Saltire Society Awards 2006

BooksfromScotland.com has a personal association with the Saltire Society Literary Awards this year. We spoke to Marion Sinclair who's been a judge of the Awards for the past three years and asked her what's involved:

What is the history of the Saltire Literary Awards?

The awards, for Scottish Book of the Year and Scottish First Book of the Year, were the brainchild of Paul Scott, the well-known member of the Saltire Society, and have been going for 25 years now. In fact, the 25th anniversary will be marked by the production of a special magazine featuring all the prizewinners from previous years.

Who sponsors the awards?

There are three main sponsors: the Faculty of Advocates, the Royal Mail Group, and the National Library of Scotland. In addition, Gillespie Macandrew WS sponsor the History Book of the Year award.

How does it work?

Books are submitted for the awards by publishers, editors of the national newspapers and magazines, and from suggestions by panel members. The definitions are:

'They may be given for any book by an author or authors of Scottish descent or living in Scotland, or for any book which deals with the work or life of a Scot or with a Scottish question, event or situation. The book might be poetry, a novel, a play or other work of imaginative literature, or biography, literary criticism or a study of any Scottish issue. Books of multiple authorship would not normally qualify.'

How many judges are there?

There are 7 plus a Gaelic advisor (although 2 out of the 7 judges have Gaelic too).

What qualities do you need to be a judge?

Before I took this job on, I'd have said, literary judgment. Now I would say, that, plus stamina.

How many books did you have to read? And are you still reading?

This year, there are just over 100 books to read. Slightly down from last year, by about 10, I think. Started reading in May. And, yes, I'm still reading. Now down to the last two.

How often do you meet the other judges and how do you decide on a short list?

We meet about six times over the year and whittle the list down over three meetings: the first in September, as the deadline for submission of titles is September 8th; the second in October where we choose the longlist and the next in November for choosing the shortlist. The Award ceremony itself usually takes place on St Andrews Day in Edinburgh.

Do you argue? Or, rather, how do you come to a decision you are all happy with?

Yes, we do argue and no, we don't rely on coming to a consensual decision without voting when it comes down to the shortlist; the stages in between are pretty consensual. There's a voting system in place which is fair to all the books.

Any bite-size snapshots of your favourites, or aren't you allowed to say at the moment?

No, can't say at the moment, though, of course, I have favourites at this stage. I would be concerned if some books weren't presenting themselves in my mind as potentials for the longlist and shortlist. I haven't discussed the books with the other judges yet so they may not be the ones everyone else is going for.

What do you look for when you read a book and are looking for a winner?

Speaking personally, sheer quality of writing (which I know is vague) but it means that the subject of the book is almost immaterial. If the writing is excellent in some way, if it shows the writer's skill and art, then it merits a place on the list. It's the only way you can judge different genres so that you can compare a poetry book against a novel or a playscript or an autobiography.

What are the highlights of being a judge?

I love getting the new batches of books from the Saltire Society offices. It has allowed me to read books I would never have thought of picking up, introduced me to writers I wouldn't have read, and to get a real feel for the year's crop of writing from Scotland, something that's useful in my day job.

What are the lows of being a judge?

Definitely, the sheer amount of books and the time it takes to get through them all. At the end, it can seem like a gallop as you try to do justice to all the books submitted. It also means that your own reading gets shunted to the side for at least five months.

What do the prize winners win, and do you think it helps sales and reputation for a writer?

The winner of the Scottish Book of the Year gets £5,000 and the First Book of the Year £1500. I think it does help sales but mostly, it's about the reputation of the author. The field each year has been so strong due to the wide remit of the awards that I think to win through all your peers is a huge deal.

Can you give us a weekly update in the countdown to prize winning day?

The longlist will get decided upon this Wednesday, 18th October, Roughly, 20 books will be chosen. The shortlist brings it down to around 6-8 in each of the two categories.

The Saltire Literary Awards will be announced on November 30th. Watch this space as we report back on the shortlist.

For more information on the Saltire Society and its awards, visit: http://www.saltiresociety.org.uk/

These are the short leets for last year, 2005:

The Short Leet for the SCOTTISH FIRST BOOK OF THE YEAR:

The Short Leet for the SCOTTISH BOOK OF THE YEAR:

The Short Leet for the RESEARCH BOOK OF THE YEAR:

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