The Booker and the Scots

Once again, another Booker longlist has been published, and it's cheering, but not surprising, given the way the industry is going, that so many independent publishers are represented there. Last year might have been considered a blip (Susan Hill's outspoken support for small publishers was thought by many pretty much to  have guaranteed their presence on the 2011 list), but this year shows that not to be the case. Simply, too many big publishers are turning away good material, and small publishers are snapping it up.

This year, though, it's the paucity or absence of Scottish names that is causing much pause for thought - one writer friend, Alan Bissett, writes about this issue in The Guardian: seems both writers and critics are anxious about this - one literary critic friend, Stuart Kelly, former literary editor of Scotland on Sunday, has also lamented the lack of Booker winners from Scotland, although he considers the lack of star-quality fiction to blame. Who is there to follow in James Kelman's footsteps, he may ask? Is it really almost twenty years since How Late It Was, How Late, won (amid much acrimony)?

I have two thoughts about this: the first is, we have virtually no presence when it comes to the biggest, most established literary fiction prize in the UK (and Alan, tweeting today about Jane Harris's mighty Gillespie and I, is right to query Jane Harris's exclusion). But when it comes to poetry - and the biggest, most established poetry prizes - Scots dominate. John Burnside, Kathleen Jamie, Robin Robertson, Douglas Dunn and lots more - they eat up the Forward prize, the T S Eliot prize, and keep on going. And they're not formula-driven, safe choices either. In poetry, Scots excel at experimentation and innovation, and at making the establishment sit up and take notice, too.

Should we be worried that fiction by Scots isn't appearing to do the same? Here's my second thought. Personally, I'm cheered by what I think is the most eclectic, most varied range of literature being produced now in Scotland. I'm not sure if I care that we're not winning Bookers - for such a small country we're punching well above our weight. We hit all the categories - crime, historical, sci-fi, romance, YA/children's, literary. And the crime-literary, historical-literary crossovers too. We have looked across the Atlantic for a long time now, gazing after those who made that journey, and have imbibed the best of what's going on there; we look, too, to Europe, to 'auld alliances', and are influenced by French and Dutch writing. Award-winners of the last few years - in a variety of awards - include people like Sue Peebles, Chris Hannan, Eleanor Thom, Andrea McNicoll, Denise Mina,  Mark McNay, and a more eclectic, or fascinating, or excellent combination of writing and writers you'd be hard pressed to find. Elaine di Rollo, Andrea Gillies, Jenni Fagan, Elizabeth Reeder are exciting too, to name just a few. And Radio 4 is showcasing young Scottish women writers like Kirsty Logan, Kapka Kassabova, Kirstin Innes. Literary events, festivals and networking nights dominate Scotland's cultural scene.   It's never been a better time to be a Scottish writer, or a writer based in Scotland, for all the travails over Creative Scotland funding and publishers' anxieties.



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