THE legendary Scottish writer and artist Alasdair Gray has been awarded the inaugural Saltire Society Scottish Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Scottish literature.

Gray’s “seminal” Scottish novel, Lanark – a satirical work combining realist and dystopian surrealist depictions of his home city of Glasgow – was published in 1981 and described as “one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction”.

It was considered such an important work of its time partly because fiction depictions of the city were relatively rare. In Lanark one character says: “Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films.

“But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”

Judges of the award, announced at a ceremony at the National Museum of Scotland last night, said his work had influenced writers and the literary scene worldwide.

Gray was born in Riddrie, east Glasgow in 1934. His father worked in a factory, while his mother worked in a shop. During the Second World War, Gray was evacuated to Perthshire and then Lanarkshire, experiences he later used in fiction. The family lived on a council estate, and Gray went to Whitehill Secondary and spent long hours in the local library.

He graduated in design and mural painting from Glasgow School of Art in 1957 and returned to teach there for several years. Since Lanark has has written, designed and illustrated seven novels, including Poor Things which won him a Whitbread Novel Award, several books of short stories, a collection of his stage, radio and TV plays and a book of his visual art, A Life in Pictures.

A Scottish independence supporter, he has described himself as a civic nationalist. His infamous quote – “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” – was inscribed on the Scottish Parliament building.

He later wrote in an essay for the Sunday Herald that he had found it in a poem by Canadian author Dennis Leigh. “It is inspiring but not boastful,” he wrote. “I hate hearing folk say ‘I’m Scots and proud of it’. All people should love their land where the government does not punish them for saying what they think.” The Sunday Herald used Gray’s art work on the cover when it declared its support for the Yes movement in May 2014.

Last night the Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year was won by Ewan Morrison with his novel Nina X and The Saltire Society Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year won by Melanie Reid for her memoir The World I Fell Out Of. Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community by Kirstie Blair was selected as The Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year by the panel of judges.

Sarah Mason, programme director for the Saltire Society, said: “Scotland’s National Book Awards 2019 have again shown the astounding literary talent of Scotland and we congratulate all our recipients and shortlistees. Our special congratulations go to our inaugural Lifetime Achievement recipient, Alasdair Gray, whose influence runs deep within Scotland and much further afield. We are delighted to be able to recognise his contribution in this way.”

Mairi Kidd, Creative Scotland’s head of literature, languages and publishing said: “In awarding the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award to Alasdair Gray, the Saltire Literary Awards have recognised a true iconoclast. Gray‘s work blazed a trail for rich and experimental Scottish writing, and this year’s winners list is packed with precisely that. Gray, of course, is a polymath with an incredible body of illustration, visual art and design to his name.”