Scottish forensic scientist wins Saltire literary prize

Prize winner Sue Black. Picture: Pako Mera/REX/ShutterstockPrize winner Sue Black. Picture: Pako Mera/REX/Shutterstock
Prize winner Sue Black. Picture: Pako Mera/REX/Shutterstock

A world-leading Scottish forensic scientist Sue Black last night won the nation’s most prestigious literary prize – for a memoir exploring how she deals with death every day of her life.

The Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year prize was awarded to Sue Black, the Inverness-born anatomy professor and forensic anthropologist, who has worked in war and disaster zones, as well as helping to solve murder cases.

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Her book, All The Remains: A Life in Death, was described by the judges as “curiously uplifting and life-affirming.”

Previous winners of the Scottish Book of the Year award include Muriel Spark, Edwin Morgan, Alasdair Gray, William McIlvanney and Liz Lochhead.

Black has described her memoir, which was also named best non-fiction book at the awards ceremony in Edinburgh, as “being as much about life than death.” It focuses on mortal remains in her lab, at burial sites, at scenes of violence, murder and criminal dismemberment, and when investigating mass fatalities after the war in Kosovo and the tsunami in Thailand.

The book was published months before Black moved from Dundee University, where she spent 15 years, to take up a vice chancellor position at Lancaster University.

Discussing her book earlier this year, Black, whose first job was in a butcher’s shop, said: “I tend not to get upset in the horrendous situations where you might expect members of the public to become upset.

“This is what we do and what we’re trained to do. I’ve never had a nightmare or woken up worrying about something, I’ve never had a good cry in the corner about anything. It doesn’t affect me in that way at all.”

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Fife-based English teacher Mick Kitson won the best first book prise for Sal, a novel about two Scottish schoolgirls who run away from home.

He said previously: “It is the first novel I have ever attempted. I wanted to write a modern adventure story along the lines of Huck Finn or Kidnapped. I also wanted to put lots of things in it that I like doing – like fishing, bird watching and swearing.”

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Other winners included an Aberdeen-based writer from Sudan, Leila Aboulela, who won the best fiction book prize for a short story collection of the lives of immigrants “as they forge new identities and reshape old ones.” Born in Cairo, she was brought up and studied economics at university in Khartoum before studying at the London School of Economics.

She started writing after moving to Aberdeen, where she worked as a university research assistant.

The Drowned and Saved, Les Wilson’s account of the sinking of two ships off the coast of his native island of Islay, with the loss of more than 500 American servicemen, was named the history book of the year.