A book of poetry that was published as a secret birthday present for the writer has been shortlisted for a major literary prize, the First Book of the Year in the forthcoming Saltire Society Literary Awards.
Thought to be one of the first self-published books to be nominated for such a prestigious award, The Last Pair of Ears, a book of poetry and short stories by Mary McDonough, began as a present to her from her husband and children for her birthday.
Mary McDonough, who lives in Glasgow, put together the collection of poetry and prose for her Masters in Creative Writing, which she was studying at Strathclyde University, but after completing it “left it sitting on a shelf”.
Martyn Clarke, Mary’s husband, told The Herald (Scotland): “I thought it was too good to leave unpublished, and concocted a plan for her birthday last year.
“The kids and I made a video to raise enough money via Kickstarter to print 50 hand-bound copies for friends and family, and in the process of speaking to printers, publishers and distributors about the wider possibilities, realised that starting our own publishing house would probably be an easier and quicker option.” The book is now sold by the couple’s company, Gadfly Consulting and is also available to buy on Amazon.
The book is up against Niall Campbell’s Moontide, Kate Horsley’s The Monster’s Wife, Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth and Kirsty Wark’s The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle for the Saltire award.
Mary McDonough told The Herald, “The stories I chose to write about are somehow universal…Everybody worries about being alone. Everyone worries about dying, whether they acknowledge it or not. I’ve taken very personal stories and abstracted them….Somehow poetry and creative writing allows me to turn the personal into something that’s universal, something that everybody can, to some degree, relate to.”
The Last Pair of Ears is a collection of poems and short stories about seeing and hearing what we aren’t supposed to notice; ‘lost stories’ that have been overlooked, suppressed, or forgotten. It’s about family secrets – all families have at least one. Shameful ones, dark ones, sad ones. ‘Premature’ babies born before they should have been; babies who looked like family friends, rather than their fathers; women who did anything to keep food on the table, when men couldn’t or wouldn’t work. Most of these secrets are harboured by women; they respect and fear them enough not to misplace or forget the secrets. They love the rest of us enough not to tell the secrets publicly.
Mary says in the book blurb, “I know what happens to families when the secret-keeping mothers and grandmothers die or, dementing, forget and are themselves lost. Families unravel, as if the secret no one knew or talked about was the thing that kept the family together. I hear secret things, things no one else has ever heard, and try to keep the secrets safe, because they might be all that my patients have left of who they were or were not allowed to be.”
Widely regarded as Scotland’s most prestigious book awards, the Saltire Literary Awards represent a long-standing commitment from the Saltire Society to celebrate and support literary achievement and are run entirely on the basis of the voluntary commitment of a panel of expert judges.
The winners of the Saltire Society literary awards will be announced on November 11.