Michel Faber wins Scottish Book of the Year title

Michel Faber, the celebrated Dutch-born writer who has lived and worked in the Highlands for more than 20 years, has won Scotland’s most coveted literary honour.

Michel Faber, winner of the Saltire Literary Book of the Year Award. Picture: Esme Allen

The author of Under the Skin, the haunting story of an alien preying on hitchhikers in the Highlands, claimed the Scottish Book of the Year prize with a new science fiction novel.

The Book of Strange New Things, which sees a pastor travel from Earth to a neighbouring plane to teach Christianity, also won the Scottish fiction prize at the annual Saltire Literary Awards.

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Faber, 55, was honoured 16 years after he won the Saltire “first book” award for his short story collection Some Rain Must Fall. In 2000 he published Under The Skin, his debut novel, which was turned a hit film starring Scarlett Johansson as the mysterious alien abductor.

Another previous novel, The Crimson Petal and the White, a psychological thriller set in Victorian-era England, was adapted into a four-part television drama by the BBC.

Faber, who lives in Ross-shire, won the Scottish Fiction Book of the Year prize ahead of new books by Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway, Kate Atkinson and Andrew O’Hagan, as well as Gaelic writer Norma MacLeod.

Faber’s book was hailed by The Scotsman critic David Robinson as “a novel so full of ideas, so charged by plot, so odd and wonderful, and written with astonishing emotional precision.”

The Saltire Society, the cultural body which has staged the awards since 1937, described Faber’s new book as “a powerful examination of humanity and how a failure to communicate can gradually erode marital intimacy.”

Previous winners of the Scottish Book of the Year honour include Dame Muriel Spark, William McIlVanney, Alan Warner, Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and AL Kennedy.

Faber said: “When I emigrated from Australia to a remote part of Scotland in 1993, I never expected that it would be the beginning rather than the end of my literary career.

“I’m so moved and grateful that this honour has been bestowed on my work. You’ve made an alien feel very welcome!”

The prestigious first book prize was claimed by Edinburgh-based writer Helen McClory for On the Edges of Vision, a collection of “dark” short stories and prose poetry.

She said: “That On the Edges of Vision was published at all seems to me a minor miracle — a case of the right editor at the right moment. Erin McKnight, the Scotland-born American founder of Queen’s Ferry Press, took this collection of flashes, dusted and sharpened them where they needed to be, and ushered them into the world.”

American writer and performer Ryan Van Winkle, a poet-in-residence with the Edinburgh City Council’s libraries service, won the Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award for his latest collection, The Good Dark.

He said: “Having chosen Scotland as my adopted home, this is a very special honour for me. I did not expect this at all and am proud that the Saltire Society found ‘The Good Dark’ worthy. I am flattered and grateful for this distinction.”

Books about the Scottish diaspora and migration, and the response of Scotland’s artists to war and conflict throughout the 20th century were also honoured at the ceremony, which saw Glasgow-based Freight Books named publisher of the year months after taking over the firm Cargo.

Jim Tough, executive director of the Saltire Society, said: “Given the sheer breadth and variety of writing talent on display, this has been a vintage year for the Saltire Literary Awards. “

Janet Archer, chief executive of arts agency Creative Scotland, said: “The strength of this year’s shortlist is testament to the quality and scope of Scotland’s rich literary scene.”

Full list of Saltire Literary Awards winners

Scottish Research Book of the Year Award:

Clubbing Together: Ethnicity, Civility and Formal Sociability in the Scottish Diaspora to 1930 (Liverpool University Press), by Dr Tanja Bueltmann.

Scottish History Book of the Year Award:

A Chasm in Time: Scottish War Art and Artists in the Twentieth Century (Birlinn), by Dr Patricia Andrew.

Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award:

The Good Dark (Penned in the Margins), by Ryan van Winkle.

Scottish First Book of the Year Award:

On the Edges of Vision (Queen’s Ferry Press) by Helen McClory.

Scottish Fiction Book of the Year:

The Book of Strange New Things (Canongate), by Michel Faber.

Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year:

Adventures in Human Being (Profile Books), by Gavin Francis.

Publisher of the Year:

Freight Books