2021 Shortlist – Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting

New Welsh Writing Awards 2021: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting Shortlist

New Welsh Review is delighted to announce the shortlisted and highly commended entries for the New Welsh Writing Awards 2021: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting. It was a record-breaking year for the number of entries received for the Rheidol Prize, a writer development opportunity made possible thanks to the generous support of long-term subscriber Richard Powell.

Both the shortlist and the highly commended list contain an equal balance of nonfiction and fiction, and are again dominated by women. This year, we have introduced an 18–25 category for the first time. Promising 18-year-old Penny Lewis from west Wales is highly commended for her novella The Lovespoons, about ageing, belonging and romance. She is joined by up-and-coming writer Kathryn Tann, 24, with Return to Water. Kathryn lives in Huddersfield but is originally from the Vale of Glamorgan.

The three shortlisted writers Jasmine Donahaye, Jack Harris and João Morais hail from Lledrod, London and Cardiff respectively (Jack is originally from Builth Wells).

Reading the Signs by Jasmine Donahaye treads the tightrope between inner and outer landscapes in a funny yet tragic, honest and angry piece which looks at the writer’s own situation within the exclusive world of nature writing.

Jack Harris’ The Rebeccas is a Welsh Queer novella about history and male identity, which is engaging, fun and redolent of Christopher Meredith’s work.

João Morais’ crime novella Festival of the Ghost is a diverse and compelling high-concept caper set in Cardiff. It is tightly plotted and has a superb sense of urban space, exploring themes including violence, religion, OCD, grief and ritual.

Among the highly commended entries, we hear again from Lincolnshire-based Elizabeth Griffiths, who was also highly commended in 2019. This year, she makes the cut again with her memoir Landmark, which is written in the author’s distinctive, measured voice and imbues a rich blend of archaeology, history, sense of place and family biography. Presteigne’s Rhiannon Hooson joins Elizabeth with Archipelago, a superb nature nonfiction piece on border country and learning Welsh as an adult, which manages to be poignant without a trace of the maudlin. Finally, Welsh expat Sybilla Harvey, who now lives in Brooklyn, is highly commended for The Kaiser and the River. Set in Abergavenny, this well-crafted and empathetic novella has a long, global historical perspective and a memorable voice.

Three writers are now in the running for the top prize of £1,000 – an advance against e-publication by New Welsh Review – and a positive critique by literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown. Five writers are on the highly commended list.

New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged the awards for the seventh consecutive year. Gwen says: “I am particularly delighted to welcome two young female writers to the fold of New Welsh Review and congratulate them on their nominations. Their work was easily good enough to be highly commended in the main prize and they are deserving joint winners of our new 18–25 year category. Return to Water by Kathryn Tann is a clear, calm and positive nonfiction blended memoir about a young woman’s struggle with acne and the recovery of her physical confidence and body image through swimming. It is particularly exciting that Penny Lewis, at just eighteen, took the opportunity of lockdown’s educational disruption to write an engaging and quirky novella set on the main road bisecting her own village of Llanarth, near Aberaeron. All eight nominees will be published, either in our print magazine, New Welsh Reader, this autumn, or online this summer. ”

Sponsor RS Powell says: “This is the third year I have sponsored the Rheidol prize and I continue to be impressed by the quality, range and immediacy of the entries.  Writing from and about Wales has a great deal to offer and the Prize exists to encourage it and bring it to a wider public.  I hope the writers will reach the readers they deserve.”

The awards were set up in 2015 to champion the best short-form writing (under 30,000 words). Last year, the winner of the Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting was Susan Karen Burton for The Transplantable Roots of Catharine Huws Nagashima, an expanded version of which New Welsh Review will publish in 2022. The work of JL George, who won the Dystopian Novella category in 2019 with The Word, will be published on 28 October 2021.

This year’s winner will be announced at a free online ceremony at 6pm on Friday 28 May 2021, hosted by New Welsh Review chair Andrew Green. Everyone is welcome to attend and tickets are available here.

The Awards are open to all writers based in the UK and Ireland, including those who live overseas, who have been educated in Wales.

The 2021 awards are sponsored by subscriber Richard Powell and are run in partnership with Curtis Brown, Gladstone’s Library, and Literature Wales’ Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre. New Welsh Review is supported through core funding by the Books Council of Wales and is hosted by Aberystwyth University.

Congratulations to the authors listed below in alphabetical order:


Jasmine Donahaye - Reading the Signs

Reading the Signs is a collection of five interlinked essays that explore constraints and boundaries to women’s experience of the natural world. Based in the author’s milltir sgwar in rural Ceredigion, but also taking in landscapes in Scotland and England, the essays touch on the long after-effects of domestic violence, the ways in which female identity is diminished in natural history, and the social and literary expectations that direct and limit how women may experience wildness.

Jasmine Donahaye’s publications include narrative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and cultural criticism. Her memoir, Losing Israel (2015), won the non-fiction category of Wales Book of the Year, and her story ‘Theft’ was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2016. Her books include a biography of Lily Tobias, The Greatest Need(2015); a cultural study, Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine (2012); and two poetry collections: Self-Portrait as Ruth (2009), which was longlisted for Wales Book of the Year, and Misappropriations (2006), which was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Her work has appeared in literary journals, and in the New York Times and the Guardian. She was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales in 2017.

Jack Harris - The Rebeccas

This story came out of a few questions Jack has been asking himself for most of his life: what happens when a personal sense of place jars with the collective one? Can the limits of patriotism make room for individual experience? Is History as bound to all this as we’re led to believe? Through the story of a young man, coming home to teach high school History, Jack Harris tries to set these questions in play, filtered through the Rebecca Riots and the birth of the Welsh Working Class.

Originally from Builth Wells, Powys, Jack Harris studied English at Oxford and then moved to London, where he has lived for the past 12 years. For most of that time he was a gigging singer-songwriter, releasing three albums, touring and gaining some nice reviews. These days, Jack works in what he’s told is a ‘proper’ job, reads much, and, when he’s feeling brave, tries to write.

João Morais - Festival of the Ghost

An obsessive-compulsive discovers he can witness the events of the past. While searching for his recently deceased sister’s thesis, he strives to avoid the attention of the secretive religious sect which was the focus of her research. 

João Morais has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. He has previously been longlisted for the New Welsh Writing Awards Americymru Prize for the Novella, shortlisted for the Academi Rhys Davies Short Story Prize, the Percy French Prize for Comic Verse, and the All Wales Comic Verse Award. He won the 2013 Terry Hetherington Prize for Young Writers. His short story collection, Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster, is out now with Parthian.

Highly commended

Elizabeth Griffiths - Landmark

This work-in-progress attempts to combine memoir and history writing, by weaving together several inter-related ‘histories’ – Elizabeth’s own history and on-going experience of inheriting a ‘landmark’ church building from her mother; her mother’s ‘history’ of buying this redundant building for the Swansea Valley community she came from, after bonding with the place deeply during childhood, and also the ‘history’ of the building itself, and the people who’ve used it, and what we can speculate about the mystery ‘saint’ who founded the ‘llan’.

The records and notes her mother left behind about Llangiwg, as well as her ownmemories, have provided much of the source material. This is interspersed with Elizabeth’s more recent diary notes and news headlines charting a much-thwarted wish to return to Wales, which aim to give a sense, as we move towards March 2020, of fast-moving history being made. Questions arise about the passion that lies behind the historical and mythologising instinct, of the Welsh in particular, and how this may lay bare our deep need for roots and connection, not just with people and places in our own lifetime, but with those ‘on the other side of time’.

Elizabeth Griffiths grew up in west Wales, and is hoping to return to live in Wales soon, after spending twenty years next to the North Sea in Lincolnshire. She studied at St David’s University College, Lampeter, and trained as a journalist on the Barry and District News in South Glamorgan, winning the Law Society graduate prize and the NCTJ Bath and West special merit prize. While living in Pembrokeshire in the 1990s she had several short stories published, one of which was included in Parthian Books’ anthology of New Welsh Fiction, ‘Mama’s Baby (Papa’s Maybe)’. In Lincolnshire she worked for many years in visual arts administration, which included writing about and assisting with large-scale sculpture installations. In 2018 she completed a Creative Writing MA at Swansea University, and in 2019 was highly commended in the New Welsh Writing Awards for a memoir of her grandfather, ‘Abel Thomas and Sons Butter Merchants Ltd.’

Sybilla Harvey - The Kaiser and the River

The short story is inspired by Rudolf Hess’ confinement at Maindiff Court Hospital, Abergavenny while he awaited sentencing in Nuremburg. Hess was allowed several liberties during his stay, walking and drinking in town, climbing the Skirrid and racing his greyhound. The Kaiser and the River imagines what happens when one young woman unknowingly met him.

Sybilla Harvey grew up in Abergavenny and later completed an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her fiction has appeared in Mslexia and was shortlisted for the Virago/Stylist short story competition. After working as a copywriter in advertising, she moved to New York in 2018 and currently works for a production company. She lives in Brooklyn and is working on her first novel.

Rhiannon Hooson - Archipelago

Rhiannon Hooson is a Welsh poet – that’s what she puts in her bio. But what does it mean? What does it mean when she can’t speak Welsh, when she has lived most of her life in other countries, when there is a gulf between her and the things she knows as “Welsh”? When she returns to Wales after living abroad, she finds herself living almost exactly on the border, and must learn again what it means to be Welsh, to live in a place neither one country nor the other. Archipelago is her attempt to reconcile her experience of trying to learn the Welsh language with her relationship with the landscape, rocky and isolated though they both might be.

Rhiannon Hooson has won major awards for her work, including an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and her first book, The Other City, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award. She has performed at literature festivals across the UK, and her work has been featured in the Guardian, Magma, and Poetry Wales among others. In the last few years, she has been a Literature Wales bursary recipient, a Hay Festival Writer at Work, and the judge of the PENfro festival poetry competition. She has a PhD in poetry from the University of Lancaster, and spent time living and working in Cumbria and Mongolia before settling in the Welsh marches.

Penny Lewis - The Lovespoons

Coed Newydd was no longer how it used to be, and Dawn didn’t like it. She was alone in the winter, when there weren’t any folk around, and lonelier in the summer, when she was surrounded by holidaymakers who now occupied the houses of her old friends. Dawn had escaped modern life in Yorkshire twenty years before, but Wales was catching up too. Now on her own, everything would be very much the same: dampness in winter, wretched holidaymakers in summer, and Mansel Davies lorries all year around. Only, there was something that kept her going during the long months before the spring. Y Hen Grefftwr’s son; Barry. Barry had moved into Y Slant. He wasn’t like Dawn’s old friends. He would disappear up the mountains. He didn’t want to sit and enjoy tea and cake. He hardly stayed long enough to chat. But Dawn didn’t give up hoping that he might do so. After all, Barry gave her lovespoons, and Dawn couldn’t figure out why.

Penny Lewis is eighteen years old and aspires to be a writer. She was born and grew up in Aberarth, Ceredigion. She loves to read widely, and some of her favourite authors are Nabokov, H E Bates and Iris Murdoch. In an ideal world, she works part-time in the wonderfully chaotic second-hand bookshop, Ystwyth Books, in Aberystwyth. In a more ideal world, she would be able to travel. In her non-writing, non-reading, and non-bookshop time, she makes chocolates and goes on long walks.

Penny has been interested in writing since her first year of GCSEs. At A-Level, she was awarded a scholarship to study a two-week writing course at Harvard University, titled ‘The Power and Politics of Fairytales’. She returned to Wales full of new-writer’s inspiration, typing away terrible ‘purple prose’ and conjuring over-wrought, metered poems. Yet, then going into her final year of school, she hardly had time to write. It was only when school ended abruptly in March 2020 that she seriously began writing, and now it is compulsive. It has given her a purpose in these purposeless times.

Kathryn Tann - Return to Water

Return to Water is a long-form creative essay, rooted in the author’s own life. It is a young woman’s slow and meandering reconciliation with her own appearance, with her identity, and with water. Swimming and diving at every chance as a child, there came a point when Kathryn couldn’t submerge herself anymore; not without the fear of washing away all that held her up. Then began a battle which kept her away from the water for many years: she developed an armour – her makeup – which gave her the control she needed to face the world.

Matters of appearance are often dismissed as trivial, but the challenges of acne deeply impact many people – of all ages. As a teenager, Kathryn could only be herself when she had altered her appearance enough to feel normal, to feel safe. As an adult, she reflects on the long and difficult journey – through jealousy, insecurity, doubt and prescription drugs – which finally brought her back to the water. This essay is not only memoir, but a celebration of the joys of swimming, and a sensory taste of lapping lakes, chlorine pools, and the wild and salty Welsh sea.

Kathryn Tann, 24, is from the Vale of Glamorgan and works from her current home in West Yorkshire as a freelancer and as Reading Engagement Editor for Parthian Books. Kathryn has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester and BA in English Literature from Durham University. She writes short fiction and creative non-fiction, and is currently completing her first novel When We Arrive.

Her work has appeared in the Penfro winner’s anthology Heartland (2019), MANY: The Manchester Anthology (2020), Cheval 13 (2020), Lucent Dreaming (Issue 9) and online publications including Porridge Magazine and Santes Dwynwen, as well as a recent audio essay for Litro Magazine. Kathryn founded The Podcast for New Writing in Manchester, and received a Distinguished Achievement Award while studying as a postgraduate there. Named a Printing Charity 2021 ‘Rising Star’, her work in publishing includes the development of the first Parthian podcast, audiobook list, and a focus on diverse voices. As a writer, Kathryn considers her greatest sources of inspiration to be wild and coastal landscapes, and the wonderful idiosyncrasies of the individual experience. She also believes in the hybridity of genre and form, and the freedom to write outside of established labels.

Photo Credit: Joss Arete Kelvin