Language no barrier to literary prize win
The Scotsman. 22 November 2009
By Stephen McGinty
A SWISS-GERMAN author for whom English is a second language has made it to the shortlist of Scotland's most prestigious literary award.
Regi Claire, the author of Fighting It, a collection of short stories, is up against established Scottish writers such as AL Kennedy and Janice Galloway at the Saltire Society Literary Awards.
Claire, (pic right, Dan Phillips, The Scotsman), who was diagnosed with cancer prior to the publication of her new collection but is now in remission, has been shortlisted for the Book of the Year.
Yesterday, she said: "I'm absolutely delighted and quite gobsmacked. I couldn't quite believe it when my publisher called and told me."
A graduate of Zurich University, Claire has lived in Scotland since 1993 and is married to Ron Butlin, Edinburgh's Makar, or official poet. Her stories are wide-ranging, from tales of a Swiss railway track inspector to a would-be transsexual settling in the Borders.
Writing in English has been a liberating experience, she explained. "I wasn't taught the rules of good English like I was taught good German and so I feel I can be more creative."
Kennedy and Galloway, both previous winners of the £10,000 Book of the Year prize, are also shortlisted this year. Kennedy, who won in 2007 for Day, is in the running for her collection of short stories What Becomes, while Galloway, who won with Clara in 2002, is nominated for her memoir This Is Not About Me. There is no place, however, for two of the country's best-known writers, Edinburgh-based Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin, who has never featured in the Saltire Society's shortlists.
Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday's literary editor said: "That Regi Claire writes with absolute sincerity and emotional intensity is beyond doubt. For this reviewer at least, that combination is both the strength and weakness of her collection of short stories, Fighting It. "Writing in a second language sometimes allows her to manipulate English in an exciting way – coining the word "almostness" for example. At other points there's a slightly too strident and blatant use of capitals and exclamation marks."
By comparison, Kelly said, AL Kennedy's What Becomes "pulls the carpet from under the reader's feet at every turn".
Scotland appears to be enjoying an emergence of new female writers, with four women in five nominations for the First Book of the Year award.
JAMES BUCHAN - The Gate of Air
The grandson of the novelist John Buchan, James Buchan's ghost story involves a man who has lost his career relocating to the countryside and begins to dream of a 60s "It Girl", whose painting hangs in the local manor and whose gravestone is oddly ambiguous.
ROBERT CRAWFORD - The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography
A poet himself, Crawford provides acute readings of the poems, and doesn't shrink from looking full-square at the less admirable aspects of Burns's character.
JANICE GALLOWAY - This is Not About Me
A stunning memoir by one of the country's most nuanced novelists. Only on a second reading do you understand the full import and ulterior nature of Galloway's sparring with her mother and the almost demonic presence of her much older sister.
ALISON KENNEDY - What Becomes
Shot through with humour, pain, blistering anger and hard-won redemption, wit and longing, What Becomes confirms Kennedy's reputation as one of the finest short story writers in English.
REGI CLAIRE - Fighting It
A second collection of short stories from the author of Inside Out and The Beauty Room, Claire's work deals with people on the fringes of society and the edges of coping. Claire was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award.
JOHN MACLEOD - When I Heard the Bell : The Loss of The Iolaire
The worst peace-time British disaster at sea since the sinking of the Titanic, the loss of the Iolaire is a story replete with grim ironies. MacLeod's vivid and well-researched book covers the tragedy in which 205 Royal Navy Reservists drowned.
For more deatils including other category shortlists link to The Scotsman.
Thanks for relaying this, but I'm afraid Stephen McGinty repeated the mistake of an earlier Scotsman report and got the title of my book on the IOLAIRE disaster slightly wrong - it's called 'When I Heard the Bell,' simpliciter. Readily available from Amazon etc., it has sold some 2,900 copies to date.
Thnks John, have removed the word "toll" from the title.
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