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The Scottish National Book Awards Book of the Year Shortlist 2021

By Thomas Caldow and Hannah Davenport

The shortlist for The Scottish National Book Awards, Book of the Year has been announced. The prestigious award praises the best writers and publishers in Scotland. The awards have been given by the Saltire Society in Scotland since 1937, this year they are supported by the Turtleton Charitable Trust. In order for a piece of work to be eligible for one of the awards the author must either be born in Scotland, or live in Scotland. There are a total of eight categories including everything from poetry to emerging publishers. The awards pride themselves on supporting writers from all backgrounds, writing about a huge range of topics. This year, the award will see work about everything from vikings to video games. The Saltire Society director Sarah Moss has said that “the last two years have been difficult for everyone, but the strength and resilience we have seen from our publishers, authors and designers is inspiring.” Read on to find out more about the five shortlisted entries for Fiction Book of the Year 2021.

Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes (Harper Collins)

Scabby Queen tells the story of the intriguing life of Clio Cambell. A popstar, an activist and most of all, a mystery. Following her death, her friends and enemies alike attempt to piece together her life, questioning who she really was. The story spans five decades and tackles everything from poll tax to Brexit, providing a gritty look into Scotland’s political past. Innes is a writer and journalist living in the west of Scotland. Her debut novel Fishnet was published in 2015 and won The Guardian’s “Not the Booker Prize” and her first non-fiction book was published this month. Scabby Queen has been widely praised and was Waterstone’s “Book of the Month” in May earlier this year.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Macmillan)

Multi-award winning Shuggie Bain is an unsurprising and welcome addition to the shortlist. Set in Thatcher’s 80s in Scotland, the story follows Shuggie and his mother Agnes as they navigate life after being abandoned by Agnes’ philandering husband. The family find themselves fighting to stay afloat in a crippled mining town. The novel is a stark portrayal of the realities of poverty, but Stuart has also written a book which is warm, witty and a beautiful read. Stuart is British-American and currently lives in Manhattan with his husband. His second novel Young Mungo is due to be published in April 2022.

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan (Heinneman)

Fagan’s third novel, Luckenbooth, explores the history of an Edinburgh tenement building over the course of a century as it copes with the arrival of the devil’s daughter. Blending the tales of Scottish folklore with the at times harsh reality of life in the Scottish capital throughout the 20th century, Fagan offers up a darkly compelling vision of an Edinburgh where shapes move in the shadows and the supernatural and everyday live side by side. Already receiving enormous praise from the likes of Ian Rankin, Douglas Stewart (author of Shuggie Bain) and Irvine Welsh, who described it as “one of the most stunning literary experiences [he’d] had in years,” Luckenbooth is sure to be in contention for the top prize.

There’s Only One Danny Garvey by David F. Ross (Simon & Schuster)

“There’s Only One Danny Garvey.” This chant acts as the haunting refrain to David F. Ross’ new novel. The titular Danny Garvey, once a promising footballer has returned from the mainland to the island where he grew up in an attempt to set his life back in order. While coaching the local team with whom he’d once made his name and coming to terms with the new life that awaits him, his memories of past glory days and shameful secrets mingle together in this thoughtful exploration of past trauma and the search for redemption. As The Herald noted in its review, “few novels this year will pack such a hefty emotional punch.”

Duck Feet by Ely Percy (Monstrous Regiment)

Ely Percy’s sharp new offering, Duck Feet follows the life of Kirsty Campbell as she deals with the joys and horrors of adolescence. Arranged as a series of short narratives, the novel’s episodic structure jumps between the stresses of a school disco to an obsession with Scotland’s hottest boyband, all the while confronting the undercurrents of homophobia, racism and classicism which flow between the narratives, shaping the world around Kirsty. Written entirely in Scots (Duck Feet was the recipient of the 2020 Scots Language Publication Grant) Percy’s work is already attracting rave reviews and recognition from across the Scottish literature scene for its bold approach to style.

This year’s nominees offer up visions of Scotland which are not always kind, yet each of the narratives in turn are endlessly engaging, thought provoking and filled with love. Many of these novels will inevitably go on to become classics of modern Scottish Literature, however the winner of this category was announced on 27 November at a ceremony in Glasgow as Ely Percy’s Duck Feet.


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