2021 Highland Book Prize Longlist

The Highland Book Prize announced the 12 titles that have been selected for the 2021 longlist. Established in 2017, this literary prize celebrates the finest published work that recognizes the rich talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands.

The shortlist will be announced in March of 2022 and the winner will be revealed on the May 2022, 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:


An Seachdamh Tonn | The Seventh Wave by Sandaidh NicDhòmhnaill Jones

Sandy NicDhòmhnaill Jones is one of the most exciting poets writing in Scottish Gaelic today. She is also a singer, a songwriter and a harpist, whose live performances of her work have entranced audiences. With the publication of her debut collection, ‘Red Lichen’ (2016), she was recognised as a poet with a strong female voice, immersed in the Gaelic tradition and drawing deeply from a common European classical heritage, but addressing all the while important contemporary issues. She was awarded the much-coveted title of Gaelic Crowned Bard for the period 2019-2021 at the Royal National Mòd in Glasgow in 2019.

Ben Dorain: a Conversation with a Mountain by Garry MacKenzie

Ben Dorain: A Conversation with a Mountain draws on the work of an eighteenth-century Gaelic poem by Duncan Ba n MacIntyre, rendering it into English.Where it does so, this is not to present MacIntyre’s poetry per se to an English-language reader, as is customary with a translation or version. (Credit: Irish Pages)

Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles 

Astrid is returning home from art school on Mars, looking for inspiration. Darling is fleeing a life that never fit, searching for somewhere to hide. They meet on Deep Wheel Orcadia, a distant space station struggling for survival as the pace of change threatens to leave the community behind.

Deep Wheel Orcadia is a magical first: a science-fiction verse-novel written in the Orkney dialect. This unique adventure in minority language poetry comes with a parallel translation into playful and vivid English, so the reader will miss no nuance of the original. The rich and varied cast weaves a compelling, lyric and effortlessly readable story around place and belonging, work and economy, generation and gender politics, love and desire – all with the lightness of touch, fluency and musicality one might expect of one the most talented poets to have emerged from Scotland in recent years. Hailing from Orkney, Harry Josephine Giles is widely known as a fine poet and spellbindingly original performer of their own work; Deep Wheel Orcadia now strikes out into audacious new space. (Credit: Pan Macmillan)

Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean by David Alston

Scots were involved in every stage of the slave trade: from captaining slaving ships to auctioning captured Africans in the colonies and hunting down those who escaped from bondage. This book focuses on the Scottish Highlanders who engaged in or benefitted from these crimes against humanity in the Caribbean Islands and Guyana, some reluctantly but many with enthusiasm and without remorse. Their voices are clearly heard in the archives, while in the same sources their victims’ stories are silenced – reduced to numbers and listed as property.

David Alston gives voice not only to these Scots but to enslaved Africans and their descendants – to those who reclaimed their freedom, to free women of colour, to the Black Caribs of St Vincent, to house servants, and to children of mixed race who found themselves in the increasingly racist society of Britain in the mid-1800s.

As Scots recover and grapple with their past, this vital history lays bare the enormous wealth generated in the Highlands by slavery and emancipation compensation schemes. This legacy, entwined with so many of our contemporary institutions, must be reckoned with. (Credit: Edinburgh University Press)

Of Stone and Sky by Merryn Glover

After Highland shepherd Colvin Munro disappears, a mysterious trail of his possessions is found in the Cairngorm mountains. Writing the eulogy for his memorial years later, his foundling-sister Mo seeks to discover why he vanished. Younger brother Sorley is also haunted by his absence and driven to reveal the forces that led to Colvin’s disappearance. Is their brother alive or dead?

Set on a farming estate in the upper reaches of the River Spey, Of Stone and Sky follows several generations of a shepherding family in a paean to the bonds between people, their land and way of life. It is a profound mystery, a passionate poem, a political manifesto, shot through with wisdom and humour. (Credit: Birlinn Ltd.)

Veeve by Christine De Luca

Tom Pow describes it as “alive with outward-looking, generous poems” while fellow-Shetlander Jim Mainland finds it to be “the perfect pick-me-up for these cautious, emerging times”. Of the image of the snow-globe, da flukkra-globe used in the title poem of the collection, he says:

“It occurred to me how effective an image that is for her own poetry: the way she takes a few propositions, shakes them up, then lets us watch them settle and resolve into something satisfying and crystalline – windows or portholes through which we look out onto unforgettable views or into scenes that revisit interesting places and people.” (Credit: Mariscat Press)

Borges and Me: An Encounter by Jay Parini

In this evocative work of what the author in his afterword calls “a kindof novelistic memoir,” Jay Parini takes us back fifty years, when he fled the United States for Scotland—in flight from the Vietnam War and desperately in search of his adult life. There, through unlikely circumstances, he meets the famed Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges—visiting his translator in Scotland—is in his seventies, blind and frail. When Borges hears that Parini owns a 1957 Morris Minor, he declares a long-held wish to visit the Highlands, where he hopes to meet a man in Inverness who is interested in Anglo-Saxon riddles. As they travel, stopping at various sites of historical interest, the charmingly garrulous Borges takes Parini on a grand tour of Western literature and ideas, while promising to teach him about love and poetry. As Borges’s idiosyncratic world of labyrinths, mirrors, and doubles shimmers into being, their escapades take a surreal turn. (Credit: Anchor)

Hiort by Iain F. MacLeod

A gripping crime novel from Iain F. MacLeod. When the body of a young girl is found on the Flannan Isles off the coast of the Isle of Lewis, D.I. Cameron and pathologist Kate St John are called on to investigate.

The body appears to have come from St Kilda, but all is not as it seems. This fast-paced modern mystery, interwoven with historical accounts of life on St Kilda at the start of the 20th century, will keep the reader guessing from beginning to end. (Credit: CLÀR)

In a Veil of Mist by Donald S. Murray

A poisoned breeze blows across the waves … Operation Cauldron, 1952: Top-secret germ warfare experiments on monkeys and guinea pigs are taking place aboard a vessel moored off the Isle of Lewis. Local villagers Jessie and Duncan encounter strange sights on the deserted beach nearby and suspect the worst. And one government scientist wrestles with his own inner anguish over the testing, even if he believes extreme deterrent weapons are needed. When a noxious cloud of plague bacteria is released into the path of a passing trawler, disaster threatens. Will a deadly pandemic be inevitable? A haunting exploration of the costs and fallout of warmongering, Donald S Murray follows his prize-winning first novel with an equally moving exploration of another little-known incident in the Outer Hebridean island where he grew up. (Credit: Saraband)

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

This is a book about abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place.

In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods.

This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world – and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

By turns haunted and hopeful, this luminously written world study is pinned together with profound insight and new ecological discoveries that together map an answer to the big questions: what happens after we’re gone, and how far can our damage to nature be undone? (Credit: HarperCollins Publishers)

Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land by Andrew Painting

In 1995 the National Trust for Scotland acquired Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms. Home to over 5,000 species, this vast expanse of Caledonian woodlands, subarctic mountains, bogs, moors, roaring burns and frozen lochs could be a place where environmental conservation and Highland field sports would exist in harmony. The only problem was that due to centuries of abuse by human hands, the ancient Caledonian pinewoods were dying, and it would take radical measures to save them.

After 25 years of extremely hard work, the pinewoods, bogs, moors and mountains are returning to their former glory. Regeneration is the story of this success, featuring not only the people who are protecting the land and quietly working to undo the wrongs of the past, but also the myriad creatures which inspire them to do so.

In addition, it also tackles current controversies such as raptor persecution, deer management and rewilding and asks bigger questions about the nature of conservation itself: what do we see when we look at our wild places? What should we see? (Credit: Birlinn General )

The Stone Age by Jen Hadfield

Jen Hadfield’s new collection is an astonished beholding of the wild landscape of her Shetland home, a tale of hard-won speech, and the balm of the silence it rides upon. The Stone Age builds steadily to a powerful and visionary panpsychism: in Hadfield’s telling, everything – gate and wall, flower and rain, shore and sea, the standing stones whose presences charge the land – has a living consciousness, one which can be engaged with as a personal encounter. 

The Stone Age is a timely reminder that our neurodiversity is a gift: we do not all see the world the world in the same way, and Hadfield’s lyric line and unashamedly high-stakes wordplay provide nothing less than a portal into a different kind of being. The Stone Age is the work of a singular artist at the height of her powers – one which dramatically extends and enriches the range of our shared experience. (Credit: Pan Macmillan)

Keep your eye on the Highland Book Prize social media channels and their events page for news on the authors, the books and upcoming Longlist Series



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