Orkney writer pulls out of Highland Book Prize declaring it ‘too white’

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Organisers of the Highland Book Prize have acknowledged the withdrawal of Deep Wheel Orcadia by Orcadian writer and performer Harry Josephine Giles from the 2021 competition longlist and say they ‘applaud and support’ the reasons for the decision.

The Highland Book Prize celebrates the finest work that comes from, or is inspired by, the Scottish Highlands.

Presented by the Highland Society of London and facilitated by Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre, this year’s competition initially saw 12 titles selected from more than 70 submissions.

Among the books nominated are In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray and Hiort by Iain F Macleod – who  are both originally from Lewis – and An Seachdamh Tonn | The Seventh Wave by Sandy NìcDhòmhnaill Jones, who is from Uist.

Dr Giles, who personally uses the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘they’ issued an online statement saying the withdrawal decision was in response to the Scottish BAME Writers’ Network call to action.

‘I made a commitment not to be part of further literary events and projects that excluded writers of colour,’ said Dr Giles.

‘As part of meeting that committment, I’ve now withdrawn from the Highland Book Prize 2021, for which Deep Wheel Orcadia was longlisted.

‘The call to action says ongoing racism and exclusion within Scottish literature requires work from many people working at many levels of the sector and white writers and organisers like me each have to work out our own ways of meeting that work.

‘The problem isn’t in one longlist, it’s in who publishers submit for prizes, who is being published, who is programmed for events, who is welcomed to spaces and much more, including how the ‘Scottish’ in ‘Scottish literature’ is imagined.

‘I don’t think this particular action is all that’s required of me. It’s just one way I can be accountable to the commitment I made.

‘I’m making the decision at a time when all-white shortlists are common in Scottish literature. I’d like them to be impossible. There’s a much richer world of writing already happening here and now.’

Responding, organisers of the Highland Book Prize said the processes surrounding the prize are transparent, open and democratic but like any have limitations and they acknowledged the Highlands’ relationship with ethnicity is ‘multi-layered and complex’.

Prize organisers continued: ‘We are thrilled to see David Alston’s book at this stage of the process, going some way to exploring the issue, but recognise this cannot be compared to representation on the list.

‘The organisers, Moniack Mhor, have played a developmental role in equality, diversities and inclusion within the Scottish literature sector and more broadly and will continue to focus on these issues.

‘We would welcome conversations about expanding this work.’

Each title on the longlist will now be considered by the judges, with the shortlist announced in March and the eventual winner being declared in May.


Orkney author Harry Josephine Giles, pictured, has withdrawn her book from the Highland Book Prize 2021. Photograph: Pan Macmillan.