Women dominate shortlist for Saltire Society’s new ‘inspirational’ writer prize

AL Kennedy won the Saltire First Book prize for Night Geometry And The Garscadden Trains in 1991. Picture: Deadline News/Rex/Shutterstock
AL Kennedy won the Saltire First Book prize for Night Geometry And The Garscadden Trains in 1991. Picture: Deadline News/Rex/Shutterstock
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They have become some of Scotland’s leading literary figures of modern times.

Now a nationwide poll is to be held to decide who will be crowned the nation’s most inspirational writer.

The six-strong shortlist is dominated by women and drawn from previous winners of the title for Scotland’s best “first book” over the past 30 years.

Authors AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, Louise Welsh and Michel Faber and poets Jackie Kay and Kate Clanchy will be among the contenders in a nationwide poll which will be held to decide who has been Scotland’s most influential new writer of the past 30 years.

The Saltire Society, the cultural body which runs the nation’s most prestigious annual literary awards, will be conducting the online poll to mark 30 years of its coveted prize for Best First Book, which is widely regarded as a launchpad for new writers.

A panel of current and previous judges of the award drew up the shortlist for the one-off honour, the winner of which will be announced on St Andrew’s Day.

Glasgow poet Clanchy, whose first collection won the award in 1996, went on to become the first city poet of Oxford, from 2011 to 2013, and was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2018.

Faber, who was born in Holland but moved to Scotland in 1992, was awarded the Saltire prize in 1999 for a short story collection, and went on to have one novel, The Crimson Petal And The White, adapted into a four-part BBC television series and another, Under The Skin, turned into a feature film starring Scarlett Johansson.

Kay, who won the 1992 award for The Adoption Papers, a collection inspired by her own experiences of being the daughter of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother who was brought up in Glasgow by a white family, has been Scotland’s national poet, or Makar, since 2016.

Kennedy, who won the 1991 award for her short story collection Night Geometry And The Garscadden Trains, won the Saltire’s Scottish Book of the Year prize in 2007 for her novel Day.

Smith has been shortlisted several times for the Man Booker Prize since winning the Saltire’s best debut in 1995 for Free Love And Other Stories.

Welsh, who was honoured by the Saltire Society for debut novel The Cutting Room in 2002, has since published another seven novels.

Other leading writers who were honoured with the best debut book prize, but missed out on the shortlist, include the poets Robin Robertson and Dennis O’Donnell, and the novelists Helen McClory and Ever Dundas.

Online voting for the award for the most inspiring Saltire First Book winner will be open on the Saltire Society website until 5 November.

Sarah Mason, director of the Saltire Society, said: “Since being launched in 1988, the Saltire First Book Award has consistently shone a light on a fascinating selection of hugely talented writers, spanning poetry and prose in a wide variety of styles and genres.

“It’s been really interesting to look back over the past 30 years and to observe how many past winners have gone on to make such a lasting impression on the modern literary landscape – here in Scotland, across the UK and internationally as well.

“We wanted to mark this important milestone by celebrating their collective achievement and asking the general public to vote for who they think have been the most inspirational winner of the First Book Award.”

Dolina MacLennan, one of the judges for the special award, said: “With so much unique creative talent amongst the past winners of the Saltire First Book Award, narrowing the public vote down to a shortlist of six has been a real challenge.

“Every past winner has made an enduring impact on the Scottish literary scene in one way or another – and you could make a strong case for every one of them to feature on a shortlist of great writers.

“In drawing up this particular shortlist, we considered each individual writer’s contribution to literature, how they have grown as a writer since winning the award and how much inspiration they have provided to others.

“As we launch the public vote, I look forward to stimulating lots of passionate discussion about these six writers and their work and to seeing who emerges as the ultimate winner of this special 30th anniversary award.”