Professor Dame Sue Black wins prestigious Scottish Book of the Year award

30 November 2018 22:00
Professor Dame Sue Black with her Saltire Book of the Year Awards

Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology Dame Sue Black, Pro-Vice Chancellor Engagement at Lancaster University, has won the coveted 2018 Saltire Book of the Year award.

She scooped the prize for her work All That Remains: A Life in Death, a non-fiction book that explores the many faces of death as experienced through her more than three decades’ career in forensic anthropology. Her book also won the Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

That career has taken her from investigating the scene of horrific war crimes committed in Kosovo to identifying victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand.

“I am truly delighted to have won the Saltire Book of the Year award this evening,” said Sue Black, who collected both awards at a special ceremony at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on Friday evening. “To have done so in such illustrious literary company is a very special honour.

“Over the past thirty years and more, I feel very lucky to have been able to work in a job that I absolutely love. Working with teams who are second-to-none in their field of expertise has made that experience uniquely rewarding.

“In writing this book, my goal was always to create a record of that experience but also to reflect on the important and positive lessons I have learned about life through the study of death in its many different forms.”

All That Remains: A Life in Death is a gripping account of Sue Black’s many encounters with mortal remains, whether in the laboratory, at burial sites, at murder scenes or when investigating mass fatalities due to war or natural disaster. She describes the book as being “as much about life as about death” and argues that, rather than being something to fear, death is something we should accept “as an integral and fundamentally necessary part of life’s process.”

Making their selection, the judges described the book as “curiously uplifting and life-affirming” and commented that “like all good memoirs”, it “reveals as much about the reader as the writer”.

The Saltire Literary Awards, regarded as Scotland’s most prestigious accolade for authors and the highlight in the country’s literary calendar, are supported by Creative Scotland and celebrate literary and academic excellence across six categories.

Mairi Kidd, Interim Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing at Creative Scotland, spoke highly of Sue Black, and said: “These awards occupy a unique place in the Scottish literary landscape, recognising as they do Scottish literature and publishing in all its many and varied forms.

“Particular congratulations to Dame Sue Black on winning Saltire Book of the Year, and to all of the other individual category winners in what was another very competitive year.

“It is great to be able to celebrate and showcase the work of everyone shortlisted and, in so doing, hopefully to promote it to a new and wider audience.”

Sue Black, who took up her role at Lancaster University in the summer, claimed the main award ahead of the winners of the five other awards announced at the ceremony: Leila Aboulela’s short story collection and Fiction Book of the Year Elsewhere, Home; Jay Whittaker’s Wristwatch, the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year; Research Book of the Year What the Victorians made of Romanticism, by Tom Mole, Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh; History Book of the Year The Drowned and the Saved, by Les Wilson; and Sal, by Mick Kitson, winner of the Saltire First Book Award.

Louise Welsh collected a special award for “Most Inspiring Saltire First Book Award winner”, marking 30 years since the First Book Award category was established, for her debut crime novel The Cutting Room, which went on to win the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction.

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