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Saltire Society judging experience

November 30th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Saltire Society judging experience

This October I got a chance to be a shadow panel judge for the Saltire Society. Every year, the society hosts a literary awards ceremony to celebrate the best of Scottish literature, be it books written by Scots, people living in Scotland, or stories that relate to Scottish people, their history and culture.

As shadow panel judges, applicants such as myself were split into different category groups – Fiction, First Book, Poetry, Non-Fiction – and were asked to read the shortlisted books with a critical eye. I was part of the First Book shortlist reading group, which included six books in a variety of genres including memoir, thriller and fiction: Fallow by Daniel Shand; Language of My Choosing by Anne Pia; Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers; The Caseroom by Kate Hunter; Goblin by Ever Dundas; and Beneath the Skin by Sandra Ireland.

We gathered in the Saltire Society office hidden just off the Royal Mile in November, where Catriona, the SYP Scotland co-chair, greeted us with biscuits, tea, and coffee. Overall, there were four other students that were part of the discussion, one studying English at University of Edinburgh, and three from the publishing course at Napier. Because of the diversity and our understanding of the book industry, the discussion felt very relaxed and friendly. It was also the very first time we were all involved in the process of judging books, and we enjoyed such an experience without much pressure. It was nice to finally meet some students from another publishing course and hear how they are getting along too.

As the discussion went on, we’ve established strong and weak contenders for the prize. We talked about each book individually, touching upon character development, storyline and ideas. We offered our own input on how the books could be improved and themes that could work much better in each context. These are some notes from our discussion:

We thought Fallow had a good representation of the Scottish landscape, and felt like a well-executed road-trip thriller. Mary’s the Name, similarly, provided a good look into Scottish culture and small-town life through the point of view of a child, and with plenty of humour involved. Goblin and Beneath the Skin had a lot of gory similarities when it came to the storyline, and although some of the scenes were a bit too gruesome and made us uncomfortable, both were books that we couldn’t put down. We agreed the historical research that was put into The Caseroom made the book feel very authentic. And lastly, Language of My Choosing had good pacing for a biography – Pia structured and separated it into themes rather than having a sequential story – which made it more enjoyable to read.

After the discussion, we got to cast our votes. We had to pick two books each: our favourite, and one that deserved to win. I think it made us think critically, and not only about our own personal preferences, but of each book as a whole, its and the author’s future potential in the market. We had three definite choices that we thought were great in their own ways. We managed to cut the choice down to two books that we in the end left tied for the top spot. One had a strong writing style and good story development throughout, especially considering it was the author’s first published book, and the other’s story left us engaged, and although it needed some improvement in certain areas of the story, we believed the author had great potential and would be a worthy winner of the First Book prize.

Sadly, the books we chose will have to remain a secret until the Saltire Society Literary Awards show on the 30th of November, where the real judges will reveal their pick for the First Book category. Until then, our shadow panel judge decision, although not being considered by the award judges, will have to remain a mystery.