First Highland Book Prize awarded

Highland Book Prize judges Kevin MacNeil (centre) and Jenny Niven chat to writer Malachy Tallack about the short-list.

The first ever Highland Book Prize was awarded last week at the Ullapool Book Festival.

Kapka Kassabova, who lives near Beauly, won the £1000 prize with her non-fiction book ‘Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe’.

Originally from Bulgaria, Kapka’s book explores the people who live in the uplands and forest regions that straddle her native land’s borders with Greece and Turkey. Speaking by recorded message from New Zealand, she told the audience in Ullapool village hall that she will donate half her prize money to the Scottish Refugee Council.

Kapka Kassabova

The judges for the prize were poet and novelist Kevin MacNeil, novelist and screenwriter Chris Dolan, Jenny Niven, head of literature at Creative Scotland, and Alex Oglivie, trustee of the Highland Society of London, which funded the prize.

As well as ‘Border’ the shortlist comprised ‘The Potter’s Tale’ by Dion Alexander, ‘The Angel in the Stone’ by RL Mckinney and ‘The Finest Road in the World: The Story of Travel and Transport in Scottish Highlands’ by James Miller

Rachel Humphries, centre director of Moniack Mhor, which facilitated the prize, confessed to being “slightly terrified” when 56 books dropped on to her desktop. “We thought that if we managed to attract 20 books the prize would be a great success,” she said.

Judge Kevin MacNeil added: “All the entries for the Highland Book Prize were of a very high standard, but ‘Border’ was truly outstanding. It is about time the Highlands and Islands had their own literary prize. The periphery should not be sacrificed – it should be acknowledged. With this prize, we have taken charge of that ourselves.”

Joan Michael, chairperson of the Ullapool Book Festival committee said all too often the Highlands and Islands are seen as “wallpaper”, just a setting in front of which a drama unfolds.

“The Highland Book Prize has drawn wider attention a body of literature which has swept that precept to one side,” she added. “The Highlands and Islands are a place rich with stories and strong voices capable of sharing intelligent insights that can enrich all our lives, and our understanding of the wider world.”