richard and Bizza Buccleuch, distant kinsmen of Walter Scott. The prize attracts the finest novelists and it’s a measure of its success and the place where it is given that winners just keep coming back. So far as I know, it is the only literary award given at a book festival rather than a black tie dinner, and the public is invited to the prize ceremony to see the astonishment on the winner’s face. Until the festival, the result is a dead secret from all except the jury who decided it.
This year we are especially blessed because the brand spanking new Laureate of Ireland, Sebastian Barry, who won last year for the second time with his glorious and moving book Days Without End, is coming back to Melrose to announce this year’s winner. He’ll be in fine company as the award of this year’s prize was decided after our first ever secret ballot such was the calibre of the shortlist. I cannot wait to drive down that lovely road to Melrose and come to the party that is the Borders Book Festival.”