Saltire judge stands down, claiming panel did not finish shortlisted books

Saltire judge stands down, claiming panel did not finish shortlisted books

A judge of the Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year prize has stood down over the choice of its winner, claiming other jury members had not read all the shortlisted books. However, the Saltire Society has affirmed that "all judges carefully examined all texts submitted for the award".

Author and critic Lesley McDowell claimed her fellow judges ruled out Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press) as the winner despite two of the five not finishing the 1,000-page tome. Instead, the prize went to Ewan Morrison for his novel Nina X (Fleet) by three votes to two. 

McDowell, who says she has officially resigned and asked for her name to be removed from the prize website's list of judges, said none of the fiction panel had read all the shortlisted books to the end, including Gaelic title Còig Duilleagan na Seamraig by Ruairidh MacIlleathain (Five Leaves of the Shamrock).

She told the National: “It’s not a book group meeting—it’s a meeting to award a prize and you have to do the reading whether you like it or not. I’ve been a judge before and this is the first time that this has ever happened but there was no sense that perhaps in future they would put in place a condition that you have to finish the titles you are asked to read.

“It is important because it is really only the Scottish national prize for books now and that is all the more reason for it to be really scrupulous.”

McDowell also criticised the winner, asking why judges had picked a male writing from a woman’s point of view rather than one of the female authors shortlisted.

Speaking to the Guardian, she said: “Every year the Women’s Prize has to answer the same question, why do we need a prize for women? Well, the answer was right in this meeting. A woman was being overlooked, her book not even finished.”

This year’s judging panel featured Scottish Book Trust director of programmes Rosemary Ward, poet Ken Cockburn, critic Alasdair McKillop and director of the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust Ali Bowden.

Sarah Mason, programme manager at the Saltire Society, said: “The Saltire Society and the judges of the Fiction Award reaffirm that all judges carefully examined all texts submitted for the award. The Saltire Society selected the judges based on their expertise, knowledge and integrity and stand by their decision to award the prize to Nina X.

"Although only one panel member is a Gaelic speaker all Gaelic books are put to further scrutiny by an independent panel and fully evaluated."