Reading as a Writer: The Saltire Shadow Panel

Anne Hamilton

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve long been a writer. Something nobody truly grasps until they are an author themselves, is that writing ruins reading. Add in the fact that I’m a fiction editor, and a creative writing teacher, and it’s a triple whammy of ruins. I love my job, but I find it harder and harder to read for pure enjoyment; I read like a writer – my ‘off’ switch is broken.

Even when I read a novel purely for pleasure, the writer in me knows how much its author (agent and publisher) would appreciate a review, and I’m reigning myself in to review as a reader, not an editor. The book is complete, polished, published, so the questions are: did the reader enjoy it, why/not and was it a good story, well-written?

So reading for the Saltire Shadow Panel was nothing new. Being handed some of the already-acclaimed best new novels, though, was a novelty. I was beginning from the premise that each of the six shortlisted novels had a measure of excellence, and it was not my responsibility to pick ‘the best’; all I had to do was enjoy the reading journey (I did), form an opinion – and defend it.

Some of the authors were new to me, some were old favourites – a good mix. Some I read dutifully, mindful of the deadline, others I devoured. But my opinion of a great novel is one in which I forget I’m a writer. I forget I’m an editor. When I read like I used to as a child, and it was just one more chapter before bed…

If I had a vote it would go, then, to Bernard MacLaverty for Midwinter Break; the novel world needs more of these older, strong, and engaging protagonists. My fear that this text, in summing up MacLaverty’s favourite themes, would have been better as one of his short stories, was unfounded.

As to the actual winner, I’ve got a feeling it will be Denise Mina or James Kelman…But who knows?