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Island writers were involved in two major literary awards in Scotland last night (Saturday November 27.)

Winner of the 2021 Saltire Society Scottish ‘First Book of the Year award’ was An Lanntair’s head of visual arts and literature, Roddy Murray with his debut work ‘Bleak’.

Celebrating emerging talent and fresh ideas since 1988, the First Book of the Year Award is dedicated to first-time authors who have not previously been published. Nominations are open to fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 

The Society stated: “The Scottish First Book of the Year 2021 is Bleak: the mundane comedy by Roddy Murray published by Saraband Books – A fantastic debut ready to speak up for the bleak, wonderful spirit of life. From ceilidhs to rock-band ambitions, and beyond.

Roddy Murray commented on Twitter: “Against type, I am very happy about this. Thanks to @Saltire_Society and @SarabandBooks and so many more. Slainte.

Saraband said: “So thrilled that @roddy_murray has won Best First Book at the @Saltire_Society national book awards! Bleak - the mundane comedy is one of a kind. Original, funny and great writing.”

Roddy Murray’s debut work is available in the An Lanntair shop and from Waterstones, Amazon and all good booksellers.

The other major Island-related award went to Roncadora Press for its product Achanalt by Donald S. Murray – this won the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award. Established in 2001, the award was created to encourage, recognise and reward the publication of poetry in pamphlet form. Administered by the Scottish Poetry Library, it is awarded to the publisher of the pamphlet.

The win was for a book of poems which had stood out for the judges even at the shortlisting stage when they stated:

“The judges were unanimous in their praise for Roncadora’s daring and inventive focus on producing beautiful pieces of art across the three examples submitted: Storm Glass, Nith, and Achanalt. Design choices on illustration, binding, paperstock, and typesetting all complemented one another, with Achanalt by Donald S. Murray marked out as a lyrical, haunting narrative, complemented by its retro stylistic that, paradoxically, is also resolutely contemporary.”

And the final verdict: “The Callum MacDonald Memorial Award 2021 goes to Roncadora Press. The judges were unanimous in their praise for Roncadora’s daring and inventive focus on producing beautiful pieces of art.”

Achanalt is a railway halt on the Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness line and the series of poems is built around this little-used station.

The poem Achanalt starts:

The man who made the request stop
for Achanalt never left the train;
though we looked to see his foot or suitcase drop
upon the platform, no one ever came

from either carriage, not to claim
possession of the kirkhouse, rusted shed,
loch stretching out beside the rail.
Instead, there was an absence, 'Reserved'

flapping above seat, the fact that some had seen
him stepping on the train at Kyle or Plockton,
or reading 'Mail' or 'Scotsman' at Duncraig or Achnasheen.
But after that, he'd vanished. It was as if he'd gone

to gain absolution for his role
in how empty that this landscape was, a child of those who left
or cleared its barren acres, sailing either east or west,
but now travelling back on this line to gain comfort for his soul. 

Hugh Bryden formed Roncadora Press in 2005 to allow him to pursue one-off Artists Book projects and explore book ideas incorporating his own writing. Since then Roncadora has expanded into poetry pamphlets by writers who Hugh has collaborated with in past projects or are friends he can work closely with

Achanalt is in concertina form as an artists book with the 24 poems on one side and a 12ft long watercolour describing a walk along the platform and up to the grave of airman Bertram Dickson on the other side. The accompanying short story is printed separately, and both enclosed in a slipcase.