Our website uses cookies. See our cookies page for information about them and how you can remove or block them. Click here to opt in to our cookies

“Visionary and profound” poetry collection is 2016 Saltire Book of the Year

Published: 24 Nov 2016

Kathleen Jamie's The Bonniest Companie

A poetry collection by Stirling University Professor Kathleen Jamie has beaten off stiff competition from publications ranging from a true life thriller set in a remote crofting community to an evocative historical account of the Sutherland Clearances and from a first-hand report of life on death row in Pakistan to an exhaustive investigation of early modern Scottish literature to be named 2016 Saltire Society Book of the Year.

“The Bonniest Companie” is a collection of 51 poems written during the course of 2014, the year of the referendum on Scottish independence. It is a visionary response to influential local and global forces and addresses Kathleen’s native Scotland and her place within it. The judges described the poems as “utterly relaxed and matter of fact yet profound in their implications”.

Her previous work has been well recognised. “The Tree House”, in which Kathleen argues for an engagement of the whole being through a kind of practical earthly spirituality,won The Forward Prize for Best Collection and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in 2004. In 2003, her poem, “Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead” was shortlisted for the International Griffin Prize. Her recent collection, “The Overhaul”, was shortlisted for the 2012 T. S. Eliot Prize and went on to win the Costa Poetry Award that same year.

Now firmly established as Scotland’s most prestigious annual book awards, the Saltire Society Literary Awards are supported by Creative Scotland and celebrate and support literary and academic excellence across six distinct categories. The winner of each individual book award wins a £2,000 cash prize and goes forward to be considered for the Saltire Book of the Year award and an accompanying cash prize of £6,000.

Kathleen’s extraordinary collection was also named 2016 Saltire Society Scottish Poetry Book of the Year, winning what judges described as an exceptionally strong category with a shortlist that also included works by well-established, award-winning poets Don Paterson, John Glenday, Pàdraig MacAoidh / Peter Mackay, J.O. Morgan and Vicki Husband.

Other award winners this year included Set Adrift Upon the World, James Hunter’s evocative account of the Sutherland clearances and winner of the History Book of the Year award; Trials, an examination of justice and injustice from the perspective of inmates on Pakistan’s death row by Isabel Buchanan and joint winner of the First Book of the Year award alongside Expecting, an innovative and thought provoking look at pregnancy by Edinburgh-based freelance journalist Chitra Ramswamy; Research Book of the Year The Literary Culture of Early Modern Scotland by Dutch author Sebastiaan Verweij ; Non-Fiction Book of the Year Other People’s Money, a critical examination of the modern finance industry by academic and industry insider John Kay; and His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s engrossing novel about the true 19th Century case of a multiple murder in a remote crofting community and winner of the Fiction Book of the Year award.

Kathleen Jamie collected both awards at a special ceremony at the Central Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday evening (24 November 2016).

Also announced at the awards ceremony was the winner of the 2016 Saltire Publisher of the Year Award, which went to Edinburgh based Floris Books. New for 2016, the winner of the Saltire Emerging Publisher of the Year Award was also announced as Leah McDowell, Design and Production Manager at Floris Books.

As part of the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary celebrations, this year’s Publisher of the Year was awarded a fully funded placement on the renowned Yale Publishing Course, a week-long intensive classroom-based course hosted on the beautiful and historic Yale University Campus in New Haven, Connecticut in the USA.

Also in celebration of the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary, the winners of a series of bursaries and awards were announced as part of this year’s Saltire Literary Awards ceremony. Daniel Shand, a student at the University of Edinburgh, won the Saltire Society International Travel Bursary supported by the British Council Scotland, which will enable him to travel to Berlin to research European history for his next novel through visits to the Museum of European Cultures, as well as the Stasi Museum, Jewish Museum, and the Topography of Terror.

Writer Annie George won this year’s Inspiring Scotland Bursary for a BAME writer, made in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust. Craig Ronald Lamont, a student at the University of Glasgow, won this year’s Ross Roy Medal and UCSL Award for his thesis, ‘Georgian Glasgow: the city remembered through literature, objects, and cultural memory theory’.

Kathleen Jamie, photo: Graham Clark

Commenting on winning the Saltire Book of the Year Award, Kathleen Jamie said: “I'm delighted that The Bonniest Companie has been named 'Scottish Poetry Book of the Year', but also a bit embarrassed. It was a terrifically strong shortlist, any of us could have won. Scotland makes very good poets - a fact that's still not acknowledged as it ought to be.  I'm grateful to the judges. It couldn't have been an easy decision."

Executive Director of the Saltire Society Jim Tough said: “This has been another terrific year for the Saltire Literary Awards and an extra special one as we celebrate our 80th anniversary. Every one of the individual book awards were hotly contested, making the judges’ decision a particularly challenging one. The same was also true of this year’s Publisher of the Year Award and new for this year, the Emerging Publisher of the Year Award.

“My congratulations to all of the winners and my heartfelt thanks to the judging panel and to all of our partners and supporters who helped to make the 2016 Saltire Literary Awards such a resounding success. We are proud to have seen these awards grow to embrace every aspect of literary Scotland; the emerging and the established, the academic and the poetic, fiction, non- fiction and publishing. Excellence is the common thread, built on the integrity and freely given commitment of our expert panels.”

Jenny Niven, Head of Literature, Languages and Publishing at Creative Scotland, commented: “Huge congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors, category winners and to Kathleen Jamie on winning the 2016 Saltire Book of the Year. A visionary and moving response to a year charged with energy, passion and politics.  It was a great pleasure to be part of the judging panel for the 2016 Saltire Society Literary Awards and to read through this impressively diverse list of books. Awards such as this are important as they offer an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the outstanding quality and range of literature in Scotland and raise the national and international profile of talented authors.”


Notes to Editors

For further information please contact Sarah Robertson on 0131 603 8996 / 07468 515 685 or email: sarah.robertson@orbit-comms.co.uk

Background to the Awards

The Saltire Literary awards have long been regarded as the country’s most prestigious accolade for authors and are the highlight in Scotland's literary calendar, celebrating and bringing wider atttention to excellence in all literary forms. The Awards celebrate and support literary and academic excellence across six distinct categories.

2016 Saltire Literary Awards Winners and Shortlists

The Saltire Society Scottish Research Book of the Year Award, supported by the National Library of Scotland


  • Sebastiaan Verweij, The Literary Culture of Early Modern Scotland: Manuscript Production and Transmission, 1560-1625 (Oxford University Press). Through a meticulous examination of manuscripts this study offers a new account of literary culture in early modern Scotland. Verweij’s detailed investigation suggests that the Reformation was not the start of a decline in Scotland’s literary output but a far more fruitful period than has been hitherto recognised.

Other shortlisted titles

  • Alan Macniven, The Vikings in Islay: The Place of Names in Hebridean Settlement History (John Donald). There are few records of the Vikings’ relationship to Islay. However, echoes of their relationship to the island are to be found in local place names. This book meticulously maps those traces of a Viking presence and in doing so rewrites our understanding of Islay and its fraught history.
  • Meiko O’ Halloran: James Hogg and British Romanticism: A Kaleidoscopic Art (Palgrave Macmillan). The work of James Hogg has often been overlooked. This study seeks to resituate it in the context of British Romanticism. Drawing analogies between the concept of the kaleidoscope and Hogg’s narrative strategies, O’Halloran’s study invites us to rethink our whole concept of the aesthetic practices of the Romantic period.
  • Chesley W. Sanger, Scottish Arctic Whaling (John Donald). This detailed study of Scotland’s relationship to Arctic whaling tells a story of hardship, danger and perseverance. By engaging with sources such as dairies and log-books its author offers an account of the full extent of Scotland’s role in whaling up to the outbreak of the First World War.
  • David Taylor, The Wild Black Region: Badenoch 1750 – 1800 (John Donald). This study overturns our understanding of the Highlands in the eighteenth century. Through a detailed exploration of the fast growing economy in Badenoch and the ways in which it entered a commercial world though the entrepreneurship of its tacksmen Taylor paints an alternative view of the Highlands in the post-Culloden era.

The Saltire Society Scottish History Book of the Year Award, supported by the Scottish Historical Review Trust


  • James Hunter, Set Adrift Upon the World), (Birlinn Ltd). The Sutherland Clearances have cast a dark shadow over the tapestry of Scotland’s history. Albeit well known, rarely has the episode been written about so evocatively, particularly the experiences of the victims of ‘progress’. Hunter however is no rabble-rouser. His method is to draw upon finely granulated evidence – some of it first-hand testimony; his empathy with and compassion for those involved speaks to us with elegant restraint in an account that sweeps from the Sutherland straths to the struggles of those forced out to seek new lives in North America.

Other shortlisted titles

  • Robin Noble, Castles in the Mist, (Saraband). Naturalist Robin Noble reveals through a blend of natural history and memoir, how the vast sporting estates of the Victorian era created the highland landscape we know today, and the environmental problems that arise from this.
  • Linda K Riddell, Shetland and the Great War, (The Shetland Times Ltd). A rigorously researched book that skillfully places Shetland’s experience of the First World War within the context of other better-known British regions. The author’s attention to detail is commendable, thereby producing a work that appeals both to local readers as well as to those further afield.
  • Mike Shepherd, Oil Strike North Sea, (Luath Press). There have been many studies of the economics and even the politics of oil extraction in the North Sea. This however is different: a vivid, first hand account of how geologists and the drilling teams search for, identify and then (if they’re lucky) strike oil bearing rock. Personal testimony combines with the author’s geological expertise to shed new light on what for the past half century has been a vital British industry.
  • Angela Gannon and George Geddes, St Kilda: The Last and Outmost Isle, (Historic Environment Scotland). Visually stunning, this book provides an up to date interpretation of the available evidence – archaeological and documentary – that relates to St Kilda. And there is much of it. Countless books on the archipelago have been written, but what is fresh – and commendable - about this account is the way the St Kilda story is told: not, as is usual, in isolation, but within the wider Hebridean context.
  • Bob Harris (Editor), A Tale of Three Cities: The Life and Times of Lord Daer, 1763 – 1794, (Birlinn Ltd (John Donald)). An elegant and erudite study not only of a shadowy but intriguing individual, but also of the times in which the aristocrat Lord Daer lived: the Enlightenment and the era of agricultural and urban improvement. Revealed for the first time in book format are the strong links there were between Scotland’s and England’s revolutionaries in the early 1790s, thereby offering an altogether new dimension to our understanding of Scottish Radicalism.

The Saltire Society Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award, supported by the Scottish Poetry Library


  • Kathleen Jamie, The Bonniest Companie, (Pan Macmillan (Imprint: Picador)). In this collection Jamie has mastered an intimately conversational address, whether she is writing about human beings or the landscape. She refuses to be uplifting or sentimental and so the simple purity or complex simplicity of her language is devastating. The poems are utterly relaxed and matter of fact yet profound in their implications. This is an art that conceals art.

Other shortlisted titles

  • John Glenday, The Golden Mean, (Pan Macmillan (Imprint: Picador). A lucid intelligence and a kind of reverence illuminates these poems, beautifully paced and quietly delivered. He seeks, as the title poem indicates, a perfect balance among the living and the dead, between finite and infinite. The natural world, especially of birds, aids his search. The subtlety of these poems invites an immediate and rewarding second reading.
  • Don Paterson, 40 Sonnets, (Faber & Faber). Paterson has stretched and condensed the classic form every which way in this collection, which includes a dark prose fable about the consequences of a poet’s mocking his own poetic form. There is humour here, but also poems that are dense, musical and challenging, haunted by memories of musicians, writers, artists and untimely deaths: art and mortality in 14 lines.
  • Pàdraig MacAoidh / Peter Mackay, Gu Leòr / Galore, (Acair Ltd). This dual-language collection seems much more varied than duality suggests, relishing the sheer variety of linguistic possibilities.  This is a sensibility uneasily but very creatively balanced between two languages, and two cultures, between traditional themes and disturbing modernity: he sends his readers back to the classics or the Elizabethans, and equally to playing Pacman.
  • J. O. Morgan, Interference Pattern, (Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House). Morgan demands a lot of his readers: a willingness to let go of expectations of narrative or even a ‘collection’, and to follow the tangling and disentangling the reading involves. But we are richly repaid by encountering the surreal and the everyday, brutality and tenderness side by side within an utterly original and often discomfiting structure.
  • Vicki Husband, This Far Back Everything Shimmers, (Vagabond). Vicki Husband’s impressive first collection draws in everything and everywhere and finds the title’s shimmer wherever it settles. She writes politically without anger, personally with compassion; she encounters the infinite with wit and the bizarreries of everyday with humour. She concludes with a ‘theory of everything’ that is almost believable.

The Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award


  • Chitra Ramaswamy, Expecting, (Saraband). Most books about pregnancy are designed either to offer medical and practical advice, or to defuse the frightening power and passion of the experience through light comedy. Chitra Ramaswamy’s ground-breaking book defies both of those stereotypes, in a brave, moving and beautifully-written autobiographical study that gives the experience of pregnancy a rare subjective weight and dignity, while never flinching from the many moments of rage, terror and absurdity that accompany this ultimate human journey into the unknown.
  • Isabel Buchanan, Trials, (Jonathan Cape (Vintage, Penguin Random House)). Isabel Buchanan’s superbly assured debut looks at justice and injustice from the point of view of the inmates of Pakistan’s death row and the lawyers fighting to save them from execution. A brave and necessary book, it lifts the lid on an important but neglected subject in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally compelling.

Other shortlisted titles

  • Claire Askew, This Changes Things, (Bloodaxe Books). Vivid in its use of language but never pretentious, charged with intimacy but with a breadth of reference that takes it far beyond the confessional, this first collection by celebrated poet Claire Askew commands and rewards attention – whether she’s distilling in inarguable terms what’s meant by “privilege”, or comparing a man to an artichoke.
  • Martin MacInnes, Infinite Ground, (Atlas). Set in South America, and based on the search by a police inspector for Carlos who mysteriously goes missing from a dinner table, Infinite Ground is a surreal crime mystery at one level and at another a profoundly serious exploration of the fragility and isolation of modern life. A most accomplished first novel.

The Saltire Society Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award


  • John Kay, Other People’s Money, (Profile Books). The global economic scene, with its practices and structures, has become impossible for any of us to ignore, despite its daunting complexity. John Kay provides an invaluable explanation grounded in academic rigour while showing, in the lucidity of his highly accessible account, why he is such a successful teacher.

Other shortlisted titles

  • James Crawford, Fallen Glory, (Old Street Publishing). James Crawford’s study of the world’s greatest lost buildings skips across the centuries – from the first temples to the Twin Towers - with panache, poise and purpose.  It would be hard to find a more engagingly eclectic account of just how easily architectural dreams can become monuments to delusion.
  • Richard Holloway, A Little History of Religion, (Yale University Press). Richard Holloway brings a lifetime of scholarship as well as service to the Christian Church to A Little History of Religion (Yale UP).  Inevitably the subject is bigger than any book, but this one is commendably spare and compact; it is lucidly persuasive in introducing many religious forms and practices.
  • James Crawford, Fallen Glory, (Old Street Publishing). James Crawford’s study of the world’s greatest lost buildings skips across the centuries – from the first temples to the Twin Towers - with panache, poise and purpose.  It would be hard to find a more engagingly eclectic account of just how easily architectural dreams can become monuments to delusion.
  • Richard Holloway, A Little History of Religion, (Yale University Press). Richard Holloway brings a lifetime of scholarship as well as service to the Christian Church to A Little History of Religion (Yale UP).  Inevitably the subject is bigger than any book, but this one is commendably spare and compact; it is lucidly persuasive in introducing many religious forms and practices.

The Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award


  • Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project, (Saraband (Contraband)). One man can no more see inside the mind of another man than he can see a stone. That’s the firm opinion of a triple murderer’s father in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s engrossing novel, set with studied accuracy in a mid-Victorian crofting community. But if that’s true, how true can true – or fictional - crime ever be?

Other shortlisted titles

  • Jenni Fagan, The Sunlight Pilgrims, (William Heinemann). Building on the ambition and originality of her acclaimed debut The Panopticon, Granta Young Novelist Jenni Fagan presents a vision of times to come that is at once sharply pertinent and stubbornly life-affirming. The climate is changing, old certainties are falling away, but some things stay in place – love, school bullies, family feuds and homemade gin…
  • James Kelman, Dirt Road, (Canongate Books). James Kelman in Dirt Road has produced a book at once moving and rough, steeped in the love of a musical tradition and fascinated by the inability of characters to verbalise that love, or indeed to surrender to their affection for one another. Father and son go to USA, and find much more than good music there.
  • Kevin MacNeil, The Brilliant & Forever, (Birlinn). Three friends, one a talking alpaca, decide to compete for the literary prize at the Brilliant & Forever literary festival on a Scottish island. Narrating the stories of the thirteen prize competitors, this at once humorous and serious novel brings to life the tensions within close communities and pokes gentle fun at the pretensions of the literary world. An utterly absorbing book.
  • Maggie O’Farrell, This Must Be the Place, (Tinder Press). An excellent example of the popular novel, O'Farrell's confident, immersive and ambitious tale is a love story with a large cast of characters and a teasingly fragmented structure. It tells of choices, chance, the pain and the joy of living: as it says eventually, it is about sadness and happiness.
  • Irvine Welsh, The Blade Artist, (Jonathan Cape (Vintage, Penguin Random House)). 23 YEARS on from the publication of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh’s most powerful sequel yet imagines the return to Edinburgh of violent hard man Francis Begbie, now reborn - after time in prison - as a celebrated artist living in California. Back in Leith, though, he finds his life suddenly on a knife-edge between old and new, creation and destruction; in a strongly-crafted novel that digs deeps into the myths and tensions of recent Scottish social history, to confront ideas about violence and masculinity that haunt us still.

Supporters of the Awards

Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.  We enable people and organisations to work in and experience the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland by helping others to develop great ideas and bring them to life.  We distribute funding provided by the Scottish Government and the National Lottery. For further information about Creative Scotland please visit www.creativescotland.com. Follow us @creativescots and www.facebook.com/CreativeScotland

The Scottish Poetry Library is an advocate for the art of poetry, and Scottish poetry in particular. It is passionately committed to bringing the pleasures and benefits of poetry to as wide an audience as possible. It provides a unique national resource centre, encourage a worldwide audience for Scottish poetry, and nurture creative language and reading. Further information: www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk

The Scottish Historical Review Trust is the premier journal in the field of Scottish Historical Studies, covering all periods of Scottish history from the early to the modern, encouraging a variety of historical approaches. Contributors are regarded as authoritative in their subject area; the pages of the journal are regularly graced by leading Scottish historians. Further information: www.euppublishing.com/loi/shr

The National Library of Scotland is a reference library with world class collections. One of Scotland’s largest libraries and one of the major research libraries in Europe, its collections range from rare historical documents to online journals, covering every subject. It specialises in Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture. Further information: www.nls.uk

British Council Scotland brings the best of international education and arts to Scotland. It helps Scottish students, teachers, artists and others connect with people around the world. It promotes Scottish cultural talent and assets, promotes Scottish education globally and brings international opportunities to Scotland, and its work in society creates international links connecting Scots to the rest of the world. Further information: www.scotland.britishcouncil.org

Scottish Book Trust is a national charity that believes books, reading and writing have the power to change lives. We work towards a Scotland where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive through literacy. Further information: http://scottishbooktrust.com