Kathleen Jamie wins Saltire Book of the Year award

Stirling University Professor Kathleen Jamie’s poetry collection sees off books by the likes of Irvine Welsh, Jenni Fagan and James Kelman to win Scotland's top literary award

Feature by The Skinny | 24 Nov 2016
  • Kathleen Jamie

Poetry trumped prose at this year’s Saltire Book Awards tonight at Central Hall in Edinburgh, with a collection of poems by Stirling University Professor Kathleen Jamie taking the top prize, beating big-name authors like Irvine Welsh, Jenni Fagan and James Kelman.

Titled The Bonniest Companie, Jamie’s collection of 51 poems were written over the course of 2014 and reflect on that year’s referendum on Scottish independence. It’s described as “a visionary response to influential local and global forces” and sees the poet meditate on her native Scotland and her place within it. The judges described Jamie’s poems as “utterly relaxed and matter of fact yet profound in their implications.”

‘Scotland makes very good poets’ 

“I'm delighted, but also a bit embarrassed,” said Kathleen Jamie of her win. “It was a terrifically strong shortlist, any of us could have won. Scotland makes very good poets – a fact that's still not as acknowledged as it ought to be. I'm grateful to the judges. It couldn't have been an easy decision."

This isn’t Jamie’s first major prize. Her collection The Tree House won both The Forward Prize for Best Collection and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2004. Her collection The Overhaul, meanwhile, was shortlisted for the 2012 T. S. Eliot Prize and went on to win the Costa Poetry Award that same year.

Considered Scotland’s most prestigious annual book awards, tonight’s ceremony also marks the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary. Jamie is awarded £6,000 for winning the overall book of the year, as well as £2,000 for coming top in the poetry category.

Graeme Macrae Burnet wins best fiction book

The winners in the Saltire Awards other literary categories also pick up £2,000. Graeme Macrae Burnet wins the Fiction Book of the Year award – beating Kelman, Fagan and Welsh – for his Man Booker-nominated His Bloody Project, which is based on a true 19th-century case of a multiple murder in a remote crofting community.

Best history book went to James Hunter’s Set Adrift Upon the World, described as an “evocative account of the Sutherland clearances.” Best non-fiction book, meanwhile, went to Other People’s Money – an examination of the modern finance industry by academic and industry insider John Kay.

Other winners announced at this year’s Saltire Awards include Isabel Buchanan’s Trials, described as “an examination of justice and injustice from the perspective of inmates on Pakistan’s death row,” and Chitra Ramswamy’s Expecting, “an innovative and thought provoking look at pregnancy” – both shared the First Book of the Year award. Research Book of the Year, meanwhile, goes to The Literary Culture of Early Modern Scotland by Dutch author Sebastiaan Verweij.

The Saltire Awards also recognise publishers and this year it was a double win for Floris Books: the Edinburgh-based imprint won both Publisher of the Year and Emerging Publisher of the Year, the latter a newly introduced prize.

‘Awards raise the profile of talented authors’

“This has been another terrific year for the Saltire Literary Awards and an extra special one as we celebrate our 80th anniversary,” said Jim Tough, executive director of the Saltire Society. “Every one of the individual book awards were hotly contested, making the judges’ decision a particularly challenging one.

“We are proud to have seen these awards grow to embrace every aspect of literary Scotland; the emerging and the established, the academic and the poetic, fiction, non- fiction and publishing. Excellence is the common thread, built on the integrity and freely given commitment of our expert panels.”

Jenny Niven, head of literature, languages and publishing at Creative Scotland, who was part of the judging panel, says the awards are vital to our literary culture. “Awards such as this are important as they offer an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the outstanding quality and range of literature in Scotland,” she said, “and raise the national and international profile of talented authors.”