Saltire Literary Awards – the shortlists announced for Scotland’s National Book Awards 2019.

Scotland has indeed long been an extraordinary cultural and literary country from the era of Enlightenment to Edinburgh being named the first ever Unesco City of Literature in 2004.  In 1919, the James Tait Black Book Prizes were founded at the University of Edinburgh, the oldest literary awards in the world; in 1936 the Saltire Society was founded to support and celebrate the Scottish imagination across all the arts and sciences.

In 1937, the Society launched the inaugural Saltire Literary Awards and today they recognise work across six literary categories (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Research, History, Poetry and First Book) and two for Publishers.  All entrants must either have been born in Scotland, live in Scotland or their books must be about Scotland.

The winner in each category receives £2,000, with all contenders eligible to be selected for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year, receiving a further £5,000.

For 2019, there are two new prizes: Book Cover to recognise creativity and the relationship between the designer, publisher and author.  Also a special Award for Lifetime Achievement to recognise a body of work in its entirety rather than one book, with the writer receiving a cash prize of £2,000.

The Calum MacDonald Memorial Award for the publisher of Pamphlet poetry is presented in partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library.

Sarah Mason, Programme Director at the Saltire Society, said “‘The Saltire Literary Awards celebrate the diversity, quality and richness of books from Scotland over the past year … recognising excellence. and we congratulate the writers and publishers who hav been shortlisted this year.”

This is just a quick overview to highlight a few of these authors and books across several categories.

Nominated for the Saltire Fiction award is Lucy Ellmann for “Ducks, Newburyport”  At over 1,000 words it received glowing reviews for innovative prose and powerful message. The narrative paints a portrait of an Ohio housewife who tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless information in the USA.

“A bravura feat: a stream of consciousness, fierce and succinct wit” – The Scottish Review of Books

“ Ellmann has created a wisecracking Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.” – Financial Times

‘This isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’ The Irish Times 

Also in the Fiction category is “You Will be Safe Here” by Damian Barr, a journalist, playwright and writer of a memoir, Maggie & Me.

He has now published his debut novel, set in South Africa, moving between 1901, covering the effect on a family during the Boer War, to 2010,  observing a radical change in life for sixteen year old Willem.

“Completely gripping and profoundly moving – you care for every character. Each of the very different stories woven together in such unexpected ways.  (Maggie O’Farrell)

“A poignant debut, written with empathy … compassion, wisdom and remarkable sense of poetry, The Guardian)

A diverse range of subjects are captured in the line up for the Non-Fiction Award.  

Melanie Reid has written a personal, painful memoir, “The World I Fell Out Of.”  On Good Friday, 2010 Melanie fell from her horse, breaking her neck and fracturing her lower back. Paralysed from her chest down, she spent almost a year in hospital, determined to gain some movement and learn to rebuild her shattered life.

Melanie Reid, author of her memoir, ‘The World I fell Out Of’

“This is an astonishing and riveting book … It is certainly frightening – a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit’ Alan Massie, The Scotsman

For those who watch real crime TV documentaries may know the name, face and voice of Dr. David Wilson. His book,, “My Life with Murderers: Behind Bars with the World’s most Violent Men”  tells the story of his journey from prison governor (aged 29), to expert criminologist and Professor.

A fascinating and compelling study of human nature, Dr. Wilson gets inside the mind of a murderer to uncover what drives men to kill.

Dr. David Wilson, author of “My Life with Murderers”

“With characteristic brilliance and admirable sensitivity, Wilson illuminates the complex causes of their horrific crimes. A page turner.” (Professor Simon Winlow, British Society of Criminology).

In the running for the First Book of the Year, is Alan Brown for “Overlander: Bikepacking coast to coast across the Scottish Highlands”   Seeking a temporary escape from city life, he plotted a personal challenge: an epic cycle ride across Scotland, wild camping under the stars, on a journey of discovery all the way.

“His sensitive, personal observations on the landscapes, wildlife and people he encounters is an eloquent reminder of the wonderful country we live in. Time to get on my bike.” Andy Wightman MSP

In contrast, another debut book is about the domestic pastime of sewing. “Threads of Life” by Clare Hunter – a history of the world through the eye of the needle, from the Bayeux Tapestry and battlefields to prisons and drawing rooms.

“This patchwork quilt of history, culture and politics ..richly textured” ( Sunday Times)

The Award for Scottish Poetry Book has six books nominated including Edinburgh based writer, Janette Ayachi for “Hand Over Mouth Musi.,”  With Algerian and Scottish roots, she describes family relationships and her role as a mother to two daughters. This is her first collection which gives voice to memories and imagined places.

“Her poems range from Venice to Barcelona, Adriatic Sea to airports, ‘where the choked heart unclogs itself.’   .. the uninhibited wanderlust of someone who is utterly in love with travel” StAnza reviewer

Janette Ayachi, poet and world traveller with a wanderlust spirt of adventure

Christopher Whyte  is a novelist writing in English and poetry in Scottish  Gaelic and translates poetry into English from a range of European languages.. “Ceum air Cheum” (Step by Step), is his sixth poetry collection covering the topic of language and the circle of life. English translation by Niall O’ Gallagher.

The Calum Macdonald Memorial award for a Poetry Pamphlet, a slim, appetising taster.  Jay G. Ying is a poet, fiction writer, reviewer and translator based in Edinburgh and his first book, ‘Wedding Beasts’ is a 20 page, hand sewn, limited edition publication by Bitter Melon.

His peach slice, dusted in sugar, left out on the breakfast tray like an ideogram of a moon …”

 Also on the list is Polygon’s New Poets pamphlet by Iona Lee – Edinburgh poet, visual artist and performer. These poems were conceived behind the retail counter of a bookshop, during loud, late night conversations, and in sticky floored pubs. Her experience of life, both painful and hilarious.

Iona Lee, poet, artist, performer

This is just a quick browse through a selection of the shortlisted books and authors. All the nominated books are listed below.

The winners of all the eleven categories and the overall Saltire Scottish Book of the Year will be announced at a ceremony at the National Museum of Scotland on St. Andrew’s Night, Saturday 30 November.   Full details can be found at

The winter is the ideal time to pick up a seriously good, inspiring, page turning book – a novel, biography, memoir, poetry, nature, travel, history … Happy Reading!

2019 Saltire Literary Awards

The Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award

Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport

Ruairidh MacIlleathain (Roddy MacLean), Còig Duilleagan na Seamraig (Five Leaves of the Shamrock)

Leila Aboulela, Bird Summons

Ewan Morrison, Nina X

Polly Clark, Tiger

Damian Barr, You Will Be Safe Here

The Saltire Society Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award

Dòmhnall Eachann Meek (Donald E. Meek), Seòl Mo Bheatha (My Life Journey)

Mary Miller, Jane Haining: A Life of Love and Courage

Dr David Wilson, My Life with Murderers

Kate Clanchy, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me

Melanie Reid, The World I Fell Out Of

Kerry Hudson, Lowborn: Growing up, getting away and returning to Britain’s poorest towns

The Saltire Society Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award

Christopher Whyte, Ceum air Cheum

Janette Ayachi, Hand Over Mouth Music

Iain Morrison, I’m a Pretty Circler

Ross Wilson, Line Drawings

Roseanne Watt, Moder Dy

Harry Josephine Giles, The Games

The Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award

Angela Meyer, A Superior Spectre

Fraser MacDonald, Escape from Earth:  A Secret History of the Space Rocket

Alan Brown, Overlander

Stephen Rutt, The Seafarers:  A Journey Among Birds

Clare Hunter, Threads of Life

The Saltire Scottish Research Book of the Year Award

Kirstie Blair, Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community

Thomas Devine, The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600-1900

Laura Watts, Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga


The Saltire Scottish History Book of the Year Award

Norman H Reid, Alexander III: 1249-1286, First Among Equals

Alasdair Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life

James Buchan, John Law  A Scottish Adventurer of the eighteenth Century

Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John MacLeod, The Darkest Dawn

R A McDonald, The Sea Kings: The Late Norse Kingdoms of Man and the Isles

Calum Macdonald Memorial Award  

Red Squirrel, Juke Box Jeopardy (Brian Johnstone)

Tapsalteerie, Glisk (Sarah Stewart) and An Offering (Stewart Sanderson)

Essence Press, zenscotlit (Alan Spence)

Bitter Melon Press, Wedding Beasts (Jay G Ying)

Polygon, Polygon New Poets: Iona Lee (Iona Lee)

The Saltire Society Publisher of the Year Award

404 Ink, BHP Comics, Canongate Books, Charco Press, Sandstone Press

The Saltire Society Emerging Publisher of the Year Award

Pauline Cuchet, Canongate Books, Anne Glennie, Cranachan, Kay Farrell, Sandstone Press,

Jamie Norman, Canongate Books, Richard Wainman, Floris Books, Alan Windram, Little Door Books




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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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