A PLAYWRIGHT is in the running for the Scottish Book of the Year prize for her acclaimed trilogy based on the Stewart kings.
The James Plays, which were commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland, were seen by more than 30,000 people in Edinburgh this summer. Now Rona Munro’s epic work – one of the biggest theatrical productions ever to be staged in Scotland – has been shortlisted in the Saltire Society’s annual literary awards.
It is unusual for a play to be nominated for a top book award, and Munro is up against broadcaster Sally Magnusson, for a book charting her late mother’s battle with dementia, and authors AL Kennedy, Anne Donovan, Ali Smith and Martin MacIntyre for literary book of the year.
Winners of five separate categories will be announced next month, along with the writer of the overall Scottish Book of the Year, which is drawn from the other five winners. The shortlists for the Saltire Literary Awards – which are widely regarded as the nation’s leading literary honours – were revealed at the annual Wigtown Book Festival last night.
Previous winners of the overall Scottish Book of the Year title – which now comes with a £10,000 prize – include Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, Kate Atkinson, Andrew Greig, William McIlvanney, Janice Galloway and Liz Lochhead.
Two extra categories have been added to the awards this year – one dedicated to poetry collections and another for literary book of the year.
Broadcaster Kirsty Wark is in the running for best first book with her debut novel, a drama set on the Isle of Arran.
She has competition from a sequel to Frankenstein, set in one of the Orkney Isles, by Kate Horsley, and others.
Jim Tough, executive director of the Saltire Society, said: “This year’s judging panel has been truly impressed by the quality and range of books to be considered for the shortlist.
“Ranging from poetry and plays to novels and non- fiction, extending the length and breadth of the country and far beyond, here is a wealth of contemporary literature written by Scots or inspired by Scottish culture, landscape and history.”
Aberdeen-born Munro has written extensively for television, radio and the stage during her career, including Doctor Who in the 1980s.
She was originally commissioned to write the James Plays around three years ago after being asked by NTS’s then artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, to pitch her “dream project.”
A deal to stage the James Plays as part of the Edinburgh International Festival initially was bankrolled by the Scottish Government. Many critics cited the James Plays among their highlights in Edinburgh this summer and they played a huge part in the EIF recording its highest ever box office income, which broke the £3 million barrier for the first time and was also up £750,000 on the previous 12 months.
All three of Munro’s works are being staged in London until the end of next month in a collaboration between NTS and the National Theatre of Great Britain.
Munro said she was “delighted and slightly surprised” to hear she had been nominated for the Saltire Literary Awards. She told Scotland on Sunday: “I had no idea drama texts were eligible these days and I’ve no idea who put the James Plays forward.
“It is all still a bit surreal, to be honest, the whole thing is still sinking in. I was down in London to see all three plays in the one day and at the end when the whole audience gave it a standing ovation.
“I’m just so enormously proud of the company of actors for what they’ve done with the plays.”
The judging panel said of the James Plays: “The trilogy follows the fortunes of James I, II and III, using a fluid cast and setting to imagine the tremendous variety of Scottish court life.
“The voices are modern and the emotions unfixed by historical period. Above all, the plays simmer with energy, and seem set to become classics of their kind.”