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The Changing Outer Hebrides: Galson and the Meaning of Place by Frank Rennie, published by Acair Books, has won the 2020 Highland Book Prize, it was announced yesterday (Saturday May 8).

This is a fascinating and intimate account of the inter-relationship between one small island village in the Hebrides and the wider world. From the formation of the bedrock 3 billion years ago, to the predictable near-future, the layers of this unique landscape are explored. The social history of the people is closely interwoven with the natural environment in a journey of deep mapping to consider the meaning of special places. Through the Iron Age and the Clearances to the contemporary events of community land ownership, a portrayal is given that challenges the perception that this is a remote place, isolated at the edge, but instead is crucial to our contemporary relationship with the land.

Frank Rennie is the Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at Lews Castle College of the University of the Highlands and Islands, where he works on human ecology, rural issues, and education. As a natural scientist, he has strong roots in the landscape and community, and has a passion for presenting good science in everyday language. He travels widely and has published more than 30 books in both Gaelic and English.

Acair was first established in 1977 and in 2018 was formally established as a Scottish registered charity. Acair’s focus as a publisher is Scottish Gaelic children’s books and a wide range of titles in Scottish Gaelic and English, with many related to history, nature and social issues.

The winning book was announced at 8pm on Saturday 8th May during an online event hosted by Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre, in association with the Ullapool Book Festival. As the winner of the 2020 Highland Book Prize, Frank Rennie will be awarded £1000 prize money and a week’s writing retreat at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.

The organisers say: "Our sincere thanks go to expert judges: novelist and poet Kevin MacNeil; poet Jen Hadfield; Senior Lecturer in Gaelic Language and Culture at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Mark Wringe; and panel chair Alex Ogilvie of the Highland Society of London.

"Our longest standing judge, Kevin MacNeil, encourages everyone to reach for a copy of the winning title –“The Changing Outer Hebrides: Galson and the Meaning of Place by Frank Rennie is a book that shows us the life-enhancing joys of understanding – truly understanding – what a particular place is and means. Rennie’s clear-eyed, well-researched writing shows us that we are not only who we are but where we are. Scotland has traditionally been marginalised, othered, overlooked and misunderstood; this book reverses those iniquities. I feel that if every part of Scotland had a book like this, Scotland herself would have a more sure-footed and compassionate sense of her culture, identity and connectedness to the world as it is, was and could be.’ Kevin MacNeil.

Judge Jen Hadfield commented: “Coming from a place of love and deep knowledge, The Changing Outer Hebrides represents a timely political gesture: Rennie quietly places his Galson, a small community in the Isle of Lewis, at the centre of the world.” 

Fellow writer Donald S Murray who grew up in North Lewis said on Facebook: "Last week (or so) I wrote a book review of this very impressive book by Frank Rennie which delved into the history of Galson, the next village to my native South Dell for the Stornoway Gazette. Last night I discovered it had won the Highland Book Prize - an award it truly deserved.  Congrats to Frank and Agnes, who published it at Acair. It truly is a great piece of work! Meal do naidheachd!"

EVENTS newspaper editor Fred Silver in his review of the book in February said:"It’s really a revolutionary book that tells us to stand where we are and look around with our eyes wide open – which is a message that we may all have to heed in a post-pandemic era where opportunities to travel may stay limited for years.  Professor Rennie steps out of his door and examines the landscape beneath his feet, the history of the places in his sight and the plants and animal life that existing on and above the land.  This is terroir par excellence – the true sense of place.  And he tracks both the people who’ve criss-crossed the area for the past 11,000 years as well as the rocks below, some of which have been in place for billions of years.  The fundamental message is, I think, that by dividing the world into academic subjects, we have lost track of an essential reality.  Geography and geology are not just in the classroom, nor are they confined to volcanos in Hawaii or rift valleys in Africa.  They are right here, right now, beneath our feet…and should be part of our sense of place along with the flora, fauna and human history of our place…making history into mystory, to create a phrase.  And Galson is absolutely as good a place as any to start…"

The first round of judging was completed in October 2020, by a panel of 145 volunteer readers who spent the summer immersed in Highland fiction, poetry, memoir, history, nature, crime, young adult and Gaelic titles. If you would like to volunteer to read entries to the 2021 prize, and discover the latest literary talent from the Highlands, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. telling us why you would like to help us to form the 2021 longlist, or visit our website.

If you missed any of the 2020 Highland Book Prize Longlist Series of talks and conversations you can view them at – www.moniackmhor.org.uk/writers/moniack-mhor-tea-break and www.highlandbookprize.org.uk/events

The Highland Book Prize was established in 2017 to help celebrate the finest work that recognises the rich culture, heritage and landscape of the Highlands. The Prize aims to showcase the literary talent of the region and to raise the profile of work created in or about the Highlands. Presented by the Highland Society of London, The Highland Book Prize is facilitated by Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre in partnership with the Ullapool Book Festival. The William Grant Foundation provides funding to encourage public engagement with the Highland Book Prize.

The Highland Book Prize award ceremony is hosted by Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre in association with the Ullapool Book Festival and the Highland Society of London and is funded by the William Grant Foundation.