When I started reading the First Book Award shortlist, I hadn’t finished a book outside of academia in months. These six engaging, disturbing, thrilling and funny novels brought me out of that reading slump in a hurry. This was one of the most intense reading experiences I’ve ever had, and absolutely the most enjoyable. Knowing that I was going to be discussing the books, I found myself paying extremely close attention to things I would normally take for granted; minor characters, flow of dialogue, atmosphere-building, the author’s voice.Every one was unique in all of these aspects, and it is no wonder these books have been selected to represent the best Scotland’s debut authors of 2017 have to offer.
For me, the stand-out book was ‘Under the Skin’, by Sandra Ireland. The panel was fast approaching when I started it, but I needn’t have worried. I read it in quite literally one sitting, not because of the time constraint, but because I simply didn’t want to stop. It was terrifying and exhilaratingand a had wonderfully complex web of fascinating characters. I’d recommend reading it with the lights on and very far away from any stuffed animals.
The other books in no way paled in comparison, and I was very much taken with – if less scared by – the cheeky humour of ‘Mary’s the Name’, the sheer ambition of ‘Goblin’, and the wonderful lyricism of Anne Pia’s ‘Language of My Choosing’, which I particularly enjoyed as a glimpse into what life might have been like for my own Italian-Scot grandmother.
The entire process of being part of this panel was a ridiculous amount of bookish fun, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves a having a good chat about a good book.