Longlist (and Longlisting) for Bloody Scotland and the McIlvanney Prize…

Be careful what you wish for…

Bloody Scotland logo 2

A few months back I told you all how excited I was at getting the opportunity to be involved in the longlisting for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, to be awarded at this year’s Bloody Scotland event in September. The longlist has now been announced, so I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts about the process with you…

Bloody Scotland asked for volunteers to read and rate the fifty books or so that were put forward for the award. They got three hundred or so volunteers, though I don’t know if they used them all. The idea was that each reader would read five books picked randomly from the list – picked by Bloody Scotland, that is, not the reader. Each book would be read by several readers, then the ratings – a simple score from 1-10 – would be collated to create the longlist that would go to the panel of judges.

Now, as you know, and as I am very aware, I have… shall we say… certain prejudices when it comes to crime-writing. Present tense – ugh! Alcoholism – yawn! Foul language – yeuch! Misery-fest – blarrrrghhh! So I decided I needed to find a way to judge the books as impartially as I could… which of course was a golden opportunity for…

A Speadsheet!

Bloody scotland ratings

I have to say I enjoyed using this so much I’m now using it for all the crime novels I read. Did it make a difference to the ratings? Hard to say, in truth, because each one ended up with the same rating as I would have given it with my usual off-the-top-of-my-head star ratings. But I suspect I’ve been using a system like this subconsciously for my ratings for a long time.

* * * * *

Enough about the system, I hear you cry, what about the books? Well, it turns out the initial list is produced by publishers nominating books on their own lists. Sadly, some publishers either think really bad books are really good, or they hope that somehow they’ll get some publicity or reviews out of the process. Bad move, in my opinion. So far, I’ve only published a review of one of them – Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton, which scored a perfect ten for me. And I will review The Rat Stone Serenade, which got 6. But were I to review the other three (and I may at some point, on Goodreads, at least) they would be getting thoroughly slammed. No wonder they asked for volunteer readers! If I was invited onto a judging panel and had to read 50 books as bad as most of these, I’d… I’d… well, I don’t know what I’d do, but it wouldn’t be pleasant!

custard pie

I’ve removed the names of the three worst ones, because this post isn’t about slamming them – it’s about slamming the time-wasting publishers who put them forward. Mostly small, independent publishers from the small sample of 5 books that I received – the bigger ones put forward their best, and it showed. But here’s a brief résumé of the books…

Book 1 – a crossover crime/sci-fi/dystopian novel aimed at “middle-teens”. Why would any publisher put that forward even if it was good? Sadly it wasn’t. The plot was a mess, parts of it were clearly cut and paste jobs from wiki or suchlike, it was tedious and repetitive, and it seemed to suggest that the most reasonable response to poor parenting is to encourage children to brutally murder their parents. When the kids weren’t too busy murdering each other, that is. Ugh! Truly one of the worst and most repellent books I’ve ever read. Score – a generous 1.

the rat stone serenade

Book 2The Rat Stone Serenade by Denzil Meyrick. I really enjoyed the quality of writing and characterisation in this, and it had a great, well-realised Scottish setting in Kintyre. Unfortunately the plot went way over the top – I lost count of the bodies in the end and ceased to care long before that. However, there was enough good about it that I’d be happy to try another book by this author in the future. Full review to follow. Score – 6.

Book 3 – abandoned after roughly 20 pages of swearing, bullying and violence. Characterisation terrible or non-existent, and how any book can become repetitive within 20 pages beats me, but this one managed it. So clichéd and derivative. Ugh! But at least it wasn’t as bad as Book 1, and by that stage I no longer felt obliged to plough through the whole thing – how easily our good intentions get tossed aside! Score – sadly 1, because minus 10 wasn’t allowed.

open wounds

Book 4Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton. Brilliant book, and quintessentially Scottish! A definite contender for the prize, I should think. Here’s my review. Score – 10.

Book 5 – This was an adequate police procedural which I enjoyed well enough, but not enough to make me search out more from the author. Nothing original about it, average standard of writing and the famous saggy middle. Again, why the publisher thought it should be in the running defeats me. Score – 5.

The end result was that, when I sent in my ratings, I gave feedback to Bloody Scotland to the effect that, unless the standard was in some way improved, I wouldn’t put myself through it again in future years.

* * * * *

Then the longlist came out…

bloody scotland long list

(The name of the award has now been changed to the McIlvanney Prize in tribute to perhaps the greatest of all Scottish crimewriters, William McIlvanney, who died last year. I’m delighted – I think it’s a most appropriate tribute and I would imagine winners of the award in future years will be proud of the association.)

And wow! I have to say it’s a great looking longlist! Mostly excellent, bestselling authors, but with room for some lesser known ones too. Mostly actually set in Scotland (which as far as I’m concerned should be one of the criteria). Proper crime writing for the most part, and no ‘experimental’ or supernatural ones, as far as I can see. Only one misery-fest domestic noir, and a serious lack of murdered children! Nine past tense, one present tense, from what I can see on the Kindle samples.

Quality books that the general reading public might actually enjoy, in fact! Looks like the volunteers did a fine job after all of weeding out the sillier or weaker nominations and avoiding over-hyped, over-done ‘trends’. I’d be happy in principle to see almost any one of these win. I’ve only read a couple so far, but had already planned to read a couple of the others, and will certainly look out for the rest. And I might volunteer in the future again after all…

And, not that I’m biased or anything ;), but because it was my pick and scored a perfect 10, I do hope Open Wounds wins…

What do you think of the shortlist? Have you read any of them? Will you read any of them?

Have a great weekend! 😀

C'mon, Andy!
C’mon, Andy!

41 thoughts on “Longlist (and Longlisting) for Bloody Scotland and the McIlvanney Prize…

    • Yes, it’s Beloved Poison by ES Thomson, an author I don’t know at all. It seems to be a historical novel and I think from the blurb set in London, so wouldn’t have made my own longlist on that basis. But it seems to be being well reviewed…

      • Oh WHAT a shame, I had fun with my first attempt – Believed Poisson A title for the yearning Europeans amongst us, the tale of a lying fish, perhaps, which led a nation to disaster with their lies. What do you mean there is no fish called a gove?

        • He is rather fishlike, now you mention it. It’s tragic when someone’s main pitch for popularity is to declare “I have no charisma”. Still, I suppose it would be worse if he thought he had…

  1. Great review, and I’m glad you got the opportunity for a spreadsheet – I know how much you enjoy them. (You always were a strange child…..).
    The longlist looks great, so on behalf of all the readers who won’t have to waste there time on junk, grateful thanks to you and your fellow readers (or do I mean weeders?)

    • Haha! Any excuse for a spreadsheet! Thank you – I am rather proud of myself and my fellow unknown longlisters – we’ve done a fine job! I’ve read the Rankin and the Skelton, and have the Brookmyre waiting, but several of the others are quite appealing too…

  2. I think we must anoint you The Spreadsheet Queen. I would like to anoint you the Spreadsheet Queen of the United Kingdom, except that I fear that we should really be re-named the Dis-United Kingdom, and that shortly, we might sink into being purely Little England, so you might just find your Spreadsheet Queen title is only legal tender in Scotland.

    AND Andy might end up saying, Y’Know what, I am Scotland’s tennis champion, not Great Britain’s, if that entity ceases to exist.

    Anyway, a lovely spreadsheet, and an excellent C’mon Andy picture

    • I don’t think that would be democratic. I will be willing to stand as candaidate for leader of the Pro-Spreadsheet Alliance. I promise that if you vote for me, I will design a spreadsheet that will save the NHS! But if you vote against me, I shall design one that will only save the NHS in Scotland! (And Northern Ireland.) The English, with their massive anti-spreadsheet bias, will each be given a bandage and a bottle of paracetemol and will be free to take back control of their own healthcare….

      The really burning question which hasn’t been addressed is – will Britain still be allowed to take part in Eurovision?? I think we should be told…

  3. Well I rate this post a 10! The spreadsheet is tremendous. I love seeing your process, especially from a writing standpoint. Even though I don’t write crime . . . Maybe I should start though; I feel I’ll have a leg up. If I do, I’ll begin by reading Open Wounds!

    • Haha! Thank you! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a spreadsheet – it gives the illusion of organisation and achievement, and the additon of colours can make it look pretty too! I am thinking of designing a similar one for lit-fic. Just trying to think of the criteria at the moment… The main one would be “has a plot” I think. 😉

  4. I absolutely love your idea for a spreadsheet, FictionFan!! It’s creative, but also quite efficient and useful. I’ve had similar thoughts to yours as I’ve been involved with the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. We all have our personal biases and prejudices, and it’s important to remember that when reading. Even so, there are some books that are either brutally violent for no reason, or have almost no sentences that are free from obscenities, or, or, or.. Those of us who are interested in the short list and winner appreciate the culling! 🙂 – And it does look like some great novels are on the long list. I look forward to seeing which one wins.

    • Yes, it’s quite hard not to let one’s own biases get in the way, but reading other people’s reviews has made me very aware of how individual our tastes are – that I might hate a book but other people will love it and vice versa. Fortunately a couple of these were so bad I could be confident nobody would like them! 😉 I’m tempted to try to read the whole longlist but realistically there’s no chance of doing it between now and September. Intrigued to see who wins, though…

  5. My son Domer loves spreadsheets! And this one, I think, is tops. Very clear, and I’m glad to hear that even going to all that work ended up mighty close to your star system. Perhaps you just got the short end of the stick, with books that weren’t especially award-worthy. Now, however, that longlist looks pretty interesting — and so does Andy!!

    • Aha! A man of taste and discretion, clearly! Haha! I do find spreadsheets great fun to do, sadly… still, I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to. 😉 Yes, I’d love to see a list of all the books to see if the standard was pretty poor in general or if I was just unlucky. But I did ‘discover’ Douglas Skelton who’ll be a future favourite, I think, so worthwhile in the end. Andy’s doing well…

    • Normally I’d be rotting for Ian Rankin but I feel ‘invested’ in Douglas Skelton now. Exciting, isn’t it? 😉
      Haha! I will… if only so you know to avoid them!

      • I’m dying to know the horrors too, especially 3 & 5, just in case I inadvertently purchase them or agree to plough through them for Blog Tours. I can’t see 1 coming under my radar – I don’t touch YA or similar books. And it looks like your “C’mon Andy” did the trick! And that spreadsheet looks an excellent way of judging ALL books – I may do something similar.

        • Haha! (names provided then deleted)

          Yay! Well done, Andy! Though I missed Rafa! Yes, I like the spreadsheet – it makes me feel that I’m judging the books more fairly somehow (even though the results always come out more or less the same as they would have anyway). But I need to do some different categories for lit-fic.

        • I’m just about to delete all of our comments, but what an idiot he sounds! And very much as I’d have expected from his book to be honest. It’s amazing the rubbish that gets published, though I think some self-published authors have got wise and now set themselves up as a publisher to make it look as if they’re NOT self-published. It’s interesting though that the number of reviews for each of the books relates pretty closely to how I rated them – the worst ones only have “family and friends” reviews. So it would appear that for the most part the public can still sort out the good ones from the… ahem… not so good.

  6. Yay for spreadsheets! Glad to see my pet hate, ‘salacious sexual content’ gets a mention but am also very impressed by ‘credibility’ and ‘other unsavoury content’.
    Your reviews of the ‘bad’ books is hilarious, I suppose the publishers are looking for publicity, good, bad or indifferent. Good luck to Open Wounds.

    • Hahaha! I created ‘Other unsavoury content’ because I felt a category saying ‘encouraging children to murder their parents’ might be a bit too specific! I wrote a huge review ripping that book to shreds but decided it would be too mean to post it – I’m sure the guy was doing his best… 😉

  7. Well this was a very interesting post, FictionFan! Thanks for giving us a look at how the process worked for you. I loved reading your thoughts on the horrible books out of your five. I’ll have to look into some of the picks on the actual longlist.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I’d like to read the whole longlist, but realistically there’s no chance of me fitting them all in between now and September – I’ll read a couple more though. I’m intrigued now to see who wins…

    • Haha! Thank you! 😀 (For some reason, WP has developed a little blip that means it occasionally doesn’t notify me of a comment at the moment, so my apologies for replying so late to this one! Grrr… I keep thinking it’s been sorted…)

  8. I’m still chuckling over your assessments of Books 1 and 3. “Middle teens”? Like 15-16 year olds? Seems a very narrow field. And I usually don’t think of that age level when I think of serious crime novels. Congrats, though, and being included in this venture. The list looks great.

    • And that was me trying to be kind! 😉 Yeah, the “middle teens” book was a real oddity – I think that’s about the right age range, 15-16, so sending the message that if you don’t like your parents, you should kill them, seemed somewhat irresponsible. In general, I’m a reluctant book-banner but I wouldn’t have that one on the shelf in the school library! But the final list does look good…

    • Haha! I love the spreadsheets nearly as much as the books! 😉 Open Wounds is great, but if you decide to try him, I’d definitely recommend reading them in order. 🙂

  9. I simply adore the spreadsheet and I’m strongly tempted to steal it!! It sounds like your selection could be described as a ‘mixed bunch’ but I’m really glad you had one that scored the magic ten!

    • Haha! Any excuse for a new spreadsheet – that’s my motto! I must say though it pushed my rating for The Widow down lower than my off-the-top-of-the-head system would have given it – I may have to refine it, or else accept that sometimes analysing each bit doesn’t take into account an overall enjoyment factor…

      Open Wounds would have got five stars without a doubt though! 😀

  10. I’ve just spotted this post! I was actually involved in the review of five books too – and I saved a lot of time as I’d already read three of them! Although it wasn’t one of my Bloody Scotland books, I’ve also read Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton – must review shortly – and have to agree it’s a damn fine book – I’ve got the first in the Davie McCall series, and snapped up 2 & 3 as they were £1 on Kindle, so if you don’t have them, maybe check if they’re still at that great price? Not having read the other books didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Open Wounds at all, though. One book I’m disappointed didn’t make the shortlist was Michael Malone’s Bad Samaritan – really very good. I’m quite a fan of Denzil Meyrick, but I haven’t got to The Rat Stone Serenade yet. In my humble opinion, the best book on the shortlist of those I’ve read – I thought it absolutely exceptional if you like a book that keeps you guessing, in a very clever way – is Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre. I can’t believe I’ve waited so long before reading one of his, but at least he has a long backlist – always a bonus! I’d also be quite happy for Douglas Skelton to win too, and wouldn’t be surprised if Stuart McBride picked it up. Are you going to Bloody Scotland? I am; can’t wait!

    • Were you? I wondered if you would be! I hadn’t read any of my batch – hopefully you got a better selection than me. Yes, I picked up all three of the Davie McCall books when Amazon ran that offer, though when I’ll get to read them…! I haven’t read any of Michael Malone’s books, I think, though somehow the name seems familiar. Must check. And I get the impression from reviews that this may not be Meyrick’s best, which makes me wonder why they put it forward. I’ll be intrigued to hear what you think of it. Unfortunately, “someone” took objection to my review on Amazon and left one of those “You’re an idiot” type of comments under a pseudonym… of course, I’d never suggest it was the author. 😉 But it’s put me off him, I fear, so whoever it was isn’t doing him any favours, because as I said in my review, I would have read more of his stuff. So I’m so glad I got Open Wounds, because at least I got one great new-to-me author out of the whole thing. I haven’t read the Brookmyre yet, though I have a copy from NG – it’ll be my first go at him too, so I’m glad you were impressed!

      Probably not – I say every year I’m going to go, but then don’t. It’s odd – much though I love books, I’m really not interested in listening to authors talk about them. I feel I should be, but I’m not! So when the time comes, I usually decide I can’t be bothered. Did you get your free tickets for doing the shortlisting? I didn’t ask for mine in the end, ‘cos I assumed I probably won’t go.

      • I haven’t heard anything about the free tickets, but I know I’m on the list for bloggers who get comp tickets – I wasn’t sure what’d be happening this year with them, because Kirsten Innes, who was dealing with all that last year (and who wrote Fishnet, which won the Guardian’s Not The Booker, and which I must read!) is on maternity leave. So I e-mailed, hopefully, and they said yes, you’re on the list. I get the impression authors wheel out the same anecdotes at each appearance, so if you saw someone at Harrogate or Edinburgh, you’d probably recognise a lot of their stories! I haven’t looked yet to see what I fancy – my “fast friend” from last year, Len Wanner, is in Germany for a year, and my other sidekick, Ed James, is swithering about going. But a few bloggers are going, as is Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books. Everyone is hugely friendly anyway. You should look at the brochure, see if anything catches your eye – the discussion panels with a few authors are good; there was a great one about Glasgow last year. Alex Gray was very funny. The only diva-ish person was Martina Cole, whose books are dire and all the same! Her son was friendly though. I’ll be interested to see what you make of Brookmyre – I think some of the silly titles of his early books put me off, and I assumed they were “witty” crime fiction. He’s obviously a highly intelligent man. I think last year the shortlist was only six, as I remember planning to read it (and failing) though I could be wrong.

        • Yes I thought eight was an odd number for the longlist and wondered if they’ll actually be producing a shortlist, or if this is to double as it too. I’d like to try to read them all, but I’ll never fit them in – pity. But there’s some excellent contenders in there. I suspect you’re right about the same anecdotes appearing – it’s a bit like these blog tours which all blur into one in the end. Hope you enjoy it anyway!

  11. Just became aware of the existence of this prize via the tag on your post about women-only prizes. What were the criteria for inclusion in this one? I really expected to see Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project on the longlist, but it wasn’t – I’d hope simply because it was published in 2015, not 2016 – I would be amazed if any of these were better. (Though it is also a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit.)

    It must have been exciting to be involved in this!

    • As far as I could tell, the criteria were almost non-existent – it seemed to be left up to the publishers which books they wanted to push – and some of them pushed some right old rubbish! It would be interesting to know which books the readers rejected, but they don’t seem to be giving out that info, not surprisingly. So whether it was that the publishers didn’t put it forward or that the readers didn’t like it, we’ll never know. It was great fun, and I found a new favourite in Douglas Skelton, but I also did have to plough through two or three pretty dismal entries, one of whom is now following me around the online world complaining about my middling review of his book! C’est la vie!

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