BOOKS: Saltire Literary Awards honour the Scottish Book of the Year winner

Douglas Stuart, author of Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain.    Picture by New Yorker

By Democrat reporter

Scotland’s flagship literary awards have scandalously been shelved for at least 12 months – after the competition was turned down for funding by Creative Scotland.

Organisers have been been forced to pull the plug on the Saltire Literary Awards, which honour the Scottish Book of the Year winner each year.

They have launched a hunt for a major financial backer after the withdrawal of the national arts organisation, which provided £40,000 for the awards last year.

The absence of “Scotland’s national book awards”, which date back to 1937, has emerged despite the huge success of several Scottish authors this year, including newly-crowned Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart, and the release of a host of other acclaimed new titles.

Other major Scottish cultural awards have pivoted towards online ceremonies in 2020, including the Scottish Album of the Year, the Scottish BAFTAs, and the Scottish Music Awards. The annual Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, which went online in September, also awarded the McIlvanney Prize this year to Francine Toon.

Alasdair Gray was honoured at last year’s Saltire Literary Awards, weeks before he died.

Picture by Bill Heaney

Previous winners of the main Saltire Scottish Book of the Year title include Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan, Norman MacCaig, Wiliam McIlvanney, Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway and AL Kennedy.

Gray was honoured with a lifetime achievement award last year just a few weeks before he died. His partner was the late Morag Nimmo and the couple were enthusiastic sponsors of the Community Farm at Knowetop in Castlehill, Dumbarton.

The absence of the awards, which normally provide a huge publicity boost to shortlisted authors, has triggered dismay in the industry, which has been badly affected by the coronavirus due to the lengthy shutdown of bookshops, and the cancellation of festivals and reading events.

Trade body Publishing Scotland told the Scottish Parliament earlier this year that the entire sector was “under threat” after nearly half of its members saw sales plummet by between 70 and 90 per cent.

Maggie O’Farrell, who won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel Hamnet.

Picture by Bill Heaney

However major achievements by Scottish authors this year including Douglas Stuart becoming on the second Scot to win the Booker Prize in its history and Maggie O’Farrell winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel Hamnet. Other acclaimed titles this year include Ali Smith’s Summer, Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes, Ian Rankin’s new John Rebus novel A Song for the Dark Times and Val McDermid’s latest Karen Pirie thriller Still Life.

An announcement on the Saltire Society website states: “The team are working hard to secure a sponsor to help make Scotland’s national book awards happen in 2021. We know how important it is to celebrate the incredible work publishers and writers have been doing since the last awards.”

          William McIlvanney, previous winner of the Saltire Award. Picture by Bill Heaney

Sarah Mason, programme director at the Saltire Society, said: “Sadly we did not receive funding for the awards from Creative Scotland and so were not in a position to go forward this year.

“Given the current circumstances affecting so many aspects of the arts, we decided to take this time to reflect on the awards, including the judging and administration.

 “Once we have new sponsorship in place, will be launching the awards for 2021.

“We’ve developed a timeline that means books published since the last awards eligibility criteria are included.

“We have also extended the timeline so the judges will have more reading time and there will be a longer time between the shortlists and the winners being announced. We plan to use this time to allow for more promotion and local events with authors.”

Top picture: Scots author Janice Galloway signs copies of her books at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

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