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Shock and silence over breaking news at Scottish Association of Writers Conference

By Barbara Henderson

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"And the winner of the TC Farries Crystal Thistle for a children’s novel is…"

I announced it with a flourish, pouring all my relief into the final words. It was such a grand dinner at the 50th Scottish Association of Writers Conference that, despite not really being the shy type, addressing the whole conference with my adjudication speech was a bit nerve-wracking.

The delighted recipient stood up to echoing applause as I made my way back to my seat.

Little did I know that the evening was about to get much more interesting, for two reasons.

The trophy before disaster
The trophy before disaster

Firstly, the presentation of the trophies. There was a moment when the sparkling, bordering-on-ostentatious trophy I had just awarded stood on the prize table, catching the light from the chandeliers in the oh-so-posh hotel.

Cameras flashed; trophies were lifted. Three seconds later, there was a ringing, glassy, splintering crash, followed by utter silence – which was odd in a room crammed with hundreds of people.

What followed (I am a drama teacher after all), is probably best described as a series of three freeze-frames:

1. Everyone standing within an arm’s reach of the trophy table stoops, knees slightly bent, faces towards the messy sea of glass on the floor. Eyes wide, mouths open.

2. Same group of people, disbelieving faces turned towards each other now, eyes and mouths even rounder.

3. A collective gasp (or in one case, a whimper). Eyebrows contracted and one or both hands clasped to mouths.

Naturally, there was a little mortification, but also many, many giggles and supportive hugs. Writers are a kind lot, make no mistake. Nevertheless, they are resourceful too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a flurry of trophy-smashing stories were to wing their way towards editors in the coming months.

The second reason why the evening was so memorable was closer to home – the only fellow Highland LIT member at the gathering, Philip Paris, won – I repeat WON – the Barbara Hammond Trophy for a Self-published Novel.

Philip Paris with his trophy
Philip Paris with his trophy

Adjudicated by none other than Robin Cutler, the director of IngramSpark chose his Men Cry Alone, a rare and meticulously researched exploration of domestic abuse against male victims.

Highland writers were a little thin on the ground, so the cheering and photography duties fell to me, and it was uplifting to see Philip’s determination to shine a light on an often still taboo subject recognised in this way.

He already has many faithful readers in the Highlands and beyond, particularly for his historical fiction such as Effie’s War, published traditionally by Edinburgh publishers Black & White.

By contrast, self-publishing still has a bit of an image problem in book circles. This objective endorsement from the experts can only be the boost which Men Cry Alone needs. Huge congratulations, Philip – the boy done good!

And while we’re at it, can I just scream my excitement that Waterstones Inverness is the WINNER of the national retailer of the year in the Inverness City Centre Business Awards! An amazing achievement – a BOOK SHOP nails the top spot.

Well done to managers Pete and Toby and their dedicated team!

Look out for:

Men Cry Alone, Tain-based Philip Paris’s prize-winning novel about domestic abuse against men.

Men Cry Alone
Men Cry Alone

Going Dark, published on 17th April. This sounds gripping! A thriller set between the war-torn Balkans, London and the Scottish Highlands, written by Highland resident and ex-Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant Neil Lancaster, who will also appear at the Cromarty Crime and Thriller weekend in May.

Going Dark
Going Dark

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