The Highland Book Prize announced the 13 titles that have been selected for the 2020 longlist. Established in 2017, this literary prize celebrates the finest published work that recognizes the rich talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands. This year, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a volunteer reader for this prize and I am so proud of this list. Not only I was to have some part in this longlist, I got to read some amazing books that I don’t think I would have come across. I had a wonderful time doing (one of the few things that helped me tolerate this year) and I can’t wait to do it again.
The shortlist will be announced in March of 2021 and the winner will be revealed on the May 8, 2021, at an event hosted by the Ullapool Book Festival, the Highland Society of London and Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre. The winning book will receive a prize of £1000 and a place on a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor. Now for the longlist:
The Nature of Summer by Jim Crumley
In the endless light of summer days, and the magical gloaming of the wee small hours, nature in Jim’s beloved Highlands, Perthshire and Trossachs heartlands is burgeoning freely, as though there is one long midsummer’s eve, nothing reserved.
For our flora and fauna, for the very land itself, this is the time of extravagant growth, flowering and the promise of fruit and the harvest to come. But despite the abundance, as Jim Crumley attests, summer in the Northlands is no Wordsworthian idyll. Climate chaos and its attendant unpredictable weather brings high drama to the lives of the animals and birds he observes.
There is also a wild, elemental beauty to the land, mountains, lochs, coasts and skies, a sense of nature at its very apex during this, the most beautiful and lush of seasons. Jim chronicles it all: the wonder, the tumult, the spectacle of summer. (Credit: Saraband)
Cottongrass Summer by Roy Dennis
A collection of vibrant essays to inform, stimulate and inspire every nature lover.
Through unparallelled expertise as a field naturalist, Roy Dennis is able to write about the natural world in a way that considers both the problems and the progress in ecology and conservation. Beginning with cottongrass, whose snow-white blooms blow gently in the wind across the wetter moors and bogs, this is a year-round trove of insight and knowledge for anyone who cares about the natural world – from birdsong and biodiversity to sphagnum and species reintroduction.
Written by one of our most prominent advocates for rewilding, the essays have a clear message: “Never give up on trying to conserve and restore wildlife and the wild places you cherish. It’s essential to try and to succeed. And remember, it’s never ‘if’, but ‘when’ – and with climate chaos closing in, the time is now.” (Credit: Saraband)
The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott
I highly enjoyed this book! I am not a big fan of YA fantasy, but this novel had me hooked from beginning to end. This is a thrilling and bold novel that told an adventurous journey in captivating writing style. Elliott was able to capture two distinctive voices but tell one unique story. It is more than just being in the characters’ mind but really encompassing what they are seeing and feeling, the clan world they live. And not a lot of fantasy writers can do that. Reading as both Agatha and Jamie develop into strong and brave teenagers was intriguing and astounding to read about and I cannot wait to read more books in this exciting series!
The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford
This was a novel that I considered to be a love story to the Highlands. It really captured the heart, the community, the togetherness of St. Kilda so beautifully and and with an engaging tone. The writing that was used to describe the environment and the scenery was just so lyrical and atmospheric that I felt that I was actually there. Although fictional, I discover so much this little island that I barely knew anything about. The love and hope between Fred and Chrissie was also amazing to read about. After all that waiting and time spent apart, they’re love for each other carried them through the trials and struggles that were thrown at them each way. This was perfect escapism literature that gave me time to breath and experience another world and time that I knew nothing about.
Plague Clothes by Robert Alan Jamieson
Originally written as a series of Facebook status updates during the recovery from Covid-19, Robert Alan Jamieson’s Plague Clothes is an immediate and intimate account of one person’s battle with the virus that emphasises the universality of our struggle during the pandemic. Moving seamlessly between sharp satire, confessional and philosophical enquiry, Jamieson takes aim at Western government, laments the current ecological crisis, and challenges our treatment of the so-called ‘old and vulnerable’, carried all the way by a rare voice of wisdom and protest at a time when ageism in society risks reducing an entire generation to statistics. Published in beautiful hardback with seventeen black and white photographs. (Credit: Taproot Press)
To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova
Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Two ancient lakes joined by underground rivers. Two lakes that seem to hold both the turbulent memories of the region’s past and the secret of its enduring allure. Two lakes that have played a central role in Kapka Kassabova’s maternal family.
As she journeys to her grandmother’s place of origin, Kassabova encounters a historic crossroads. The lakes are set within the mountainous borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania, and Greece, and crowned by the old Via Egnatia, which once connected Rome to Constantinople. A former trading and spiritual nexus of the southern Balkans, this lake region remains one of Eurasia’s most diverse corners. Meanwhile, with their remote rock churches, changeable currents, and large population of migratory birds, the lakes live in their own time.
By exploring on water and land the stories of poets, fishermen, and caretakers, misfits, rulers, and inheritors of war and exile, Kassabova uncovers the human destinies shaped by the lakes. Setting out to resolve her own ancestral legacy, Kassabova locates a deeper inquiry into how geography and politics imprint themselves upon families and nations, one that confronts her with universal questions about human suffering and the capacity for change. (Credit: Granta)
Nàdar De | Some Kind Of by Pàdraig MacAoidh and Peter Mackay
These poems probe the edge of the natural order of things, and what it means to explore knowledge, power, memory and play, in words that are time charged and skittish, words that jib at being claimed by anyone. It’s probably a political book, but is almost certainly already out of date; it’s probably some kind of warning, but without a clear sense of what.
In English and Gaelic. (Credit: Acair Books)
In Search of Angels by Alistair Moffat
Expected publication: December 1st 2020
Fourteen centuries ago, Irish saints brought the Word of God to the Hebrides and Scotland’s Atlantic shore. These ‘white martyrs’ sought solitude, remoteness, even harshness, in places apart from the world where they could fast, pray and move closer to an understanding of God: places where they could see angels. Columba, who founded the famous monastery at Iona, was the most well-known of these courageous men who rowed their curraghs towards danger and uncertainty in a pagan land, but the many others are now largely forgotten by history.
In this book, Alistair Moffat journeys from the island of Eileach an Naoimh at the mouth of the Firth of Lorne to Lismore, Iona and then north to Applecross, searching for traces of these extraordinary men. He finds them not often in any tangible remains, but in the spirit of the islands and remote places where they passed their exemplary lives. (Credit: Birlinn)
An Archive of Happiness by Elizabeth K Reeder
An Archive of Happiness is set in the Scottish Highlands over the course of one day during the Avens family’s annual get-together. It’s the summer solstice and theirs is a fractured family, broken by arguments, by things said and not said, by a mother who has left and a father who was left behind. What happens on this day will force them to cleave together to survive and redraw the traditional bonds of family. (Credit: Penned in the Margins)
The Changing Outer Hebrides: Galson and the Meaning of Place by Frank Rennie
This is a fascinating and intimate account of the inter-relationship between one small island village in the Hebrides and the wider world. From the formation of the bedrock 3 billion years ago, to the predictable near-future, the layers of this unique landscape are explored. The social history of the people is closely interwoven with the natural environment in a journey of deep mapping to consider the meaning of special places. Through the Iron Age and the Clearances to the contemporary events of community land ownership, a portrayal is given that challenges the perception that this is a remote place, isolated at the edge, but instead is crucial to our contemporary relationship with the land. (Credit: Acair Books)
Grimoire by Robin Robertson
Like some lost chapters from the Celtic folk tradition, Grimoire tells stories of ordinary people caught up, suddenly, in the extraordinary: tales of violence, madness and retribution, of second sight, witches, ghosts, selkies, changelings and doubles, all bound within a larger mythology, narrated by a doomed shape-changer – a man, beast or god.
A grimoire is a manual for invoking spirits. Here, Robin Robertson and his brother Tim Robertson – whose accompanying images are as unforgettable as cave-paintings – raise strange new forms which speak not only of the potency of our myths and superstitions, but how they were used to balance and explain the world and its predicaments. Credit: Pan Macmillan)
Summer by Ali Smith
In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world’s in meltdown – and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet.
In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time.
This is a story about people on the brink of change.
They’re family, but they think they’re strangers.
So: where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common?
Summer. (Credit: Hamish Hamilton)
Pine by Francine Toon
They are driving home from the search party when they see her.
The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.
In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.
Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust. (Credit: Doubleday)