Walter Scott Prize goes to…. and a John Cleese event


After all the build up, an exciting evening was had at the Walter Scott Prize event.

Having read all the shortlist candidates save one, determining Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End the rightful winner, he did, indeed, come away with the award.


It was an unseasonably warm day last Saturday. Temperatures were in the 20s C, equating to the 70s F. My native Chicago’s much warmer this time of year, still I was uncomfortably hot with the sun beating down all day. I burnt to a crisp, my fair northern European skin no match, ironically, for the Scottish sun.

Lovely Melrose Abbey was right next door.

Earlier in the day we saw Crichton Castle, along the way

By evening it had begun cooling off, a welcome light breeze gently ruffling our hair. We stood in line anticipating an evening’s entertainment listening to the incomparable Barry. If you’ve never heard him speak, you’ve not experienced how moving an author can be.

The crowd from the previous event streaming out, we planned the best place to sit. Underneath the tent it would be a few degrees warmer, and we could lose the breeze. On the left side of the tent there was an opening nearly as big as the main entrance. We’d make a beeline.

A stranger asked someone nearby, “Is this the Rory Stewart event?” I thought to myself, “Why no, it isn’t. Poor, confused man!” Though I had read and reviewed Rory Stewart’s excellent autobiographical and historical account of walking the Scottish Borders – titled The Borders, read it if you’re excited by the history of Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall – but this, most definitely, was not his signing.

Or was it.


With joyous heart, I looked down at the tickets I’d been clutching, tickets that had sat in my wallet at least two weeks.

Walter Scott Prize Shortlist: check!

Friday 16 June …!

Che …


Friday. The sixteenth of June.

It was Saturday the 17th.

It was, in fact, Rory Stewart’s signing. My happy face slid like an avalanche, my sunburn fading to white from shock. We’d missed the ceremony because I didn’t catch the error sooner. I’d bought tickets for the wrong event. The previous evening had been the author’s panel, a discussion of historical fiction. This day was the main event. Sebastian Barry won the award, but I wasn’t there to see it. He made his glorious speech, but I wasn’t there to hear it.

Instead, I could be found weeping copiously into the pizza we had for dinner, sitting across from poor Chris and feeling like an idiot.

This was the event I’d actually bought tickets for – not just the wrong event to start with, but – insult to injury – I’d managed to miss it, as well:


As for Barry’s speech, when it goes up on the Walter Scott Prize page I’ll post that RIGHT HERE. At least there’s that; I’ll be able to hear and share it.

Upside: I didn’t feck up buying tickets to the John Cleese livestream. I wasn’t fast enough to get us into the tent with him, but they’d set up an overflow.

He was charming, hilarious, a joy. One thing he wasn’t: Sebastian Barry.

Hey ho!

Cleese is a very good sport, indeed

I met him face to face after the event, asking him to sign something utterly ridiculous for a dear friend who’d be over the moon to receive it. What better present to bookend the signed Michael Palin book I’d given her a few years back. With a light signing line, he very graciously took his time with each one of us.

Wonderful man, John Cleese.

Turned out to be a lovely day on the Scottish Borders.

Beauty makes all things better

Before we left, the sun was setting on beautiful Melrose Abbey. How could a day go wrong ending with such a stirring sight.

Answer: It can’t.

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