Welsh a surprise contender for Saltire Awards

IRVINE Welsh, the man the literary establishment loves to hate, has been shortlisted for a major book prize for the first time.

Welsh’s new novel, Porno, is the surprise contender on the shortlist for the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year, announced yesterday. But the bad boy of Scot-lit faces a run for his money - he is up against some of the country’s biggest literary heavyweights.

One favourite for the prize is Janice Galloway, whom many felt should have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, awarded last month, for her novel, Clara, based on the life of Clara Schumann, the wife of the famous composer.

Other hot contenders include Alan Warner, the author of Morvern Callar, which has recently been made into a critically acclaimed film, with his new novel, The Man Who Walks, and The Light Trap, the new collection of poetry by John Burnside.

A previous winner of the prize, Jackie Kay, returns to the shortlist with a collection of short stories, Why Don’t You Stop Talking? There are two non-fiction candidates, a biography of Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane by Professor Rosemary Ashton and The Scottish Enlightenment by Arthur Herman, an American academic.

A spokeswoman for the Saltire Awards said: "The inclusion of Irvine Welsh was a bit of a surprise but you can’t deny the strength of his writing, and I think the panel of judges respect that. It’s very difficult to ignore somebody who is so successful."

The Saltire is the only literary prize Welsh has been associated with. He was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year for his first novel, Trainspotting, in 1993. Controversially, this year’s Booker judges stated they did not reject Porno from their shortlist. Despite being one of the bestsellers of the year, they said they "had no idea it existed".

Welsh tends to be off-hand about the lack of literary recognition, preferring to enjoy his huge cult following, though some suspect he craves it secretly. In the past, critics have been offended by the sexually explicit nature of his writing and his frequent use of expletives.

Catherine Lockerbie, the director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, said: "Welsh is not a writer who wins literary prizes. He’s the people’s choice.

"Some people will be surprised at the inclusion of Porno. It has had mixed reviews. But there’s no doubt that he is a dynamic writing force whatever one thinks of him."

She said the shortlist was one of the strongest for years. " Some people might say this list is the usual suspects, but to me it shows that great Scottish writers are still producing great work."

The Saltire Prize, worth 5,000, is the premiere prize for writing by Scots or about Scotland which is open to fiction, non-fiction and poetry. There is also an award of 1,500 for the Scottish First Book of the Year.

On the shortlist for this award are Michael Mail, a former winner of the Macallan Short Story Competition, Louise Welsh, who has been awarded the John Creasey Memorial Dagger for her crime novel The Cutting Room, Negative Space by Zoe Strachan and Liam McIlvanney’s study of Burns’ political verse, Burns The Radical.

The winners will be announced on 29 November.