Former gang member in running for Scotland's 'book of the year' prize for debut novel
A former gang member who turned his experiences of growing up in Lanarkshire into a novel is in the running for Scotland's most prestigious literary prize.
Graeme Armstrong's acclaimed debut, The Young Team, is in the running to be named best debut at Scotland’s National Book Awards.
Armstrong will also be up against the likes of Douglas Stuart, Jenni Fagan, Kirstin Innes and Andrew Greig for the coveted title of Scotland's "book of the year" at a ceremony in Glasgow later this month.
Other contenders for the overall prize include a celebration of Hollywood special effects expert Ray Harryhausen, published to coincide with a major exhibition in Scotland, Peter Ross’s exploration of the hidden stories to be found in graveyards, and an in-depth look by former Lothian and Borders deputy chief constable Tom Wood at the investigation that convicted “Jigsaw Killer” Buck Ruxton in the 1930s.
The Saltire Society, which has been recognising the nation’s best books since 1937, was forced to shelve the event – which recognises fiction and non-fiction writers, poets, publishers and designers – last year after it lost its funding from Creative Scotland.
The awards, which will return in the Waterstones store on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow on November 27, are now backed by The Turtleton Charitable Trust.
Armstrong fell into gang culture in Airdrie at the age of 13 and was expelled from school in his mid-teens. But he started writing when he was 16 after reading Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.
Armstrong started to study secretly while still involved in his gang and went on to study English and creative writing at Stirling University.
His novel charts main character Azzy's journey over several years as he is forced to choose between leaving his violent world behind or fully embracing the life of a criminal.
Earlier this year it emerged the rights to a TV adaptation had already been snapped up.
Armstrong said: “My novel’s setting and language have an unusual cultural epicentre, North Lanarkshire.
“This is a part of Scotland often overlooked from the outside and still affected by poverty, drugs and violence. To represent my community among the awards is a privilege young men from my area are seldom afforded and a responsibility I don’t take for granted.”
Other contenders for the best debut honour include Vanessa Harryhausen’s book on her father Ray’s rise to become one of Hollywood’s best-known special effects experts, Elle McNicoll’s children’s novel A Kind of Spark, about a teenager’s campaign to commemorate the victims of witch trials in her home town, the memoir of a Hebridean islander who ended up in a punk band with Peter Capaldi and Craig Ferguson, Aoife Lyall’s poetry collection exploring experiences of pregnancy, and wildlife writer Keith Broomfield’s new book, If Rivers Could Sing.
Best fiction book contenders include David F Ross’s There’s Only One Danny Garvey, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan, Kirstin Innes’s Scabby Queen and Duck Feet, by Ely Percy.
Glasgow-born Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize with debut novel Shuggie Bain. However, his publishers decided to enter Shuggie Bain into the fiction category rather than best first book.
Fagan said: “It is a real honour to be shortlisted for the Fiction Award in Scotland’s National Book Awards, especially seeing as my novel Luckenbooth is so thoroughly anchored in Scotland and mainly my hometown of Edinburgh.”
Percy said: “Quite frankly, I am ecstatic to be shortlisted.
"Duck Feet is a novel about hope, and growing up in Scotland, and it’s had an incredible response from Scottish readers in particular who’ve really championed it. To be considered for this award is the cherry on top of the icing for me.”
Innes said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be on this list, especially given the ferociously good company my book is in. Scottish fiction is exceptionally strong right now so it means a very great deal indeed that Scabby Queen is considered part of that.”
Ross said: “It’s such a fantastic honour to be shortlisted for Scotland’s National Book Awards.
"This is an incredible time for Scottish-based literature with Scottish authors creating brilliant works of art that are resonating with people all around the world. To have a book acknowledged by the Saltire Society to have made a contribution in such a context is hugely gratifying.”
Saltire Society director Sarah Mason said: "The last two years have been difficult for everyone, but the strength and resilience we’ve seen from our publishers, authors and designers is inspiring.”