We’ve still got Saltire Society fever after their excellent Literary Awards ceremony last week, and Stevie Marsden talks in this week’s Day in the Life about working with such an organisation, and researching their awards for her PhD.
I started working with the Saltire Society, a charity dedicated to promoting culture and the arts in Scotland and established in Edinburgh in 1936, in 2012 when I started my Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Stirling.
The purpose of this PhD research project was to produce a history of the Society’s Literary Awards, which have been awarded since 1937 (although the annual Book of the Year Award was not formally founded until 1982). Alongside my research I have been assisting the Society in the organisation and administration of their literary awards, of which there are now six: Fiction Book of the Year, First Book of the Year, History Book of the Year, Non Fiction Book of the Year, Poetry Book of the Year and Research Book of the Year. I also help out with the Publisher of the Year Award, which was founded in 2013.
My position at the Saltire Society encompasses lots of different roles: researcher, marketer, administrator, proof-reader, events organiser. I was even lucky enough to announce the winner of the 2015 First Book of the Year Award at the ceremony! But there are two key parts of the job I particularly enjoy.
Firstly, I love having the opportunity to keep up-to-date with new publications in Scottish literature. As the person who receives the entries for the Literary Awards, I get to see the new publications from authors and publishers and peruse the many beautiful books about, or from, Scotland that we receive. What’s more, I’m in the very privileged position of sitting in on judging panel meetings and I love hearing the judges discuss the books. The judges are an amazing team who read the books voluntarily because they are passionate about celebrating the best literature in Scotland.
Secondly, I really love being a part of the events and ceremonies we hold for the awards. For the first time in 2015 we took shortlisted authors on the road to Waterstones stores in Dundee, Inverness and Dumfries, and there’s really nothing better than hearing shortlisted authors speak about their books to a captivated audience.
There are a lot of books shortlisted for Saltire Society Literary Awards that many people may not ordinarily hear about or read, particularly in the First Book of the Year category, and seeing an audience member buy a shortlisted book and get it signed at the end of an event is always a really special thing to see.
There’s also nothing like being able to see the fruits of our labour during awards ceremonies. Seeing an author or publisher’s expression when they are announced as the winner of an award is amazing, and I love working with an independent institution that rewards authors from a wide variety of genres and literary forms.
Although an integral stalwart of the Scottish publishing industry (and the cultural industries in Scotland more generally), I think the work of the Saltire Society has often been overlooked or taken for granted. We’ve awarded and shortlisted many of the best, and often internationally renowned, Scottish authors including Alasdair Gray, Ali Smith, A L Kennedy, Irvine Welsh, James Robertson, Michel Faber and Janice Galloway.
We’ve instituted new awards in order to expand the celebration of different types of Scottish literature. We’re now the only series of literary awards for adult literature in Scotland. And we’ve done all this despite being a tiny team (there’s four of us, and only two full timers). We’ve managed it because we, and the many people who volunteer their time to us, are passionate about honouring literature from, and about, Scotland.
We might be a small cultural charity, but our impact over the years has been huge and given that next year is our 80th Anniversary, I, for one, think things are only going to get bigger and better.