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Two Otago academics nominated for prestigious writing award

Wednesday 5 June 2019 10:22pm

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Professor Liam McIlvanney, Stuart Chair of Scottish Studies and Co-Director of Otago’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies (CISS), has been shortlisted for one of the UK's most prestigious crime fiction awards alongside Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction Val McDermid.

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The two nominees together.

It may be a long way from the grimy back streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh, where many of their victims fall prey to foul play, but there’s no doubt “tartan noir” crime writing is in good health at the University of Otago.

Professor Liam McIlvanney, Stuart Chair of Scottish Studies and Co-Director of Otago’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies (CISS) is delighted that both he and Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction Val McDermid have been shortlisted for a major crime writing award.

With four others, the Otago faculty members feature on the 2019 Shortlist for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, one of the most prestigious crime fiction awards in the UK.

McIlvanney says having his book The Quaker shortlisted is a tremendous honour.

“I was ever so slightly gobsmacked. There is such a wealth of talent at work in UK crime fiction at the moment, and so many heavyweight novelists in contention for this award, that I was very pleasantly surprised to see my novel make the shortlist.

The Quaker was a long time in the making – it was published five years after my previous novel – so it certainly vindicates the blood, sweat and tears that went into the writing of the book.

“It is very gratifying that staff from a small research centre on the far side of the world can account for a third of the shortlist for a major UK award.”

"It is very gratifying that staff from a small research centre on the far side of the world can account for a third of the shortlist for a major UK award."

McIlvanney says there’s no chance of awkward morning teas at the Centre if either he or McDermid take the supreme award after winners are announced on 18 July.

“If either of us are fortunate enough to win it will be a great coup for the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, so I think we'll manage to put any rivalries aside and enjoy the moment!

“We're very fortunate to have a novelist of Professor McDermid’s eminence and accomplishment attached to our Centre, and this shortlisting merely underlines that.”

McIlvanney’s book is set in Glasgow in 1969 and draws on the real-life story of never-caught serial murderer Bible John. Last year the novel scooped the 2018 McIlvanney Prize, which was named in honour of his father, the late ‘godfather of tartan noir’, William McIlvanney.

McDermid was this year appointed as Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction and will serve in the role until 2021.

She holds fellowships from the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Her books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and have sold over fifteen million copies.

McDermid will spend up to eight weeks a year in Dunedin at the CISS, acting as mentor to postgraduate students in the Scottish Studies and creative writing programmes. She will also contribute to undergraduate courses in Scottish Studies, crime fiction and creative writing, and give a number of public lectures and readings.

McDermid, who is perhaps best-known for her Wire in the Blood series, has already tasted success at the awards, receiving the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the 2016 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. This year she has been shortlisted for her book Broken Ground, which continues the DCI Karen Pirie series.

The 2019 Shortlist for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year:

Belinda Bauer – Snap
Steve Cavanagh – Thirteen
Mick Herron – London Rules
Val McDermid – Broken Ground
Liam McIlvanney – The Quaker
Khurrum Rahman – East of Hounslow