Book - The Saltire Society Awards


The Saltire Society announced the winners of their 2019 Literary Awards over the weekend...

In a ceremony in Edinburgh on St Andrew's Day, presided over by BBC Presenter Cathy MacDonald, Awards were presented in the following literary categories:



Scottish Fiction Book of the Year

WINNER: Nina X by Ewan Morrison (published by Little Brown Group/Fleet Imprint)

Synopsis: Nina X has never been outside. She has never met another child.
Nina X has no books, no toys and no privacy.
Nina X has no idea what the outside world is like.
Nina X has a lot to learn.

Nina X has no mother and no father; she has Comrade Chen, and Comrades Uma, Jeni and Ruth. Her closest emotional connection is with the birds she sees when she removes the plasterboard that covers her bedroom window. Comrade Chen has named her The Project; she is being raised entirely separated from the false gods of capitalism and the cult of the self. He has her record everything in her journal, to track her thoughts. To keep her ideology pure, her words are erased, over and over again. But that was before. Now Nina is in Freedom, and all the rules have changed. She has to remember that everything is opposite to what she was told, and yet Freedom seems to be a very confusing and dangerous place.



Scottish Non Fiction Book of the Year

WINNER: The World I Fell Out Of, a memoir by Melanie Reid (published by Fourth Estate, Harper Collins).

Synopsis: On Good Friday, 2010 Melanie Reid fell from her horse, breaking her neck and fracturing her lower back. She was 52.

Paralysed from the top of her chest down, she was to spend almost a full year in hospital, determinedly working towards gaining as much movement in her limbs as possible, and learning to navigate her way through a world that had previously been invisible to her.

As a journalist Melanie had always turned to words and now, on a spinal ward peopled by an extraordinary array of individuals who were similarly at sea, she decided that writing would be her life-line. The World I Fell Out Of is an account of that year, and of those that followed. It is the untold ‘back story’ behind Melanie’s award-winning ‘Spinal Column’ in The Times Magazine and a testament to ‘the art of getting on with it’.

Unflinchingly honest and beautifully observed, this is a wise and inspiring memoir about risk and dilemma, heroism and love . Above all, The World I Fell Out Of is a reminder that at any moment the life we know can be turned upside down – and a plea to start appreciating what we have while we have it.



Scottish Poetry Book of the Year

WINNER: Hand Over Mouth Music, a collection of poetry by Janette Ayachi (published by Pavilion Poetry)

Synopsis: Janette Ayachi's dazzling first collection moves between remembered and imagined spaces as she celebrates the world's variousness, and the energies and exhaustions of the body. Revelling in the many voices she might find for herself, Ayachi locates herself in both her Algerian and Scottish roots, her relationships with her family and lovers, her own motherhood, and an equally joyful but more precarious exploration of desire. More than anything, this book is a celebration of all Ayachi loves and has loved, especially her own daughters. It is a book that makes a space for itself in the disruptive pleasures of writing, in the face of all that might stifle her, alive to all the potentials of laughter and silence as well as song.



Scottish History Book of the Year (supported by the Scottish Historical Review Trust)

WINNER: Alexander III; 1249-1286, First Among Equals by Norman H Reid (published by Birlinn)

Synopsis: Presiding over an age of relative peace and prosperity, Alexander III represented the zenith of Scottish medieval kingship. The events which followed his early and unexpected death plunged Scotland into turmoil, and into a period of warfare and internal decline which almost brought about the demise of the Scottish state. This study fills a serious gap in the historiography of medieval Scotland. For many decades, even centuries, Scotland's medieval kingship has been regarded as a close likeness of the English monarchy, having been `modernised' in that image by the twelfth- and thirteenth-century kings, who had close relationships with their southern counterparts.

Recent research has cast doubt on that view, and this examination of Alexander III's reign is based on a view of Scottish kingship which depends on much firmer continuity with its earlier, celtic past. It challenges accepted truth, revealing that the nature of state and government, and the relationships between ruler and subject, were quite different from the previous `received view'. On the cusp of a dynastic catastrophe which led to economic and political disaster, Alexander III's reign captures a snapshot of Scotland at the end of a period of sustained peace and development: a view of the medieval state as it really was.




Scottish Research Book of the Year

WINNER: Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community by Kirstie Blair (published by Oxford University Press)

Synopsis: This volume reassesses working-class poetry and poetics in Victorian Britain, using Scotland as a focus and with particular attention to the role of the popular press in fostering and disseminating working-class verse cultures. It studies a very wide variety of writers who are unknown to scholarship, and assesses the political, social, and cultural work which their poetry performed.

During the Victorian period, Scotland underwent unprecedented changes in terms of industrialization, the rise of the city, migration, and emigration. This study shows how poets who defined themselves as part of a specifically Scottish tradition responded to these changes. It substantially revises our understanding of Scottish literature in this period, while contributing to wider investigations of the role of popular verse in national and international cultures.


From these five categories, the Scottish Book of the Year was chosen and, this year, it went to Kirstie Blair's book.  The judges "found its accessibility in subject and in its writing profound" adding that "The fact that it is an important, significant piece of research did not discolour its enjoyability, with laugh out loud moments and fascinating facts. The judges felt a warmth from it and to it."

The National Library of Scotland support the Saltire Society Scottish Research Book of the Year, and The National Library of Scotland’s Associate Director of Collections and Research, Robin Smith said “It’s not every day the winner of the research category scoops the overall Saltire prize, which demonstrates just what a compelling and important read Ms Blair’s work is. Research adds to our collective understanding of the world around us, and sharing the resultant knowledge is just as important as the activity itself. We encourage and promote research on every subject imaginable at the National Library, and we’re delighted to continue to support this award.”



In other Awards presented on the night, The Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award was presented jointly to two authors – Stephen Rutt for his book The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds (published by Elliott & Thompson) and Clare Hunter for her Threads of Life (published by Sceptre/Hodder & Stoughton).

The panel of Judges for this Award were taken by Rutt’s personal journey from an overwhelming job to being among seabirds, “the book’s transportative aspect means the reader not only learns new things but experiences them”.

On Hunter's Threads of Life they commented “A work that weaves the political, communal and complex history of needle craft. Hunter shares her personal relationship to this craft while shining a light on an often-overlooked aspect of the creative arts, one brilliantly stitched into women’s history, and larger global politics.”


Two publishing Awards were presented – The Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year was awarded to Sandstone Press, based in Inverness who have provided a platform for Scottish subjects and taken risks with translated fiction, resulting in publishing the winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize. 404 Ink were Highly Commended. The Saltire Society Emerging Publisher of the Year Award, presented in partnership with Publishing Scotland, was awarded jointly to Kay Farrell of Sandstone Press and Alan Windram of Little Door Press. Jamie Norman of Canongate books was Highly Commended.



In a new Award for 2019, The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada (translated by Chris Andrews), published by Charco Press and designed by Pablo Font was awarded The Saltire Society Scottish Book Cover of the Year, with judges saying “The design echoes the story within while allowing the viewer room to take from it their own meaning. The use of colour and an evocative image creates a strong, bold cover.”


The Callum Macdonald Memorial Award for the publisher of an outstanding example of pamphlet poetry published during the previous year was won by Sarah Stewart for Tapsalteerie, Glisk. This Award is administered by the Scottish Poetry Library and it is the first time it has been presented as part of the Saltire Society Literary Awards.


Finally, the Winner of the inaugural Saltire Society Lifetime Achievement Award was announced as Alasdair Gray, who was born in 1934, graduated in design and mural painting from Glasgow School of Art. His acclaimed first novel, Lanark, written over almost 30 years, was described by The Guardian as ‘one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction’. Since the publication of Lanark in 1981 he has written, designed and illustrated seven novels, including Poor Things which won him a Whitbread Novel Award and Guardian Fiction Prize. several books of short stories, a collection of his stage, radio and TV plays and a book of his visual art, A Life in Pictures.

The Saltire Society judges commented “Before the publication of Lanark, Alasdair Gray was best known for his painting. A seminal piece, Lanark is often referred to as the Glasgow Ulysses. This however was not a one-off masterpiece. For over 40 years, Alasdair Gray’s plentiful and diverse work has influenced writers and the literary scene worldwide.”

Mairi Kidd, Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing, Creative Scotland said “In awarding the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award to Alasdair Gray, the Saltire Literary Awards have recognised a true iconoclast. Gray‘s work blazed a trail for rich and experimental Scottish writing, and this year’s winners list is packed with precisely that. Gray, of course, is a polymath with an incredible body of illustration, visual art and design to his name; it therefore seems particularly apt that the Awards should recognise book design for the first time this year. Congratulations to Alasdair, Kirstie, and all the other winners.”

The winners of each category received a bespoke Award created by Inverness based-artist Simon Baker of Evergreen Studios and a cash remuneration.

Images & info - The Saltire Society/Amazon, synopsis from Amazon.