We are thrilled to announce that 6 books published by Birlinn and Polygon have been shortlisted for Scotland’s National Book Awards, administered by the Saltire Society. This prestigious prize celebrates the best of Scottish writing and publishing, and it is a great honour to see so many of our authors recognised in this way. Our shortlisted books are as follows:
Blood Salt Spring, Hannah Lavery – Poetry Award
Blood Salt Spring is the debut poetry collection by Edinburgh Makar Hannah Lavery. This collection is a meditation on where we are – exploring ideas of nation, race and belonging. Much of the collection was written in lockdown and speaks to that moment, the isolation and the traumas of 2020 but it also looks to find some meaning and makes an attempt to heal the pain and vulnerabilities that were picked and cut open again in the recent cultural shifts and political wars. ‘It is a wonderful honour to be shortlisted,’ responded poet Hannah Lavery. ‘I am really pleased my work resonated with the judges.’ Editor Edward Crossan says ‘We are so proud that Hannah’s powerful and honest collection Blood Salt Spring has been shortlisted for the Saltire prize. With beautifully engaging poems, this book takes the reader on a journey and interrogates identity, race and belonging. Filled with energy and immediacy, this is an important book from Edinburgh’s Makar and one that we are thrilled to have on the Polygon list.’
A Sky Full of Kites, Tom Bowser – First Book Award
A Sky Full of Kites tells the remarkable story of the Argaty Red Kite project, and the re-establishing of these magnificent raptors to Scotland. Editor Andrew Simmons says, ‘We’re very pleased to hear that A Sky Full of Kites has been shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award. Tom’s account of how he turned his family farm into a huge rewilding project is a wonderful, positive story in these troubled times that doesn’t shy away from the controversial issues around conservation.’ Author Tom Bowser says, ‘I’m absolutely thrilled to be shortlisted for the First Book Award and would like to thank family, friends and everyone at Birlinn for all of their support along the way. Wishing all of the other shortlisted authors the very best of luck.’
Alternatives to Valium, Alastair McKay – Non-fiction Award
Alastair McKay grew up in the fading Scottish seaside town of North Berwick in the 1970s. An exceptionally shy boy, Alastair found his voice through the punk explosion, and this book recounts the many outrageous anecdotes and fond recollections from Alastair’s early life through his successful career in journalism. Editor Alison Rae says ‘We are over the moon that Alastair’s punk memoir has been shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s non-fiction award. His joyful account of life in a wee Scottish town and his encounters in a career of music journalism is endearing and fascinating in equal measure. It couldn’t happen to a nicer man.’ Alastair McKay says ‘I’m chuffed that Alternatives To Valium has been shortlisted for the Saltire Society’s prestigious National Book Awards. Though it is disguised as a punk rock fanzine, the book is an attempt to revisit the idealistic open-mindedness of youth, so it’s a great thrill to think that it may have succeeded on some level.’
Mael Coluim III Canmore, Neil McGuigan – History Award
The legendary Scottish king Máel Coluim III, also known as ‘Malcolm Canmore’, is often held to epitomise Scotland’s ‘ancient Gaelic kings’. The book explores the wider political and cultural world in which Máel Coluim lived, guiding the reader through the pitfalls and possibilities offered by the sources that mediate access to that world. Birlinn’s MD Hugh Andrew says ‘Producing a biography of a major historical figure is a feat in itself. Producing a study of an early medieval figure is of an even higher order. With fragmentary and difficult sources, with conflicting narratives and with little to give a sense of personality, it involves the reconstruction of a vanished world. Neil’s achievement in so doing is of the highest order. Author Neil McGuigan says ‘It is a delight to see the book and research honoured with consideration for this important award’.
Putting the Tea in Britain, Les Wilson – History Award
From the Indian Mutiny to the London Blitz, offering a ‘nice cup of tea’ has been a stock British response to a crisis. But tea itself has a dramatic, and often violent, history. ‘The shortlisting of Les Wilson’s Putting the Tea in Britain is well deserved,’ says editor Andrew Simmons. ‘This story of our national drink is both entertaining but also thought-provoking in exposing the cost in terms of human exploitation and environmental damage that our craving for tea caused.’ Author Les Wilson says ‘I am humbled – but delighted! – to be shortlisted for this prestigious award. The non-fiction that I’ve written have all come from a passion for the subject, but I’ve often written with the terrible thought that nobody else will care about it. Being short-listed is a wonderful confirmation that I’m not alone in finding the interweaving of the story of one of the great international commodities and the history of our nation fascinating. I’m, in a word, ‘chuffed’.’
Blood and Gold, Mara Menzies, Fiction Award
In Blood and Gold, Mara Menzies draws on her Scottish and Kenyan ancestry to explore contemporary stories through myth and legend. ‘We are quite simply over the moon to hear that this exceptional and important book has been recognised by a Saltire shortlisting,’ responds Publicity Director and Deputy MD Jan Rutherford. ‘In Blood and Gold: A Journey of Shadows, Mara draws on the power of story to explore our fractured contemporary world. The result is as exquisite as it is powerful. We knew Mara first through performance – the challenge was to capture her light on the page. History, legend, storytelling and the twin oral traditions of her dual Scottish and Kenyan cultural heritage – all have come together here in this book to create such beauty, such strength as Mara explores what it is to grow up black in a white world – a rapidly changing world – with the dark shadow of racism and prejudice, and the long, difficult tail of colonialism. But, just as the dying mother in her story brings self-awareness and self-respect to her young daughter, she brings to us the readers, hope for Scotland’s future.
This Edinburgh writer and performer has the power of story in her head and in her heart and in her voice and in her pen. There is nothing superficial here. She is using her skill to change the narrative, to transform our nation one reader at a time. And we are excited and humbled to be her publisher.’
Mara’s words are beautifully complemented by the illustration of Edinburgh based artist Eri Griffin.
You can read more details of the full shortlists on the Saltire Society website here.