This week we’re sharing the experiences of our shadow panelists for the Saltire Society’s Literary Awards. So, next up: let’s hear from those who read and discussed fiction.
Keira Brown (Chair)
Well it was quite the task trying to get all five books read in a short space of two weeks but it was successfully accomplished, although difficult without making a pre-judgement of which ones I would enjoy, which obviously affected the way in which I had read them.
I would advocate that any judge of these things tries to know as little about the shortlist as possible before diving into this type of task but it was fun. In comparing them, content, technique, style, prose and character development were all considered, which then made it a rather formidable undertaking with Galloway’s short stories. It was certainly not the easiest process and as for the title, I could not help but be swept away with Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations which had a lot to do with personal thoughts on mental health and trauma.
The opportunity itself of going to the awards, networking with people from publishers such as Freight (who won Best Scottish Publisher) and Publishing Scotland, as well as be in a room with the Makar and Michel Faber was all pretty wonderful.
Attending the pre-event reception and main event was the cherry on top of a most interesting and valuable experience as a shadowing panel member for the Fiction Book of the Year category. After joyfully skipping (and sometimes drearily wading) through around 2,000 pages in a couple of weeks it was enlightening to compare my initial opinions with those of the shadow panel. It was then intriguing to see that the shadow panels shared similar opinions and preferences with those of the actual literary panels. I was rooting for The Book of Strange New Things to win from the first 100 pages I read and so the resultant category win and overall Book of the Year win for Faber was a particular highlight for me.
Shadowing for the Saltire Society reinforced what I already knew; the panel and the team are some of the most engaged and knowledgeable of contemporary Scottish literature in the country. This, and the wide scope within the categories makes these most prestigious Scottish literary awards one of the most enjoyable and important in the UK.
Taking part in the Saltire Society’s shadow judging panel was an overwhelmingly positive experience. On the surface, it felt very much like a bunch of like-minded people gathering together to share their love of books. It wasn’t until attending the Saltire Awards reception that I truly felt like I had done something profound. This was the golden opportunity to mingle with the authors whose novels we had been reading the past few weeks, and we did not pass it up.
Before the other shadow-panellers and I knew it, we were exchanging book recommendations with Scottish First Book of the Year winner Helen McClory. Exchanges such as these left me both utterly star-struck and with the startling sense that these people – these award-winning writers – are no different than any other person. By the time I approached Book of the Year winner Michel Faber for a book signing later that weekend, the conversation we struck up felt second nature to me.
I felt a kinship to the shortlist authors like I never quite did prior to attending the ceremony. There was a certain level of detachment in reading their novels with such high expectations, but meeting them in person made the experience that much more intimate and meaningful from an avid reader and budding publisher’s perspective.
The experience of participating in the Saltire Society SYP shadow panel was unique. It was great the have the opportunity to read these great books and talk about them with a group. It was exciting to hear people’s different ideas and see some of my same feelings on the books reflected in their reactions. Other than actually reading the books, awards ceremony was my favorite part of the experience. It was nice to go with my friends to event and mingle with other people from Scotland’s publishing world.
The announcement of the Fiction Book of the Year was oddly fulfilling for me. I know the shadow panel wasn’t the panel that really judged the books, but in the moment, it felt like it. We went through the whole experience of reading through the books, coming together to talk about them, and deciding which book we would pick. It was like it all built up to this moment, and I felt so proud.
I can’t even imagine scale of that feeling for the real Saltire Society panel members. It was definitely a worthwhile experience that let me see book judging panels in a very unique way.