Stones, slaves and anthrax: Highland book prize shortlist revealed

The four shortlisted titles are all major works in the wider literary field of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, and are indicative of the quality of literature being produced in the Highlands today.

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The Highland Society of London and Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre have announced the shortlist for the 2021 Highland Book Prize.

This annual award celebrates the finest work that recognises the rich culture, heritage, and landscape of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

The four shortlisted titles are all major works in the wider literary field of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, and are indicative of the quality of literature being produced in the Highlands today.

Eleven titles were selected for the longlist, out of 71 submitted titles published between January and December 2021, by a reviewing panel of over 180 volunteer readers.

The shortlisted titles are: Slaves and Highlanders by David Alston, Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn, The Stone Age by Jen Hadfield, and In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray.

Alex Ogilvie, non-voting chair of the judging panel, said: ‘Judging a longlist of such high quality was never going to be easy, however, the judges had a hugely enjoyable and constructive discussion around each of the titles, which ultimately led to a unanimous decision on the titles that will now go through to the final round.’

Judge Jenny Niven, chair of Literature Alliance Scotland, said of Slaves and Highlanders: ‘This is a powerful and thought-provoking book that opens a vital conversation on our understanding of the Highlands, both in the past and with implications for the present; and as a result changes our perspective of Scotland as a whole.

‘The depth and meticulousness of the research was incredibly impressive; Alston lets the facts speak for themselves – and they take the breath away.’

A second judge Kapka Kassabova, poet and writer of fiction and narrative non-fiction, whose book Border won the 2017 Highland Book Prize, said of Islands of Abandonment: ‘Flyn is a brilliantly atmospheric writer who brings out the individual tonality and significance of each of the abandoned worlds she visits.

‘This haunting, courageous, and informative book takes us to places where past and future meet.’

Speaking about A Veil of Mist, judge Mark Wringe, senior lecturer in Gaelic Language and Culture at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: ‘Where better to find audacious secrecy for 1950s Cold War biological weapons experiments, than an island community where keeping silent about your deepest concerns, your innermost frustrations is ingrained, especially for its women.

‘It’s often said that fiction tells truth more intimately, more comprehensively. Donald S. Murray proves it.’

Kapka said of The Stone Age: ‘In a pantheistic journey of Shetland, Hadfield converses with her environment.

‘The human and more-than-human worlds are perceived to be a seamless whole, and every rock has a voice. This book is a literary, environmental, and spiritual adventure.’

The winning title will be announced at an award ceremony on May 26, which will be held in Inverness.

One author will be awarded a £1,000 prize by the Highland Society of London and will receive a writing retreat at the Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.