Former gang member in running for Scotland's 'book of the year' prize for debut novel

A former gang member who turned his experiences of growing up in Lanarkshire into a novel is in the running for Scotland's most prestigious literary prize.

Graeme Armstrong's acclaimed debut, The Young Team, is in the running to be named best debut at Scotland’s National Book Awards.

Armstrong will also be up against the likes of Douglas Stuart, Jenni Fagan, Kirstin Innes and Andrew Greig for the coveted title of Scotland's "book of the year" at a ceremony in Glasgow later this month.

Other contenders for the overall prize include a celebration of Hollywood special effects expert Ray Harryhausen, published to coincide with a major exhibition in Scotland, Peter Ross’s exploration of the hidden stories to be found in graveyards, and an in-depth look by former Lothian and Borders deputy chief constable Tom Wood at the investigation that convicted “Jigsaw Killer” Buck Ruxton in the 1930s.

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    Graeme Armstrong was among the guests at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival.

    The Saltire Society, which has been recognising the nation’s best books since 1937, was forced to shelve the event – which recognises fiction and non-fiction writers, poets, publishers and designers – last year after it lost its funding from Creative Scotland.

    The awards, which will return in the Waterstones store on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow on November 27, are now backed by The Turtleton Charitable Trust.

    Armstrong fell into gang culture in Airdrie at the age of 13 and was expelled from school in his mid-teens. But he started writing when he was 16 after reading Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

    Armstrong started to study secretly while still involved in his gang and went on to study English and creative writing at Stirling University.

    Jenni Fagan is in the running for the best fiction book prize at this year's awards, for Luckenbooth. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

    His novel charts main character Azzy's journey over several years as he is forced to choose between leaving his violent world behind or fully embracing the life of a criminal.

    Earlier this year it emerged the rights to a TV adaptation had already been snapped up.

    Armstrong said: “My novel’s setting and language have an unusual cultural epicentre, North Lanarkshire.

    “This is a part of Scotland often overlooked from the outside and still affected by poverty, drugs and violence. To represent my community among the awards is a privilege young men from my area are seldom afforded and a responsibility I don’t take for granted.”

    Kirstin Innes is in the running for best fiction book for Scabby Queen. Picture: Becky Duncan

    Other contenders for the best debut honour include Vanessa Harryhausen’s book on her father Ray’s rise to become one of Hollywood’s best-known special effects experts, Elle McNicoll’s children’s novel A Kind of Spark, about a teenager’s campaign to commemorate the victims of witch trials in her home town, the memoir of a Hebridean islander who ended up in a punk band with Peter Capaldi and Craig Ferguson, Aoife Lyall’s poetry collection exploring experiences of pregnancy, and wildlife writer Keith Broomfield’s new book, If Rivers Could Sing.

    Best fiction book contenders include David F Ross’s There’s Only One Danny Garvey, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan, Kirstin Innes’s Scabby Queen and Duck Feet, by Ely Percy.

    Glasgow-born Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize with debut novel Shuggie Bain. However, his publishers decided to enter Shuggie Bain into the fiction category rather than best first book.

    Fagan said: “It is a real honour to be shortlisted for the Fiction Award in Scotland’s National Book Awards, especially seeing as my novel Luckenbooth is so thoroughly anchored in Scotland and mainly my hometown of Edinburgh.”

    Vanessa Harryhausen is shorted for the book celebrating her father Ray's career as a Hollywood special effects expert.

    Percy said: “Quite frankly, I am ecstatic to be shortlisted.

    "Duck Feet is a novel about hope, and growing up in Scotland, and it’s had an incredible response from Scottish readers in particular who’ve really championed it. To be considered for this award is the cherry on top of the icing for me.”

    Innes said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be on this list, especially given the ferociously good company my book is in. Scottish fiction is exceptionally strong right now so it means a very great deal indeed that Scabby Queen is considered part of that.”

    Ross said: “It’s such a fantastic honour to be shortlisted for Scotland’s National Book Awards.

    "This is an incredible time for Scottish-based literature with Scottish authors creating brilliant works of art that are resonating with people all around the world. To have a book acknowledged by the Saltire Society to have made a contribution in such a context is hugely gratifying.”

    Saltire Society director Sarah Mason said: "The last two years have been difficult for everyone, but the strength and resilience we’ve seen from our publishers, authors and designers is inspiring.”

    Graeme Armstrong's novel The Young Team is inspired by his experiences of gang culture growing up in Lanarkshire.


    Scotland’s National Book Awards Poetry Book of the Year

    Peter Mackay, Nàdar De | Some Kind of (Acair)

    Owen Gallagher, Clydebuilt (Smokestack Books)

    Thomas A Clark, The Threadbare Coat (Carcanet Press)

    Daisy Lafarge, Life Without Air (Granta)

    Andrew Greig, Later That Day (Polygon)

    Garry Mackenzie, Ben Dorain: a conversation with a mountain (The Irish Pages Press)

    Scotland’s National Book Awards First Book of the Year

    Vanessa Harryhausen, Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema (National Galleries of Scotland Publishing)

    Graeme Armstrong, The Young Team (Pan MacMillan/Picador)

    Elle McNicoll, A Kind of Spark (Knights Of)

    Roddy Murray, Bleak: the mundane comedy (Saraband)

    Aoife Lyall, Mother, Nature (Bloodaxe Books)

    Keith Broomfield, If Rivers Could Sing (Tippermuir Books)

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year

    David F Ross, There’s Only One Danny Garvey (Orenda Books)

    Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain (Pan Macmillan/Picador)

    Jenni Fagan, Luckenbooth (Penguin Randomhouse)

    Kirstin Innes, Scabby Queen (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins)

    Ely Percy, Duck Feet (Monstrous Regiment Publishing Ltd)

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Non-Fiction Book of the Year

    Patrick Laurie, Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape (Berlinn Ltd)

    Cal Flyn, Islands of Abandonment (William Collins)

    Tom Wood, Ruxton: The First Modern Murder (Ringwood Publishing)

    Shelly Klein, The See-Through House: My Father in Full Colour (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, Penguin Randomhouse UK)

    Peter Ross, A Tomb With a View (Headline Publishing Group)

    Joe Donnelly, Checkpoint (404 Ink)

    Special Mention:

    Kenneth Roy, In Case of Any News (ICS Books)

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Research Book of the Year

    supported by the National Library of Scotland.

    Wilson McLeod, Gaelic in Scotland: Policies, Movements, Ideologies (Edinburgh University Press)

    Ian Armit & Lindsey Buster, Darkness Visible: The Sculptor’s Cave, Covesea, from the Bronze Age to the Picts (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)

    Frank Rennie, The Changing Outer Hebrides (Acair)

    Nigel Leask, Stepping Westward: Writing the Highland Tour c 1720-1830 (Oxford University Press)

    Richard Whatmore, Terrorists, Anarchists and Republicans: The Genevans and the Irish in Time of Revolution (Princeton University Press)

    The Saltire Scottish History Book of the Year Award supported by the Scottish Historical Review Trust.

    Ness Historical Society Editorial Team with Rachel Barrowman, History with Heart and Soul (Acair)

    Ewan Biggs, Coal Country: The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland (University of London Press)

    Laura Stewart and Janay Nugent, Union and Revolution: Scotland and Beyond 1625 – 1745 (Edinburgh University Press)

    Fiona Edmonds, Gaelic Influence in the Northumbrian Kingdom: The Golden Age and the Viking Age (Boydell & Brewer)

    Richard Oram, David I: King of Scots 1124 – 1153 (Berlinn Ltd)

    Maria Hayward, Stuart Style: Monarchy, Dress and the Scottish Male Elite (Yale University Press)

    Calum Macdonald Memorial Award Shortlist:

    Stichill Marigold

    Broken Sleep

    Roncadora Press


    Stewed Rhubarb

    Mariscat Press

    Publishing Awards

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Publisher of the Year in partnership with Publishing Scotland.

    Heather McDaid, 404 Ink

    Jean Findlay, Scotland Street Press

    Samuel McDowell, Charco Press

    Melissa Tombere, Canongate Books

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Emerging Publisher of the Year in partnership with Publishing Scotland

    Bethany Ferguson, Rights Executive, Canongate Books

    Jamie Norman, Campaigns Executive, Canongate Books

    Ceris Jones, Campaigns Manager, Sandstone Press

    Louise Hutton, Assistant Editor, Edinburgh University Press

    Scotland’s National Book Awards Book Cover of the Year

    Craig Paton, Killtopia – Dave Cook (BHP Comics)

    Cavan Convery & Ryan McGoverne, It’s About Time – Lesley Storm (Leamington Books)

    Iain McIntosh (Illustrations), Abigail Salvesen (Design), In a Time of Distance – Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon, an imprint of Berlinn)

    Andrew Latimer, Apocalypse: An Anthology – Edited by James Keery (Carcanet Press)

    Pablo Font, Fate – Jorge Consiglio (Charco Press)

    Pablo Font, The Adventures of China Iron – Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Charco Press)


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