Thursday, 13 December 2012

All we want for Christmas is ...

Word of mouth, hand-selling, whatever you call it we do like a personal recommendation. So we asked the Birlinn Elves what their favourite Birlinn and Polygon book of 2012 was.

Our Publicity and Marketing Elf, Sarah, was first off the mark with the obvious choice. Given that she has a packet of cat treats about her person at all times, well ... you get the picture.

‘I loved Debi Gliori’s "The Tobermory Cat". On the outside it’s the adorable book for children you'd expect from Debi with beautifully observed and executed pictures. On the inside, so to speak, it’s a pithy and pertinent lesson in what makes us all special. Being very fond of fuzzy redheads I thought it was just gorgeous!’

So. Yes. Well, there you have it. For children and cat (and fuzzy redhead) lovers alike, enjoy the stripey orange tale of The Tobermory Cat this Christmas!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hat-trick for Birlinn and Polygon Authors!

Not content with four shortlisted titles at the Saltire Society's Literary Awards, Birlinn and Polygon authors managed to sweep three awards in one week! 

Alexander McCall Smith kicked things off when he was honoured by Aberdeen Asset Management with their Great Scot Award for his work in literature. Unable to attend Alexander asked our Managing Director, Hugh Andrew, to collect the award with the message, I am extremely grateful for this award. My only regret is that I cannot be here because I had agreed some time ago to do a charity event in Edinburgh tonight that I simply could not call off. I would like to thank the sponsors – and the judges, of course, – for the honour they do me and I am delighted that an old friend, Hugh Andrew, can collect the award on my behalf. Hugh has been my publisher for many years and I am pleased that he is getting an award tonight, even if I intend to take it off him the moment he gets back to Edinburgh. Thank you again.’

The 2012 Garden Media Guild Awards (formerly Garden Writers' Guild) awarded Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland: What toGrow and How to Grow It by Ken Coxand Caroline Beaton the hotly contested Practical Book of the Year prize. Awarding the prize, the judges commented that Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland was ‘A practical book with personality, meticulously researched and impressively informative. It fills a long-empty gap for Scottish gardeners coping with weather conditions that are vastly different to the rest of the UK. But even if you’re not north of the border, the comprehensive growing advice is applicable to all. This is an engaging and enjoyable read that you will return to time and time again.’

And St Andrew’s Day saw the winners of the 2012 Saltire Society Literary Awards announced at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh with Scotland: Mapping the Nation by Christopher Fleet, Charles W.J.Withers and Margaret Wilkes taking Best Research Book of the Year. Two other Birlinn titles – Grand Designer: The Third Marquess of Bute by Rosemary Hannah and Scotland’s First Oil Boom: The Scottish Shale-Oil Industry,1851–1914 by John McKay – were shortlisted in the Research Book and Scottish History Book of the Year categories respectively. Aonghas MacNeacail’s bilingual poetry collection Laughing at the Clock/DéanamhGáire Ris A’ Chloc was shortlisted in the Scottish Book of the Year category, losing to Polygon stablemate James Kelman.

Managing Director Hugh Andrew commented, 'The Birlinn team is absolutely delighted that these books and their authors have been singled out for praise in such highly competitive award arenas. We offer our congratulations to Alexander, to Ken Cox and Caroline Beaton, to Christopher, Charles and Margaret and, of course, to Rosemary, Aonghas and to John’s family. Thanks too have to go to the skilled staff at Birlinn who strive for high standards with every book published. These books are all a joy to look at and to handle as well as to read and we are very proud of their achievements.’

And so say all of us!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

2012 Saltire Society Literary Awards

This year is a bumper year for Birlinn and Polygon authors at the Saltire Society’s Literary Awards, and rightly so. The winners are announced at the National Library of Scotland on St Andrews Day, and we’ll be keeping our fingers, toes and everything else we can cross crossed. Congratulations to all the shortlisted poets and writers, but particularly to …

Aonghas MacNeacail
Aonghas MacNeacail – Aonghas’ collection poetry Laughing at the Clock: New and Selected Poems/ Déanamh Gáire Ris A’ Chloc: DáinÙra Agus Thaghte was published earlier this year to celebrate his 70th birthday. Described by James Robertson as ‘A fine record of a distinctive bilingual voice’, this is a poet at the height of his powers. The shortlist for Scottish Book of the Year is a stellar one this year with Aonghas up against Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Kathleen Jamie, James Kelman, Ewan Morrison and Irvine Welsh.
Scotland: Mapping the Nation – Christopher Fleet, Charles W.J.Withers and Margaret Wilkes have produced that rarest of books, one that is historically rich and significant but which is also lavishly illustrated and just a joy to read. The history of Scotland has been told so many different ways, but the use of maps from the earliest times offers a fascinating new angle on the subject. The shortlist for Scottish Research Book of the Year also contains another Birlinn title …

The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of ButeRosemary Hannah has written an enthralling biography of one of the last great artistic patrons, the thirds Marquess of Bute. Fabulously wealthy, Bute worked closely with architects and artists to create some of the most remarkable interiors in Britain including the high Victorian Gothic exuberance of Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch and the wildly ostentatious Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. But he was also a man at odds with his times. A Catholic convert, he openly criticised his Church. A traditional Victorian Patriarch, he championed feminism and was intimately involved in his children’s lives.


And last, but definitely not least, on the Scottish History Book of the Year shortlist is Scotland's First Oil Boom: The Scottish Shale-Oil Industry, 1851–1914 by John McKay. Just as big, but less well known than its modern counterpart, the Scottish shale oil industry was just as big a boom as the North Sea industry. At its peak it employed 10, 000 people, it exploited new technology to produce a whole range of new products and paved the way for Scottish expertise to be recognised in the oil and petrochemical industry at large.


Congratulations to all our authors who have been shortlisted!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Birlinn and Polygon at Book Week Scotland

It’s Book Week Scotland next week, and we have plenty events planned with our fantastic authors. Get your diary out, here we go!

If you’re near the Mull of Kintyre on 26th November, the wonderful
Jess Smith, author of Way of the Wanderers, will be performing at Campbeltown Library. With stories and songs Jess brings to life the history of the travelling community. And in Fife on the same day, our very own Jan Rutherford (Publicity & Marketing Director) will be taking part in the panel discussion ‘So You Want to be a Writer?’ exploring the future of publishing at 7pm, in the Dalgety Bay Library.

The 27th of November is a busy day for our authors and no mistake. The lovely Sara Sheridan, author of
Brighton Belle, will appear at the MacDonald Library in Edinburgh with a talk entitled ‘How to be a Lady’. Learn from the best from throughout history! On the same day up in Oban, Catherine Brown, acclaimed food writer and author of Scottish Seafood, will be at Oban Library with a talk to get your mouth watering!

And in Edinburgh it's the launch of brand new short story collection The Seven Wonders of Scotland at Blackwell’s, South Bridge at 6.30pm! Seven writers re-imagine Scotland through a fictional exploration of its possible future, landscapes and mindsets. There are some pretty out-there ideas so come along to hear readings from this provocative and entertaining collection from contributors Gavin Inglis, Kirsti Wishart and Caroline von Schmalensee, introduced by the collection’s editor, Gerry Hassan.

Ron Butlin, Edinburgh's Makar or Poet Laureate, is a busy man in Book Week Scotland. He will be promoting his latest poetry collection,
The Magicians of Scotland with two performances. Firstly, he will be reading at the Edinburgh Bookshop, Bruntsfield on 29th November at 6.45pm. Then, on Saturday December 1st , Ron will appear at the Scottish Storytelling Centre accompanied by musicians Dick Lee and Anne Evans, in an exciting new show, which proved a hit at this year’s Fringe. 

On the 29th of November Main Street Trading Company will host the Borders launch of Fauna Scotica, a beautiful new book crammed with fascinating information and gorgeous photographs, with author Mary Low. Come along to St Boswells at 6pm to explore Scotland’s diverse range of wildlife.

On the same day - if you’re in Paisley - join us at Paisley Abbey at 7.30pm to hear the delightful Alexander McCall Smith speak about his latest novel, Trains and Lovers. But don’t fret if you can’t make that event! He will also appear at the National Library of Scotland on 30th November in a discussion on the joys of reading. Also on the 30th, the talented Keith Brockie will be speaking about his beautifully illustrated book, Return to One Man’s Island at the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick at 11.30am. For more information or to make a booking telephone +44(0)1620 890202 or email

Off the mainland Kevin MacNeil, editor of
These Islands, We Sing, and Donald S. Murray, author of And On This Rock, will be talking on Isles FM about island literature . First broadcast at 7pm on the 25th November, it will be repeated throughout the week at 2pm on the 28th November and 6pm on the 30th November.

Phew! That’s a lot of celebrating of Scottish books and writing. We need a lie down and a cup of tea just thinking about it. See you there!

Monday, 22 October 2012

James Kelman and the Best of the James Tait Black

Polygon is very excited that James Kelman has been shortlisted for the Best of the James Tait Black Prize. Six authors from the past century have been shortlisted for the best ever winner of Britain's oldest book award.

James won the award in 1989 with A Disaffection, and joins a stellar shortlist of Angela Carter, Graham Greene, Cormac McCarthy, Muriel Spark and Caryl Phillips. The winning book will be announced in December, chosen by a judging panel including broadcaster Kirsty Wark and award-winning author and writer in residence at the university, Alan Warner.

Regius Professor Greg Walker, chair of the James Tait Black Prizes, said: "This best of the best award is a wonderful opportunity to revisit some of the best writers in the literary canon. It is fitting in the year of celebration of 250 years of study of English literature at the University of Edinburgh that we recognise the wonderful contribution this prize makes to honouring great literature."

Everyone at Polygon will be keeping their fingers crossed for James. To find out more about his work, and the titles by him published by Polygon, click here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Last of The Stewarts o' Blair Nominated for Lifetime Achievement Award

Birlinn is delighted to announce that Sheila Stewart has been nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award in the British Awards for Storytelling Excellence 2012!

Sheila joins an impressive shortlist including Sandra Agard, Fiona Collins, Mary Medlicott, Taffy Thomas and Robin Williamson.

If you’re not familiar with Sheila’s work, you’re in for a rare treat. Sheila is probably the last link with the traditional traveller ballads and stories, as the daughter of noted singer Belle Stewart and one of The Stewarts o’ Blair who took the folk music world by storm in the 1960s.

Born in a stable to a traditional traveller family, she would overcome the problems and prejudice of life on the road to travel the world singing, telling stories and talking about the traditional ways which were dying out. She has sung for a President, a Pope and a Queen and was awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to the oral tradition of Scotland's folk music and for travelling people. Sheila has written three books, Queen Amang the Heather: The Life of Belle Stewart about her mother Belle, Pilgrims of the Mist: The Stories of Scotland’s Travelling People and A Traveller’s Life: The Autobiography of Sheila Stewart. After sixty years of performing, Sheila retired earlier this year.


Congratulations to Sheila from everyone at Birlinn, and if you’d like to find out more about the award and vote go to

Friday, 24 August 2012

Animals Beyond the Call of Duty

If you find yourself at Edinburgh Zoo, and you can tear yourself away from the pandas, we heartily recommend heading to the Rainforest Room in the Education Centre for a fantastic exhibition called ‘Animals Beyond the Call of Duty’. The exhibition aims to tell the story of animals in war, and includes two very close to Birlinn’s heart. 

Bamse was a St Bernard dog who served aboard the Norwegian mine-sweeper Thorodd during WWII and became a global mascot for the Royal Norwegian Forces and a symbol of freedom and inspiration for Allied troops throughout Europe. He was a familiar and much-loved sight around his adopted home of Montrose, shepherding his fellow crew members home after nights out, travelling on the local buses and even intervening to save a man overboard and a victim of a robber. In 2006 a statue of Bamse was unveiled in Montrose and his life story was told in Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr.

Just as brave and cuddly as Bamse, if even larger, was Wojtek, a 500-pound cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking brown bear who was adopted as a cub by the Polish Army in Iran also in WWII. He became an enlisted soldier so he could accompany his comrades onboard ship to Italy - bears weren’t allowed on boats - but he did more than just keep morale up with his cute antics. During battle, and under fire, Wojtek carried heavy shells to the soldiers operating the guns without flinching. After the war Wojtek joined other Polish exiles in Scotland, finally retiring to Edinburgh Zoo where he never failed to get very excited at the sound of Polish being spoken. Aileen Orr, whose grandfather met Wojtek on active service, tells his remarkable story in Wojtek: Polish War Hero.

LTR: Angus Whitson, Aileen Orr, Andrew Orr
Aileen, Angus and Andrew all took part in a special event to launch the exhibition, talking about Wojtek and Bamse and their lives. The exhibition itself is kindly sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Consulate General to celebrate the links between Scotland and Norway and the 40th anniversary of a penguin at the zoo, ‘Colonel-in Chief’ Nils Olav, being adopted by the Norwegian Kings Guard. It runs until 31st August, and copies of Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero and Wojtek: Polish War Hero are available to buy at the zoo.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

GiftED II? - The Literary Banksy Strikes Again

This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas …’

The ‘literary Banksy’ has struck again! Over a period of eight months last year, ten intricate and beautiful sculptures crafted from books were left in libraries, museums and even at the Edinburgh International Book Festival anonymously. Each bore a label thanking the venue for their work, “in support of libraries, books, words, ideas”.

GiftED by Anonymous
A book about the sculptures, GiftED: The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas, has just been published by Polygon, and a national tour of the works begins on Saturday in Aberdeen. Today, however, the artist – only ever identified as female – seems to have struck again with the appearance of paper flowers at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, each carrying a line by Oscar Wilde, “… freedom, books, flowers and the moon” and on the reverse A Gift For You and a limited edition number of /50.

A spokesperson for the Edinburgh International Book Festival said, “We are delighted that our mystery paper sculptor has visited us again, and thrilled that members of the public are finding these beautiful flowers around our site.”

GiftEd: The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas is available now, £9.99 hbk. Details on the tour of the original paper sculptures can be found at

The Last Wolf

We like it very much when people say nice things about books we publish, and we especially like it when it's an 'unprovoked' review, so to speak, from an accidental reader.

The Last Wolf
"I had no real intention of buying anything," says Blurb."I was more than happy to just casually browse the shelves. By chance, I caught site of the words ‘The Last Wolf’ and I instantly reached for this slender black book. On reading the blurb, I knew this was the perfect book for me."

Find out what made The Last Wolf by Jim Crumley so perfect at blurbbookreviews.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Polygon Pleasure at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2012

Let’s start with a very exciting event for Polygon. They’re all exciting, but it’s not every day a Polygon title is shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards Book of the Year! Aibisdh by Angus Peter Campbell was the winner of the poetry category and is now in the running for the overall Book of the Year Award, to be announced on Friday 17 August at 6.30 p.m. He’s up against Ali Smith, Janice Galloway and Simon Stephenson, and the winner is decided by public vote. Click here before midnight on 6th August and then click here to buy your ticket for the event. Good luck Angus Peter!

Gardens were made for poetry and Charlotte Square abounds with it during the Book Festival, to the extent that you will find not one but two Scottish Poets Laureate courtesy of Polygon. Edinburgh’s Makar, Ron Butlin, will be reading from his brand new collection of The Magicians of Edinburgh at 8:30pm on Saturday 18th August. Scotland’s Makar Liz Lochhead makes two appearances this year. On Wednesday 22nd at 4.30 p.m. she will be reading from her recently published selection, A Choosing. And on Sunday 19th August at 8.00 p.m. she joins Polygon stablemate and arguably Britain’s greatest living novelist James Kelman to discuss his life and work. Two giants of Scottish literature on the stage at the one time – not to be missed!

Probably the greatest poet working in Gaelic today, Aonghas MacNeacail will be reading from his new collection Laughing at the Clock, published to celebrate his 70th birthday, at 10.15 a.m. on Tuesday 21st August. And rounding off this poets’ corner, Tom Pow's explores the modern phenomenon of rural depopulation through poems, essays and travelogue in his new book In Another World: Among Europe’s Dying Villages at 2.00 p.m. on 23rd August.
Now, crime fiction events are always an excellent choice at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but we think this one represents particularly good value for money. Not one, but two brilliant writers each with their own unqiue take on the genre. Barry Fantoni is the legendary cartoonist of Private Eye and the man behind E. J. Thribb (17½) and his “In Memorium” poems, but he’s now the creator of Harry Lipkin, P.I.: The World’s Oldest Detective. Riffing on classic Marlowe gumshoe mysteries, Harry might not be the fastes but he’s definitely one of the funniest private investigators around. Barry (and Harry) share the stage with two very elegant ladies of crime, Mirabelle Bevan and her creator Sara Sheridan. Brighton Belle: A Mirabelle Bevan Mystery is set in Brighton in 1951 where Mirabelle – a former backroom girl for the Secret Service during the war – is working quietly as a secretary in a debt collection agency. She’s soon putting her sleuthing theory into practice when first a client and then her boss disappear amidst gold sovereigns, dead bodies and dubious accents. Barry and Sara will be appearing together on Monday 13th August at 2:30 p.m. Sara will also be taking part in the Amnesty International readings on Friday 17th August 2012 at 5.30 p.m. in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across the world who have been criminalized or tortured because of their sexuality. Tickets are free for this event from the box office on the day.

Fancy seeing some stars? Stuart Clark is back with the second instalment in The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth Trilogy, The Sensorium of God. Two men - Edmond Halley, a dynamic adventurer and astronomer, and Isaac Newton, a reclusive mathematician and alchemist, could reveal the secrets of the universe. But human problems stand in the way. Newton has guilty secrets, not least his having stolen some of his ideas from fellow scientist Robert Hooke. The quarrelsome experimentalist is demanding recognition for his work but vital scientific advancement could stop dead in its tracks as the three men bicker and hold petty grudges. Join Stuart at 8.30 p.m. on Sunday 19th August to find out more!

A stand-out novel of 2011 was The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons, a hugely moving story around the Kindertransport during WWII. Now writing as Jake Simons, his new novel The Pure is something completely different, though, as the story of a disaffected ex-Mossad agent with revenge on his mind who comes face to face with old comrades, Wikileaks, an ex-CIA female agent and a chance to topple the government which left him by the wayside years ago. Fans of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels will love it! Hang on and hold tight at 8.30pm on Sunday 19th August 2012.

For more information or to book tickets, please visit or call 0845 3735888.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Birlinn Signs Bradley Wiggins Book!

Birlinn Ltd is delighted to announce the signing of ‘Bradley Wiggins: Tour De Force’ by John Deering.

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins recently became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, and the book is written over 20 chapters each representing a stage of the iconic race. The book will present an insight into Wiggins’ Tour achievement, while simultaneously relaying his incredible back story. 

Deering is author of ‘Team on the Run – the inside story of the Linda McCartney Pro Cycling Team’ and the forthcoming ‘Twelve Months in the Saddle’, and is an old friend and colleague of both Wiggins and the man who guided him to glory in Paris, Team Sky manager Sean Yates.

Neville Moir, Birlinn Publishing Director, said, ‘I am thrilled that we will be publishing this title about Bradley’s incredible achievements for Christmas 2012, and that we have signed a writer of John Deering’s calibre for our growing sports list.’

 The Flying Scotsman
In cycling Birlinn also publishes The Flying Scotsman by revolutionary and visionary cyclist Graeme Obree, now a major motion picture starring Jonny Lee Miller.

Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force by John Deering will be published in October 2012.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Alexander McCall Smith at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2012

They seek him here, they seek him there but in August it’s a pretty safe bet that Alexander McCall Smith will be at home in Edinburgh. ‘Home’ being the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square, mind you, as he appears not once, not twice, not even three but four times! And you still need to get in quick to get a ticket …


With a brand new 44 Scotland Street novel, Sunshine on Scotland Street, on the blocks, there’s a lot to talk about – has Bertie managed to escape Irene, are we really seeing double or are there two Bruces, how will marital bliss affect Cyril and his gold tooth, to name but three.

UPDATE: Alexander's three adult events are now sold out. Returned tickets might be available from the Box Office, please contact 0845 373 5888 or

Saturday 11 August at 6.30 p.m. (now sold out)
Wednesday 15 August at 1.30 p.m. (now sold out)
or Thursday 16 August at 6.30 p.m. (now sold out)

And for younger readers there is a special event on Tuesday 14 August at 3.30 p.m. when Alexander will be talking about the latest case for a very young Precious Ramotswe, Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill.

The weather might not be great at the moment, but when Alexander McCall Smith is around it is always sunny. Book your summer sun now!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Birlinn at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2012

The Book Festival
In amongst all the lovely big white marquees in Charlotte Square, you might notice a small orange, two-man tent. This is Birlinn HQ at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We’re joking, of course, but it does seem as if we move lock, stock and barrel to the EIBF every year to support all our lovely authors, and this year will be no exception!

History fans are extremely well catered for this year with MSP Struan Stevenson talking about Russia under Putin, ahead of his new book Stalin’s Legacy, on Sunday, 26 August (now sold out). Cartophiles (that’s map lovers) can get their fix with Christopher Fleet on 13 August. Christopher is one of three authors of Scotland: Mapping the Nation, which was hugely popular in hardback and looks to be even more popular in paperback (available for the festival). And Birlinn stalwart Alistair Moffat will be revealing the hidden history of Scotland we all carry around with us in our DNA in The Scots: A Genetic Journey on 14 August (now sold out).

And if your history fan is a little bit younger we heartily recommend taking them along to see Allan Burnett on Tuesday, 14 August at 3.30 p.m. His And All That … series is a hilarious introduction some of the big names in Scottish history, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Macbeth. Allan is a brilliant – and extremely enthusiastic – communicator of history and we generally come back from his events exhausted but much better informed! You have been warned …

"‎String-pulling, name-dropping, opinionated in every line,” Michael White called The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell and he wasn’t wrong. But it is also an insightful and urbane look back at a career in politics which we probably won’t see the likes of again for a very long time. As he turns eighty-years-old, join Tam Dalyell on 15 August as he talks about his life, and again on 20 August as he joins Merlin Waterson to discuss families who have donated their homes to the nation as the Dalyells did with The House of the Binns, their ancestral home for over 400 years.

In our modern world conflict is never far away. John Ashton was a researcher for the legal team of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. He has uncovered evidence in the course of his research which throws doubt not only on Megrahi’s conviction but also the subsequent furore surrounding his appeals. John will be talking about his book Megrahi: You Are My Jury, The Lockerbie Evidence on 11 August in a discussion with Hans Köchler, the UN's official observer at the Lockerbie trial and Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the tragedy.

Max Benitz grew up surrounded by his father’s memorabilia of his time in the Scots Guards. He decided to find out what the day to day life, away from the headline and protests, for the average soldier in Afghanistan. He spent eighteen months with his father’s regiment in tanning and in Afghanistan and his book Six Months Without Sundays is a poignant, funny and thought-provoking piece of work from such a young writer. Join Max on 17 August when he will be talking about Afghanistan with veteran broadcaster Sandy Gall.

But if all that sounds too serious there is one man guaranteed to raise a laugh at the Book Festival. Bob Servant is a hero for our time, taking on email spammers promising everything from love to lions. About to become a star of television and radio, Bob’s creator Neil Forsyth brings us up to date with his meteoric rise to fame on 15 August. And for foodies, Mary Contini of Valvona & Crolla – the legendary Italian deli – takes us through The Italian Sausage Bible on 11 August. No drooling at the back.

Our noisy wee sister imprint will be along shortly to shout about her authors, but information on all our events can be found at Enjoy!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Who do you think you are?

Alistair Moffat
It has become more and more popular to ask ourselves, genetically-speaking, “Who do you think you are?” but is it something a nation can ask itself? A best-selling history writer and a population geneticist have begun to ask just this with startling results. Alistair Moffat and Jim Wilson are unravelling the complex and tangled history locked with our DNA. It’s an almost limitless archive of our history where the ancient story is being rewritten.

Alistair recently appeared on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme talking about 'deep ancestry', the very roots of where we come from, and revealed that almost everyone in Britain is an immigrant - it just depends when you arrived. Click here to hear Alistair talking about this on the programme.

The Scots
Alistair will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 14th of August talking about how the results of DNA testing almost rewrites Scottish history as outlined in the book The Scots: A Genetic Journey. And if you really want to know who you are, check out the Britains DNA site.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Doris Davidson

Everyone at Birlinn is very sad to announce the death of Doris Davidson.
   Doris was an Aberdeen lass through and through, having been born there in 1922 the daughter of a master butcher and country lass. Her idyllic childhood was shattered in 1934 with the death of her father, meaning her mother was forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet and Doris’ early departure from education. Doris went to work in an office, gradually rising through the ranks until she became book-keeper, but at the age of 41 she decided to do something else.
   Doris went back to college to study for O and A levels and trained as a primary school teacher. From 1967 until she retired in 1982 she taught in schools in Aberdeen but once again, Doris decided to change focus. Her new 'career' was as a writer. Drawing on her own experiences and childhood she would become an acclaimed and much-loved romantic novelist. One of most successful books, though, was her autobiography A Gift from the Gallowgate, charting her childhood in Aberdeen in the 20s and 30s, her marriages and working early working life.
   Doris was a joy to work with, still appearing at signings locally well into her 80s and still delighting readers. She will be very sadly missed.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Aibisidh Shortlisted for £30,000 Literary Award

Polygon is delighted to announce that Angus Peter Campbell has been shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award 2012. Angus Peter’s collection Aibisidh won the poetry prize, worth £5000, and now joins the shortlist for the £30,000 award.

‘I am delighted to have won this major poetry award from what really was a tremendous shortlist,’ said Angus Peter. ‘Best if I could dedicate it to our greatest living Gaelic poet, Donald MacAulay, who not only encouraged me personally at the very beginning of my career but whose parallaxes have helped me navigate the skerries since. Nuair a sheatlaigeas a’ mhòine,‘s e an luimead a dhealras.’

Aibisidh was described by Tom Pow, one fo the judges of the 2012 Awards, as 'an unusually rich, coherent and emotionally satisfying collection'.

The shortlist for the Award is:
Fiction: Ali Smith, There but for the (Hamish Hamilton)
Non-Fiction: Janice Galloway, All Made Up (Granta)
Poetry: Angus Peter Campbell, Aibisidh (Polygon)
First Book: Simon Stephenson, Let Not the Waves of the Sea (John Murray)

The winner, chosen by public vote will be announced at an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday the 17th of August. To cast your vote click here. Voting closes on midnight on Monday the 6th of August. 

Congratulations to Angus Peter from everyone at Polygon!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Happy 70th Birthday Aonghas MacNeacail!

If there was anyone we’d describe as laughing at the clock, it would be Aonghas MacNeacail. Acclaimed as the fforemost poet writing today in the Gaelic language, his skilful way with words and general bonhomie make it very hard to believe his latest collection Déanamh Gáire Ris A' Chloc - Laughing at the Clock is published to celebrate his seventieth birthday. Aonghas talked about his experience of ‘being a poet’ on the Scottish Poetry Library's blog, Our Sweet Old Etcetera.
Image by Kevin MacNeil
“The moment when an individual decides to be a writer of poetry is not at all the same as that when the same individual can be said to have become a poet. In my case, around five years of exploring how words work - those of acknowledged practitioners, and - clumsily - my own.
Being told to ‘go back to your roots: write about what you know’ might seem like obvious advice, once it’s been taken. I might wish to have received it earlier, but those years of obsessive reading, and obsessive writing, were also a kind of affirmation that I had the tenacity to follow this path - that I had chosen / had chosen me - through to a productive conclusion.
Once poems begin to appear in print, you are then liable to be introduced as 'the poet...' which can itself be discomfiting, when you’re aware of only having, at most, seven adequately abandoned (in the ‘Valeryan’ sense) poems. And there are those days, weeks, months, when nothing at all is written: terrifying. Have I said all that there is to be said? But you keep reading, and there’s a part of the brain always open to the possibility that something interesting may present itself: which, eventually, if you let it, happens.
Those politicians who argue that ‘incentives’ - i.e. lots of cash - are necessary to encourage the creative process (‘enterprise’, they call it) have clearly never experienced the itch at the back of the brain that insists on being turned into a poem. It may be a word, phrase, visual image, sound, or simply an inchoate feeling that there is something to be said, and it’s your job to say it. What eventually turns out may seem inordinately slight, ludic, ludicrous even, but if you can say, with reasonable confidence, that it is a poem, then that is enough.
When asked, usually by children, ‘What’s the best poem you’ve written?’ I invariably reply, 'The next one'. Whether writing to commission or responding to an unexpected trigger that sets the creative juices going, the process is always going to be one of discovery: sometimes the material is drawn entirely from memory, at other times it may depend on considerable research.
But even the least personally experienced subject can only be responded to successfully if there are enough points of recognition to enable the poet to engage with the material. The previously unknown has to be uncovered until it becomes thoroughly familiar: once it becomes a ‘known’ which can then be explored with the same level of assured curiosity as any other subject, all the fun, and torment, may begin.
It’s maybe just as well that such commissions are not daily occurrences. Even after half a century of writing, I am still more accustomed to the mysterious pleasures derived from writing ‘to find out what I have to say’. That the spark may present itself in one of three languages, and in poem or song form, merely adds to the satisfaction gained from being a poet.”

Laughing at the Clock: New and Selected Poems - Déanamh Gáire Ris A’ Chloc: Dáin Ùra Agus Thaghte is published today on Aonghas’ 70th birthday by Polygon, £12.99 pbk

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dark•Heritage: Vikings in America

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Sometimes you just need something different, so in amongst all the bunting and flags we were delighted to see Dark Heritage taking the time to blog about Vikings in America by Graeme Davis. The first book to tackle the subject of the true extent of the Viking discovery and colonisation of the eastern seaboard of America, it's a cracking - if sometimes controversial - read. We think 2012 is going to be Viking-tastic with a new series on BBC by Neil Oliver coming up in the autumn, and Graeme's book is an excellent jumping off point.