Kelman and Welsh vie for top Scots literary prize

James Kelman's Mo Said She Was Quirky is on shortlist. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
James Kelman's Mo Said She Was Quirky is on shortlist. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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SOME OF the biggest names in literature are in the running for one of Scotland’s most prestigious literary awards.

James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy are among those nominated for the Saltire Society’s Scottish book of the year.

On the shortlist for the £5,000 prize is Kelman’s Mo Said She Was Quirky, Welsh’s Trainspotting “prequel” Skagboys, Warner’s novel The Deadman’s Pedal, and Duffy’s latest collection The Bees.

Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall, Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines and Aonghas MacNeacail’s Deanamh Gaire ris a’ Chloc complete the shortlist for the award, which this year celebrate its 30th anniversary.

To qualify for the Saltire Society’s prestigious award, the nominated book must be by a living author of Scottish descent or residing in Scotland, or the subject must be “the work or life of a Scot or engage with a Scottish issue”.

The Scotsman’s literary editor, David Robinson, said that this year’s shortlist is particularly strong.

“It’s usual for the judges to point out that have had an exceptionally difficult task. But this year it’s true – this is a particularly strong shortlist,” he said.

“While I expect that Kelman’s first novel to be written from a woman’s point of view will be in the running, Alan Warner’s The Dead Man’s Pedal is, I think, the best thing he has ever written – and that’s saying something.

“Then again, Kathleen Jamie’s essays in Sightlines about how we look on the natural world are beautifully crafted and a joy to read, and Duffy’s The Bees reminds us that she has talent to burn.

“Yet you could argue that Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall, which mixes fact and fiction in its examination of consumerism, is the most original of them all, and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of support for Aonghas MacNeacaill – and not just from Gaels.”

Though a much coveted award, last year’s winner Alasdair Gray caused controversy when he initially refused to accept the award for his book A Life in Pictures.

It was the third time he had won the prize, but also the second time that he had refused to accept it.

The Glasgow-based writer and painter first won the prize in 1981 for his celebrated debut novel Lanark, subtitled A Life in Four Books, considered one of the great works of Scottish literature, and again for his second work Janine in 1982.

He refused the award for the latter on the grounds that he believed the money would better benefit a younger writer.

Gray eventually decided to accept the prize for A Life in Pictures.

The winner of the book of the year award will be announced at a ceremony in the National 
Library of Scotland in Edinburgh on 30 November.


The Bees, Carol Ann Duffy: Her first collection of new poems as Poet Laureat, The Bees is a shift from the intimate focus of her previous collection, the TS Eliot prize-winning Rapture. The book sees the poet running the full range of subject matter: drinking songs, love poems, poems to the weather, poems of political anger, as well as elegies for beloved friends and, most movingly, the poet’s own mother. Critics acclaimed the collection for “delivering poems that are sparer, purer and more often more musical than ever before,” praising her “dexterity”.

Déanamh Gáire Ris A’ Chloc, Aonghas MacNeacail: Translated as ‘Laughing at the Clock’, MacNeacail is widely regarded as the foremost poet writing in Gaelic today.

This bilingual collection, published to mark the poet’s 70th birthday, sees him focusing on love, ageing, memory, language, politics and landscape.

Tales from the Mall, Ewan Morrison: Using a mix of fiction, essays and true stories, Morrison traces and lays bear the rise of modern life’s iconic symbol, the shopping mall. Drawing from more than a hundred interviews and confessions, the author re-tells the true-life tales of those who work, shop and even find love inside their walls.

Praised as “touching and emotional” while also “locating menace beneath the sleekness and shine of postindustrial life”.

Dead Man’s Pedal, Alan Warner: The Morvern Callar author’s latest novel is a comedy that follows 16-year-old Simon Crimmons life in the Scottish Highlands during the 1970s. Stuck in a dead-end rural community, and well aware that his life is going nowhere, his world is suddenly thrown open when he meets the louche, bohemian Alex, and his dark, gorgeous sister, Varie, with whom he falls in love with. Lauded as achieving “textures of ecstatic beauty” and as the author’s best yet.

Skagboys, Irvine Welsh: A ‘prequel’ to Trainspotting, it traces the original book’s characters’ journeys as likely lads to young men addicted to the heroin which has flooded their disintegrating community. Focusing on the destruction wrought on working class communities by government policies of the 1980s, it sees its characters mired in a time of drugs, poverty, AIDS, violence, political strife and hatred - effectively setting out “where it all went wrong for them”

Described as “the voice of punk... grown eloquent”, critics praised Skagboys as a masterpiece that cemented Welsh’ position as one of the most significant writers in Britain.


Mo Said She Was Quirky, James Kelman: The writer’s latest novel centres on a young working mother, Helen, a casino croupier who is hemmed in by a hard life. The novel follows 24 hours in the life of Helen, as she faces the every day iniquities, living in poverty with her Pakistani Muslim boyfriend in Glasgow. Praised by one critic as presenting the “multi-faceted ways in which a working woman and her daughter are susceptible to severe hardship”, while another described it as “by turns heart-breaking, profound and bitterly funny”.