Historical thriller by Highland writer wins Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2023 award
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A historical thriller penned by a Highland writer and described as "a bookseller’s dream" has been named Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2023.
The Bookseller of Inverness by Shona MacLean – who writes as S G MacLean – is set just after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Shona, who lives at Conon Bridge, celebrated the announcement today with staff at the Inverness branch of Waterstones.
"I am delighted – and quite emotional, no doubt about it," she said.
"It is the biggest thing which has happened to me in my career."
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The idea for the book first came to Shona more than 11 years ago in Leakey's bookshop in Church Street, Inverness.
Central to the plot is Iain MacGillivray, a scarred veteran of the Battle of Culloden, who discovers the body of a stranger in his shop.
Despite the book's huge popular appeal and success, Inverness-born Shona reveals an element of uncertainty about how well it would do even when she had completed it.
"I thought because of the subject matter, it would strike a chord in Scotland," she said.
"But I didn't have any confidence it was going to do any better than my other books.
"My husband would tell you I never have any confidence in books when I am writing. I am full of doubt when writing them.
"You have to wait until you see what the reaction is to them."
She felt the book's appeal for readers stemmed from its setting in a historical era which many knew about while others had been attracted by the title and book's cover.
"In some ways it is an old-fashioned book," she reflected. "It is an adventure story and I think people still enjoy adventure stories."
Earlier this year, she made it to the 12-strong longlist – along with Cromarty crime-writing resident Ian Rankin – for top Scottish book award The McIlvanney Prize.
As such exposure increases her profile, she is also gaining new followers.
Shona said that although The Bookseller was her 10th novel, it is often the first one people have read and she is now finding that they are starting to read her other work.
The Bookseller of Inverness is also one of the most requested books at Inshes Library which is holding its first Mini Book Festival for Book Week Scotland – and at which Shona is speaking tomorrow.
"It will be the first event I am speaking after the announcement about the award," she said.
"It is just across the road from where I was born which is really nice."
Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year specifically champions books by authors based in Scotland, or titles that have a strong Scottish setting, and is voted for by booksellers at Waterstones in Scotland.
Toby Ritty, bookshop manager at Waterstones in Inverness, said: "The Bookseller of Inverness is the perfect blend of crime, historical fiction and human drama.
"It is also a wonderful historical novel, with fantastic period detail that is deeply researched but lightly worn. The characters are beautifully drawn and completely believable and give a real insight into the lives of Scots in the tumultuous years of the Jacobite uprising.
"I found myself yearning to know what happens to them after the book finishes.
"This novel is a bookseller’s dream, the sort of book you can place in the hands of anyone and be confident they will love it."
Although the book has been a huge success, Shona is not resting on her laurels,
In September, The Winter List was published. Set in 1660, Charles Stuart has been restored to the throne and the hunt is on for those on a list of traitors.
Shona is now working on her next book, set in 19th century Cromarty, which she hopes to have in the hands of her agent by spring with possible publication in 2025.