The Saltire Society works in partnership with the Society of Young Publishers Scotland  to run the  Shadow Panels for Scotland's National Book Awards

Building on Existing Skills

Being a part of the shadow panel felt like a unique opportunity right from the start. I joined with the intention to utilise my editing skills to analyse the shortlisted poetry books. The poems in each book were thoroughly enjoyable to read, and I love that they differed from the poetry I generally consume. While reading the poems, my analysis included scrutinising the particular assets of each poem, along with identifying forms of constructive criticism for them, and comparing the impressions each poet left. After analysing every poetry book, I was able to arrange them into a hierarchy, but this was by no means easy. It was unmistakable that each poet had a strong possibility to win the award. Once we came together to discuss our judgements regarding the poetry collections, I felt surprised by how differently we ranked some of them. Nonetheless, we reached our ultimate ranking amicably. Hearing everyone's method of analysis was really enriching; it opened my eyes to other aspects of poetry that help elevate it such as its appeal to other writers as well as the everyday reader. I am grateful to have learnt a lot about the standards for award-winning poems, and I look forward to putting into practice the knowledge I have gained.

By Moses Aziz - Poetry Shadow Panel Judge

A Hat-Trick of Experience

On the shadow panel for the Saltire Book Awards 2023, I learnt three things:

Firstly, reading is a social activity. As much as many of us readers are introverts, sometimes the exchange about a story is what really brings it to life. Some books that I liked less at first provided the discussion group with so much material that we could have talked about them for hours. The discussion about other books, on the other hand, which I had liked better at home, quickly died out. The discussions didn't change my opinion about the books, but it did make me think about the value of sharing a story with friends, family or even people on the internet.

Secondly, the publishing industry may not promise great riches, but publishing people have passion. In my entire life, I have never been in a room filled with so many people who love what they do and are committed to what is important to them as I was on the day of the award ceremony.

Thirdly, there are still stories out there that have not yet been told. I knew after the first few pages of this one book that it was special. I immediately realised that this book stood out, even from this selection of all truly stunning books. And I was ready to fight for it on the day of our discussion – only to find that the others felt the same way. I've been recommending this book to anyone who will listen. And I will recommend it to you now: In Ascension by Martin MacInnes. But I am sure now, there are other books like it still out there waiting to be published, waiting to be read, waiting to be discussed and waiting to be celebrated.

By Michaela Das Gupta - Fiction Shadow Panel Judge

In Ascension by Martin MacInnes,

winner of the Fiction Book of the Year 2023

Appreciating Good Storytelling

I think the biggest success for myself taking part in the Shadow Panel this year was in confronting my reading habits. I consider myself to read widely, but upon receiving the shortlist I was definitely apprehensive. Objectively, I have no interest in art dealerships or historic whaling. But what I realised is I am always interested in good storytelling, whatever the content is. There was such a breadth of narrative voice across these books,

all of which felt reflective of the emerging trends in Scottish writing in their own way, that I had to confront my own prejudices when it comes to what I will or won't read. I hugely appreciate SYP and the Saltire Society for this enlightening opportunity, and in allowing me to connect with fellow like-minded individuals as part of the process.

By Amber Isaacs - First Book Shadow Panel Judge

Victoria MacKenzie, 

writer of For Thy Great Pain have Mercy on my Little Pain, 

winner of the First Book of the Year 2023 prize

Photographed by Graham Clark

"Every Voice was Heard"

Keen to expand my knowledge on the contemporary Scottish literary landscape, I was delighted to join this year’s First Book Award shadow panel. As we sat in the café listening to the nominations and taster of what was to come, I was excited to lose myself in each title and take on the challenge of a quick reading turnaround. The First Book award selection itself had infinite variety and touched on art, folklore and history with wildly different styles and approaches. Our panel was a chatty and friendly affair as we lent in to pitch and measure each book, creating wonderful deep conversation about the words and ideas that resonated with us deeply. Every voice was heard.

Heading into the panel, I’d earmarked two clearly accomplished works worth fighting for. Even though we settled on another title, I was glad to see the deserved winner that so clearly summed up the potential of the award. It was wonderful to get an insight to the workings of a panel and to gain hugely helpful industry experience. I enjoyed connecting with likeminded panellists from new networks and industries, celebrating attending the awards together and even saying a personal thanks to the authors whose work we poured over and relished so much.

By Theresa Peteranna - First Book Judge

First Book Award – Shortlist

·      Confessions of a Highland Art Dealer by Tony Davidson published by Woodwose Books

·      For Thy Great Pain have Mercy on my Little Pain by Victoria MacKenzie published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

·      Ginger and Me by Elissa Soave publisher HQ, a division of HarperCollins

·      My Margaret, Your Toshie by Keith Adamson published by Luath Press Ltd.

·      The Maiden by Kate Foster publisher Pan Macmillan

·      The Two-Headed Whale by Sandy Winterbottom published by Birlinn Ltd

"A Joyful and Eye-Opening Experience"

One of the real joys of reading is being able to pick up anything that sounds good to you and enjoy a breath of fresh air as a new voice shares their knowledge and experience with you, but over time we all tend to find a genre or a style and stick with it, rarely dipping into unknown territory. The Shadow Panel allowed me to break out of that routine and read some books that I might not have picked up for myself, it allowed me the opportunity to learn, listen, and widen the breadth of genres, topics, and styles of writing that I engage with. I discovered new authors, new areas of discussion that interested me, and I got to do it in discussion with a group of incredible people. It was an incredibly joyful and eye-opening experience being a part of the Non-Fiction Shadow Panel for this year’s Saltire Awards. I greatly appreciated having the opportunity to participate in discussions and learning from others and their experiences and interpretations of the books.

By Sarah - Non-Fiction Shadow Panel Judge

"Never Have I Been Nearly Moved to Tears Before by a Poem"

Wow, what an experience! Being a part of the Saltire Poetry Shadow Panel was an absolute joy and one which has encouraged me to branch out of my comfortable reading habits. Beforehand I was always drawn to fiction, a genre I used to associate with leisure and escapism whilst poetry collections intimidated me. Years of hypothesising and critically dissecting poems throughout school led me to believe this was the only way to read them, however being a part of the shadow panel showed me this is not the case. The collections we were fortunate to receive were diverse, captivating, and experimental, some of which affected me in ways I never would have expected.

Our group discussions were not only insightful, also validating and I enjoyed hearing others’ defences for works I personally did not find as engaging upon first reading. These debates caused me to go back and read with a different perspective. It was clear that many of us appreciated these collections not solely for their forms or structures but for the context, images, and emotions they evoked- proving you don’t need to be a pro in analysing iambic pentameters to enjoy poetry.

Never have I been nearly moved to tears before by a poem, until I laid eyes on Patrick James Errington’s The Swailing. The ideas and feelings explored in this collection stayed with me long after finishing the final page and though it did not win poetry collection of the year, I will continue to encourage as many of my friends to read it as possible. The icing on the cake for this whole experience had to be the awards ceremony and getting to meet such inspirational writers, editors, publishers, judges and many more contributors who all make reading these works possible.

By Ellen Niven - Poetry Shadow Panel Judge

The Swailing by Patrick James Errington,

shortlistee for Poetry Book of the Year 2023

A Good Challenge

I loved being part of the Saltire Awards first book shadow panel and being introduced to some amazing Scottish writers. Each book I read had so much to offer, from beautiful language to insights into nature and history, to gripping plots. It was a challenge to read all of the books in the time we had available, but a good challenge, and it was an amazing opportunity to discover so many books I might not have found otherwise. I am looking forward to reading some of the books from the other categories over Christmas and continuing to discover more Scottish writers.

By Hetty Mosforth - First Book Shadow Panel Judge

Image of Liz Lochhead, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award 2023

Photographed by Graham Clark

Thank You!

I hadn’t read anything by any of the poets going into this. I had no biases or preferences. I read all the books in a week. Then I read them again, and again. That’s the thing about poetry, you can get through it quickly, and you can gain a different view from it each time.

The most interesting thing about this experience was discussing with the other panellists what we had found within these beautiful words. Some had found representation. Some had gained inspiration. Some had even felt helped through grief, as was strongly themed in some of the writing. The group discussion made us rethink our own interpretations and overall rankings.

It was a joy to meet some of the writers at the awards ceremony. It was a privilege to tell the people that had crafted these words how they had affected me and how images they’d conjured would stay with me for years to come.

I’ve been inspired to experiment more with my own poetry. I’ve made connections and friendships throughout this whole process and intend to carry this opportunity forward with my life here in Scotland, uplifting others and engaging creatively with Scottish culture and languages.

To SYP Scotland, the Saltire Society, and my fellow panellists:

Thank you for this opportunity, I will always remember this.

To the writers:

Thank you to Taylor for making me laugh.

Thank you to Alycia for giving me a deeper understanding.

Thank you to Elspeth for inspiring me.

Thank you to Patrick for helping me grieve.

Thank you to Yvonne for reminding me to grow.

By Megan Booth - Poetry Shadow Panel Judge

Poetry Award – Shortlist

·         Another Way to Split Water by Alycia Pirmohamed published by Birlinn Ltd

·         Burning Season by Yvonne Reddick publisher Bloodaxe Books.

·         Dastram / Delirium by Taylor Strickland published by Broken Sleep Books.

·         The Swailing by Patrick James Errington, publisher McGill-Queens University Press.

·         Too Hot to Sleep by Elspeth Wilson published by Bent Key Publishing.

SYP operates on a volunteer basis and the Shadow Panel meetings wouldn't have been possible without the support from Brodie Mackenzie, who chaired the meetings, pulled together the panel and helped organise this blog. The Shadow Panel meetings took place in November 2023, while the Book Awards project runs every year from the spring until December of each year and is our largest running project.

Find our about the Book Awards Winners and Shortlistees! Check out SYP to learn more about their projects, and support they offer.