JK Rowling ruled out of Scots’ favourite book poll

Author JK Rowling. Picture: AP
Author JK Rowling. Picture: AP
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A NATIONWIDE poll to find Scotland’s favourite book is underway - but schoolboy wizard Harry Potter has already been ruled out.

Organisers have snubbed JK Rowling’s multi-million selling creation from its list of the 50 best Scottish books of the last 50 years.

The Edinburgh-based author is arguably the only best-selling living author to be excluded from the Scottish Book Trust’s list, which the public will be asked to vote on over the next few weeks.

Alasdair Gray, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Janice Galloway, William McIlvanney and Joan Lingard are among the authors to have classic novels featured.

However the list also features lesser-known and “forgotten” titles such as Amande’s Bed by John Aberdein, published seven years ago, Swing Hammer Swing by Jeff Torrington, which is 21 years old, and James Kennaway’s 1963 novel The Mind Benders.

The late Iain Banks is the only author to have two books nominated - one under his sci-fi persona Iain M Banks.

The Edinburgh-based author has been excluded from the Scottish Book Trust’s list, which the public will be asked to vote on over the next few weeks.

Authors were eligible for inclusion if their novel was written in Scotland, or they were born in Scotland or currently live in Scotland.

The 50 best books project was instigated in a bid to help revive interest in reading among adults,

The list has been drawn up by literary critic Stuart Kelly, who reviews for The Scotsman, and staff at the Scottish Book Trust, who will be running the poll until the middle of November.

Scotsman literary critic Stuart Kelly’s verdict on the best 50 Scottish books of the last five decades

A final list, which will rate the 10 most popular books based on an online poll which has just opened on the SBT website, will be revealed on St Andrew’s Day, at the end of the third national celebration of literature, Book Week Scotland.

Among the new books to be featured are 2011 novel The Panopticon, by debut author Jenni Fagan, who has just signed a deal to see it turned into a film, Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland winner Ewan Morrison’s Tales From The Mall, from last year, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which was published just a few months ago.

Crime fiction is heavily represented, with Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Val McDermid and Christopher Brookmyre among those nominated for best-selling titles.

Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, which started life as a serial in The Scotsman, is also on the list.

When the poll was announced earlier this month, the national literacy agency - which will be staging more than 400 literary-flavoured event around Scotland during Book Week Scotland - said it wanted to ignite a “national conversation” about what Scots like to read and why.

While some choices like Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark may appear obvious inclusions, with other authors the sheer breadth of their work caused a headache.

Mr Kelly, a Booker Prize judge this year, said: “It took about two days to come up with an initial list, which the Scottish Book Trust then come up with a few suggestions for, although obviously it is based on years of experience.

“I basically decided early on that we weren’t going to include children’s literature at all, as it would just have made it too difficult to get the list down to 50.

“With some authors like Alasdair Gray, AL Kennedy and James Kelman we could easily have picked one of several books for the list.

“If we had included Harry Potter we would have to have included Katie Morag, for example, and I don’t think there’s any doubt Harry Potter is children’s literature.

“I only wanted to choose one book from each author, with the exception of Iain Banks as some people will only have read his literary fiction, while others will only have read his science fiction. It just felt like the right thing to do.

“I started reviewing books for The Scotsman in 2000 so there is perhaps a slight bias towards books that have been published since then, but I’ve never bought into the idea that there were wilderness years for Scottish literature until Alasdair Gray’s Lanark was published in 1981. People like William McIlvanney and Muriel Spark were writing really important work well before then.

“Choosing only fifty books from the last fifty years - half a century which has seen major innovations and developments in the Scottish novel - was never going to be uncontroversial.”

Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, added: “What we are keen to find out, from the public discussion and voting this list stimulates, is whether the authors who are old favourites – like Alasdair Gray and Muriel Spark – will stay the course, or whether other more recent writers have come to resonate more strongly with Scottish readers.

“We really wanted to stick to adult fiction when we came up with the idea as the whole project is about getting people to read books that they might have thought they have read, but have not, and to read books that they really should have read.

“We realise that by trying to pick the best 50 Scottish books from the last 50 years we were only going to scratch the surface.”

Details of how to vote are available on the website scottishbooktrust.com


Scotsman literary critic Stuart Kelly’s verdict on the best 50 Scottish books of the last five decades