Circumstances may be straitened and money tight, but bookshops are said to be booming and Scotland’s authors continue to produce first-rate yarns and engaging non-fiction to stock them with, whether works which stick closely to genre conventions or heads off into the ‘literary’, where experimentation is key. In that spirit, here’s our list of 10 of the most notable and interesting Scottish books of 2023, from debut novels to works by established voices and national treasures.

Nothing Left To Fear From Hell by Alan Warner

This latest instalment in Polygon’s Darkland Tales, an ongoing series of historical novellas, finds Morvern Callar author Alan Warner poking around in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden as he follows Bonnie Prince Charlie and his companions through the landscape of the Highlands and Islands and into exile. There’s no romanticising this story, though, so forget all about the Skye Boat Song and doe eyed Flora MacDonald rowing the dashing Young Pretender to safety – in the opening scenes, Warner has the sea-sick and dysentery-wracked Prince wading ashore and, er, relieving himself in front of his men. “Poetic, dirty, comic and surreal” is how Polygon are describing it. The other novellas in the Darkland Tales series to date are Rizzio by Denise Mina and Hex by Jenni Fagan, dealing with (respectively) the murder of royal favourite David Rizzio in the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1566, and the North Berwick witch trials of 1590. What next, we wonder?

April 6 (Polygon, £10)

River Spirit by Leila Aboulela

Former Saltire Award winner and long-time Aberdeen resident Leila Aboulela returns to Sudan, the country of her birth, for this historical novel set during the Mahdist War of the late 19th century. A war of liberation from Ottoman rule initially, it later saw British forces become involved under the command of Major-General Charles Gordon, known to history as Gordon of Khartoum. Killed in action in the city during the campaign and eulogised by the jingoistic British press as a result, he appears as a character in the novel. The story itself centres on Akuany, a young village girl orphaned in the fighting along with her brother. They are taken in by a young lawyer, Yasheen, but Akuany is later enslaved and moved from house to house across the country. Colonialism, independence, slavery and the rights of women – they all come under Aboulela’s purview in what is intended to be the first in a series of novels examining the links between Scotland and Sudan.

March 7 (Saqi Books, £16.99)

O Brother by John Niven

Although he cut his teeth in the music business, Ayrshire-born John Niven is better known as a screenwriter and the author of novels such as Kill Your Friends and Straight White Male. But in this very personal first foray into non-fiction he dips into his own backstory to tell a tale about growing up in the 1970s and in particular his relationship with troubled younger brother, Gary. Funny and tragic by turns, it charts Gary’s downward spiral against the backdrop of family and the wider social upheaval of the 1980s and 1990s.

24 August (Canongate, £18.99)

Our Hideous Progeny by CE McGill

Born in Scotland, raised in North Carolina and now living back here, Charlie McGill (below) originally trained as an aerospace engineer before turning to writing, in particular sci-fi and speculative fiction centring on queer characters. Their Gothic-flavoured, Frankenstein-inspired debut has already drawn praise from Joanne Harris and Jess Kidd, author of The Night Ship. The setting here is London in the 1850s, where Victor Frankenstein’s great-niece Mary is trying to make her way in the field of science. But when she uncovers a secret in the family’s past – is there a clue in the family name? – she’s soon hightailing it north to Scotland to enlist the help of her reclusive sister-in-law, Maisie, in a venture which could secure her future.

May 5 (Doubleday, £16.99)

The Herald:

Because I Don’t Know What You Mean And What You Don’t by Josie Long

Promising contemporary themes – sex, love, motherhood, friendship and family life in all its messy glory – as well as a couple of ghost stories, this collection from Glasgow-based Josie Long marks her fiction debut. She’s no stranger to the art of storytelling, of course, being better known as an award-winning stand-up comedian, regular guest on TV panel shows and host of BBC Radio 4 programmes such as Josie Long’s Gambit, in which she rediscovered her childhood love of chess.

June 1 (Canongate, £16.99)

Thirsty Animals by Rachelle Atalla

The young, Falkirk-born Scots-Egyptian screenwriter scored a hit last year with her dystopian debut novel The Pharmacist, and she returns here with another near-future thriller. This time we’re in a Scotland beset by a drought which is causing its cities dry up. Meanwhile people flow over the border from England in pursuit of that same precious resource. In the middle of it all is Aida, who has returned to live with her mother on the rural farm where she grew up. But what do you do when you don’t have enough water to share? And when, if ever, will the rains return?

March 16 (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)


The Grief Nurse by Angie Spoto

Another American who has crossed the Atlantic and made a home in Scotland, Chicago-born Angie Spoto (below) studied creative writing at Glasgow University and this debut feature is inspired in part by her love of the work of Ursula Le Guinn, Octavia Butler and Leonora Carrington. In other words expect intricate world-building, a touch of politics and a smidgen of the surreal. These are all good things, of course. The novel tells the story of Lynx, employed by the wealthy Aster family as a ‘grief nurse’ to ensure they are never troubled by any negative emotions. Lynx soon finds herself in the middle of quite a welter of negative emotions, however, when the family’s eldest son dies, and somebody starts picking off the guests arriving for the wake. That it takes place on a private island only adds to the tension.

April 13 (Sandstone, £16.99)

The Herald:

Keep Moving And No Questions by James Kelman

Scotland’s literary titan, though often unappreciated in his homeland, is lauded elsewhere – and nowhere more so, it seems, than in the offices of California-based publisher of radical literature, PM Press, who have championed his work. This collection of 21 short stories features five which are brand new, while the rest have been significantly revised by the author. A good place to start if you haven’t already sampled the work of the 1994 Booker Prize winner: if you’re already a fan, be advised this collection is presented in an edition billing itself as “definitive”.

June 13 (PM Press, £16.99)

Sea Bean: A Beachcomber’s Search For A Magical Charm by Sally Huband

Shetland-based nature writer Sally Huband takes to the beaches of her island home – as well as those of Orkney, the Faroes archipelago, and the West Frisian island of Texel – to hunt for the sea beans of her title. Seeds from tropical trees which have adapted to drift thousands of miles on sea currents to aid propagation and dispersal, they are much prised in our northern climes where they have long been used as magical charms. But running in tandem with this narrative is another story, as Huband tells of how slowing down her life and taking up beachcombing allowed her to heal following a chronic illness and the birth of a child.

April 6 (Hutchison, £16.99)

The Dead Don’t Speak by Claire Askew

Fast becoming one of Scotland’s brightest new crime writers, Askew won the 2019 Bloody Scotland Crime Debut of the Year award for first novel All The Hidden Truths, which introduced Edinburgh-based detective inspector Helen Birch. The feisty DI’s fourth outing, A Matter Of Time, saw Askew nominated for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize. And here is novel number five, which opens with Birch on sick leave following the events of the previous book but dragged back to work when a series of mysterious vigilante crimes escalates into a full-blown crisis. If you prefer verse to violence and couplets to crime, note that Askew is also an award-winning poet: her most recent collection, How To Burn A Woman, won the 2022 Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award.

June 8 (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)