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Four writers named in the shortlist for the Highland Book Prize 2021


By Margaret Chrystall


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Four books have been shortlisted for the 2021 Highland Book Prize, the Highland Society of London and Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre have announced.

The shortlisted books.
The shortlisted books.

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

The shortlisted titles in alphabetical order of authors are:

Slaves and Highlanders by David Alston (Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (William Collins, 2021)

The Stone Age by Jen Hadfield (Picador, 2021)

In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray (Saraband, 2021).

The prize aims to showcase the literary talent of the region and to raise the profile of work created in or about the Highlands.

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.

David Alston.
David Alston.

The shortlist has now been selected by this year’s judging panel, who are: Kapka Kassabova, poet and writer of fiction and narrative non-fiction, whose book Border (Granta) won the 2017 Highland Book Prize; Jenny Niven, freelance producer and director, and chair of Literature Alliance Scotland; and Mark Wringe, senior lecturer in Gaelic language and culture at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Novelist and poet Kevin MacNeil provided an additional Gaelic perspective as a shadow judge, and the selection process was chaired by Alex Ogilvie, a trustee for the Highland Society of London.

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."

Jenny Niven 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."

Cal Flyn.
Cal Flyn.

Kapka Kassabova 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.’

Donald S Murray.
Donald S Murray.

Speaking about A Veil of Mist, Mark Wringe 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 Kassabova also commented on 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."

Jen Hadfield.
Jen Hadfield.

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 the Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.


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