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Saltire Society Literary Awards 2011

December 1st, 2011 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »
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Alasdair Gray's award winning A Life in Pictures

Professor Claire Squires, Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication, has this year been one of the judges for the Saltire Society Literary Awards. The Awards were made today in a ceremony at the National Library of Scotland. She writes here about her experience of being a judge:

For a while now, I’ve had a research interest in literary prizes. I organised a conference on the topic in 2003, at which James F English gave a keynote lecture which would eventually end up as part of his impressive book on cultural awards, The Economy of Prestige. I’ve also written about literary prizes, including in my book Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain. In this, I traced the role of literary prizes in validating books, establishing authors’ careers, promoting literature, and – all important to the publishing industry – selling books.

More recently, I’ve been acting as the administrator (this year, with the able assistance of  MLitt in Publishing Studies student and intern Helen Lewis-McPhee) for the DeLong Book History Book Prize, which the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing runs, and wrote a blog for them about literary prizes over here. Back when I worked at Hodder & Stoughton, I had the responsibility for submitting our books to prizes (and I remember our excitement when William McIlvanney won the Saltire Book of the Year Award for The Kiln.)

But this year for the first time I’ve been acting as a judge, for the Saltire Society Literary Awards. This has meant, since June, reading over 100 books for the First Book of the Year and the Book of the Year. As you can imagine, this proved both a fantastic experience and a challenge, to the point where I actually felt physically sick from reading so many books at one point. (Don’t worry – I’ve recovered and am reading again.)

Today, we made our awards: to Luke Williams for his brilliantly assured debut novel The Echo Chamber, and to Alasdair Gray for his wonderful A Life in Pictures. Awards were also made for the Scottish History Book of the Year to Emma Rothschild for The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth Century History and for the Scottish Research Book of the Year to James McGonigal for Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan. His publisher Sandstone later celebrated with deluxe chocolate brownies, I hear.

The experience of judging literary prizes is always going to be slightly different from that of analysing or commenting upon them, but nonetheless the two awards I was involved with backed up some of my knowledge about how they work. Luke Williams’ publisher Hamish Hamilton confirmed after the ceremony that they’ve brought forward the release of the paperback of his book to capitalise on sales. Fancy a prize winner for Christmas? (I’d recommend it!)

And then: controversy! The judging panel had decided (unanimously) to award Alasdair Gray the Book of the Year. However, just before the ceremony, we found out via his publisher Canongate that he had decided to refuse the award. We quickly reconvened and – although we had a very fine shortlist (including one of my favourites, A L Kennedy’s The Blue Book) – we decided (as BooksfromScotland.com reported it) to refuse the refusal. Will this refusal end up having a greater publicity impact than accepting? We’ll see. There’s almost bound to be an article in the Scotsman about it tomorrow…