2022 Shortlist – Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting

Erased Memories Restored in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2022 Shortlist

New Welsh Review is delighted to announce the shortlisted and highly commended entries for the New Welsh Writing Awards 2022: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting. It was a year of genuinely high quality entries which made judging all the more difficult for the Rheidol Prize, a writer development opportunity made possible thanks to the generous support of long-term subscriber Richard Powell.

The three shortlisted writers, Eleanor Williams, Tim Cooke and Hattie Morrison hail (respectively) from Cardiff, Bridgend and Llandysul in Ceredigion.

SHORTLIST

Anna and the Angel by Eleanor Williams is a sensual, ambitious, flowing and intimate epistolary novella set in Cardiff and Newport. A contemporary feminist retelling of the biblical story of Tobit and the Angel, this is a warm, international exploration of mental health, dodgy money and optimism.

River by Tim Cooke is a reflective, intelligent, tolerant and perceptive essay, set along Ogwr/Ogmore River. Interweaves edgeland/urban writing of place with memoir to explore subjects of lost children, fragile identity, erasure, bullying, violence, ‘dark play’ and ethics.

The Half Place by Hattie Morrison is an innovative essay set in Ceredigion, on the erasure of women within the Welsh woollen industry. With care, a Welsh blanket is woven from writing of place and transparent, subjective and historical research. Language is something you hold on to ‘like a fence in the wind’.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

‘ValleysWorld’, Jonathan Edwards

Hilarious and perceptive satirical stories, compelling and highly Welsh. Subjects are the vagaries and cynicism of public funding, media vanity and illusion, unemployment, ‘work experience’, persistent community values and our performative national identity.

‘Blinks and Shards’ Beck Collett  

Netflix’s My Mad Fat Diary meets Atonement, transplanted to Port Talbot. This is an ambitious and crafted novella, the flippancy of whose sassy teenage voice belies vulnerability. The daughter-mother relationship at its core seems dysfunctional but not all is as it seems.

‘A Killing Frost’ Jo Mazelis

Highly confident, crafted, compelling post WWI novella offering us two heroines and maintaining their distinct voices despite the interdependence of their bodies and minds. Chilling crime, chilly setting, crisp execution with a touch of Angela Carter.

‘The Library’ Giancarlo Gemin  

Strong Welsh values of communality, political activism, tolerance and philanthropy come through in this Valleys-set novella, with a LGBTQ+ protagonist and an iconic community Carnegie library at its centre. Warm, perceptive, funny and engaging.

‘Revival’ Rae Leaver

A complete novella at 66 pages, this homage to Allen Raine’s Queen of the Rushes is set in the Edwardian nonconformist ‘revival’ period, in the Rhondda Valley. The LGBTQ tint is added with measure, period details are sensuous, relationships are rounded, the protagonist’s awakening only too brief.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

This year’s wider nominations, on our expanded list of five highly commended entries, saw a renaissance of historical fiction and retellings of myth. The weirdness and comic potential of Welsh small-town life was exploited to the max. Stereotypes of difficult mothers were upended. Black humour, crime and murder mysteries came to the fore. A strand of neurodiverse authors and themes came forward. Short fiction was abundant, and novellas dominated. Welsh themes of community, communality, the continuing impact of cuts and impoverishment, persist in our literature. While, alongside a robust type of nationhood, a strange false sense of performative Welshness abides.

The three shortlisted 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 have made the highly commended list.

New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged the awards for the eighth consecutive year. Gwen says: ‘The synchronicity of themes across this year’s New Welsh Writing Awards strongest entries is topical. All top three pieces explore how memory and story are almost the same, a message that right now is being repeated by desperate warring powers in Ukraine and Russia. In our bold and ambitious shortlisted entries, memories sustain or falter, are recalled, supressed or erased altogether. Stories from history and imagination are retold to restore the female voice and that of vulnerable childhood and youth, traumatic memories are revisited to aid understanding and healing, and to mould new identities that can reject shame while embracing honesty and intimacy, in opposition to toxic masculinity, for the benefit of our whole society.  All eight nominees will be published, in our print magazine, New Welsh Reader, or online.’

Sponsor RS Powell says: ‘This is the fourth 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 Jasmine Donahaye with Reading the Signs, an expanded version of which New Welsh Review will publish on our Rarebyte book imprint in 2023. The work of JL George, who won the Dystopian Novella category in 2019 with The Word, was published in October 2021.

This year’s winner will be announced at a free online ceremony at 6pm on Friday 29th April, hosted by New Welsh Review chair Andrew Green and Editor Gwen Davies. Everyone is welcome to attend and the event will be streamed on our YouTube channel here https://bit.ly/3Jdj6fQ

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 2022 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 all the authors, listed below in alphabetical order:

Shortlist

Tim Cooke - River

River is a piece of experimental memoir/place writing that uses the River Ogmore in Bridgend to shape the narrative. By presenting a series of real events, memories and fictions connected in some way to the flow of the river, the writer explores, among other things, the small, private tragedies of any given childhood. Integral to this essay are issues of ethics, memory, reflexivity and narrative.

Tim is a teacher, writer and creative writing PhD student. His work has been published by The Guardian, Little White Lies, The Quietus, 3:AM Magazine, the New Welsh Review and Ernest Journal. His creative work has appeared in various literary journals and magazines, including the New Welsh Reader, The Shadow Booth, Black Static, Hinterland, Epoch, Porridge, The Nightwatchman and Litro. Tim’s debut collection of short stories, Where We Live, was released by Demain Publishing in November 2020. He’s had a piece of creative nonfiction published in a Dunlin Press anthology on the theme of ports and is currently working on a collection of essays. He won the 2018 New Voices in Fiction competition, run by Adventures in Fiction, and was a runner-up in UEA and the National Centre for Writing’s New Forms Award, 2020. @cooketim2.

Hattie Morrison - The Half Place

The Half Place is a narrative, polemic essay questioning the historiography of the Welsh blanket in Welsh museums. It asks the question “where are the women in these stories?”. Interlaced within this urgent archival research, Morrison links her own personal recollections of life growing up in one of the major mills of Wales (Derw Mill, Pentrecwrt) as a Welsh-speaking child with an English mother new to the area. Through bilingualism and the concept of inherited identity, ‘The Half Place’ explores the notion and production of care by women, and the switch from traditional female work to male work (wool spinner to factory worker).  It is a book that explores the gaps between languages, labours, memories and research through media presentation, oral tradition, text messages and mythology. 

Hattie is a bilingual writer and artist from Carmarthenshire with a BA in Fine Art and an MA in Writing. Her narrative essays focus on the notion of rural communities and inherited identities, with an interest in revisiting and retelling rural histories from new perspectives.  She has written for a broad range of independent publications – Sticky Fingers, The Paper, Museum of Restaurants and ARC Magazine and hosted workshops for online writing community SCRAWL. She often incorporates alternative translation within her writing to explore the absence between languages. Her work has been described as ‘precise and melancholy with a dark humour.’

Eleanor Williams - Anna and the Angel

The Book of Tobit was written in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and appears between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible.  It recounts the story of Tobias and the Angel.   Amongst the pages of the adventure, the story shows how disability was viewed and dealt with at that time. The main characters are men: Tobit, Tobias and Raphael.  But, on the periphery are two women: Anna and Edna.  Their names are rarely mentioned in the biblical text.  Their voices are never heard.  They never meet. But what if the story was a contemporary one?  Set, not in the Middle East, but in South Wales? Told by these women?  Through an email exchange?  What would their take on the story, and the issues it raises, be?

Eleanor was born and lives in Cardiff.  She is disabled, works as a lawyer in the public sector specialising in disability discrimination and is a Reader – someone who is licensed to preach and teach in Llandaff diocese in the Church in Wales.

Highly commended

Beck Collett - Blinks and Shards

Inspired by Port Talbot steelworks, a familiar sight of the writer’s childhood, Blinks and Shards is a novella-in-flash set within the fictionalised, sulphurous, closed-off Greenwood steel workers estate. Narrated by Jen Tyler (14) who moves from Swindon with her mother after an acrimonious divorce from her absent father, to start over within the close-knit community. Through Jen’s eyes, we befriend Megan, and her brother, David (both 14), along with Megan’s mother, Sheila, and badly-scarred uncle, Dai, the unofficial estate leaders. Jen’s friendship with Megan rapidly spirals into something darker. Jen’s attempts to carve out a new identity and form friendships amid a toxic mix of jealousy, sex, and violence. As her mother and Dai strike up a relationship, secrets from the past, and Jen’s fragile mental health, lead to an increasingly unreliable narration, ending in tragedy.

Beck lives in south Wales with her husband, 9-year-old daughter, and two monochrome cats. She writes short-form fiction, and graduated from the Open University with an MA in Creative Writing in 2020. Her work has been published by Makarelle, The Hoot, Secret Attic, and The MS Society UK among others. She loves writing, but is appalling at blogging, as the much-neglected blinksandshards.blogspot.com will attest to.

Jonathan Edwards - ValleysWorld

A collection of satirical stories set in Wales. The title story imagines a theme park celebrating Welsh culture, built on a former industrial site in South Wales, and explores the attempts of the park manager to ensure the attraction is just unsuccessful enough to attract lucrative government funding. ‘Rising’ explores a feature film about the 1839 Chartist Rising in Newport, filmed in the Peak District, because it offers more photogenic and convincing settings than Newport itself, while ‘Dave’s Story’ focuses on the experiences of a Bargoed miner, involved in the first attack on the building site at Tryweryn in the 1960s. ‘Politics’ follows the eccentric interactions of a Valleys family with the 1992 General Election, and Neil Kinnock’s ill-fated bid to become Prime Minister. Later stories explore issues of mental health in contemporary South Wales, and the collection ends with a post-It’s a Wonderful Life vision of nothing less than the end of Wales itself. The stories aim to reflect entertainingly on the history of rebellion in Wales, to offer laughs as they shout that ‘No!’ which has always been so beautifully Welsh.

Jonathan’s first collection of poems, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014), received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. His second collection, Gen (Seren, 2018), also received the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award, and in 2019 his poem about Newport Bridge was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. He lives in Crosskeys, South Wales.

Giancarlo Gemin - The Library

Set at the height of the austerity measures in 2013, The Library centres around Beth, the head librarian of a small library in the Valleys, which the local council have decided close due to the cutbacks. However, Beth is more concerned with the leaking roof and the delay in its repair. She is distracted by the fact that her partner, Sally, has cancer, though this makes Sally’s request to volunteer at the library all the more puzzling. As the roof continues to leak Beth’s frustrations mount. She reflects on her terse relationship with her late mother, who was never able to come to terms with her daughter’s sexuality, due to her strict faith. With ten days until the library’s closure Beth continues to serve her members, who struggle with unemployment, the threat of eviction and zero-hour contracts. A storm is forecast and Beth is impelled to fix the roof herself. The town is flooded and the need for the library is even greater, as it becomes an emergency shelter for the flood victims. The library is serving the community in a very real sense, and now Beth will do anything to save it.

Giancarlo was born in Cardiff of Italian parentage. Most recently he wrote, The Valleys of Venice, a memoir of his mother’s arrival in Wales as an immigrant from Italy. It has been selected for Steven Lovatt’s travel anthology, An Open Door (Parthian. May 2022). His radio play, The Caff, was performed by Act Your Age productions at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester (September 2021). His short story, Cure Time, was selected for the Rhys Davies Short Story Anthology 2021 (Parthian. October 2021). His children’s book, Sweet Pizza, (Nosy Crow), was selected as one of the best children’s books of 2016 by the Guardian, and long-listed for their prize. It was nominated for the Carnegie award and won the Tir Na N-og award in 2017. His first children’s book, Cow Girl, (Nosy Crow) was adapted for the stage by Oxford University Press and shortlisted for the Waterstones’ Prize in 2015. It was nominated for the Carnegie award and won the Tir Na N-og award in 2015.

Rae Leaver - Revival

In the Autumn of 1904, Ellin Owen is having a crisis of faith. Struck by the injustices faced by the women in her neighbourhood and at her own inadequacies as a good wife and Christian, she seeks to find answers to and reason for their suffering beyond what she currently understands. This coincides with a mission visit from Rosina Davies, which has a profound and dangerous effect on the delicate mind of young Ellin. Based loosely on the visit of real-life Evangelist and pioneer of Welsh women’s faith-based emancipation Rosina Davies to Gelli in October 1904, Revival explores the intersections of shame, desire, faith and place.

Rae Leaver is a writer and arts worker currently based in Bedfordshire. She has been writing plays, poetry and prose for over fifteen years, and is a graduate of Rose Bruford College and Royal Holloway, where she studied Directing and Playwriting respectively. She won the Young Poets Network Dramatic Monologue competition for her poem And Wendy, and her short story The Colossus of Luton was chosen as the lead story in The Colossus and other stories, an Arts Council England funded project to create a free graphic novel for and by the people of Luton. She currently works in cultural and heritage development and is finishing her first novel, also based in South Wales and inspired by the history of her family.

Jo Mazelis - A Killing Frost

A Killing Frost is part of a series of stories about a linked group of characters. The first of these appeared in the anthology Sing Sorrow Sorrow and concerned the birth of the twins, Georgina and Charlotte, and explored the source of their future lives as ‘Siamese’ twins. Four of these stories appeared in my Wales Book of the Year shortlisted collection, Ritual,1969. The writer had always intended to publish the stories together, but also felt that if a short story was a short story, it should stand alone. This raised the issues of naming and intent – novella or long short story, novel or linked stories?

The idea behind the stories was to inject a gothic, feminist thread into the Wales of the early 20th-century and the means was the arrival of a travelling circus. Here, the twins have grown up and during winter 1928 find themselves in danger of exposure as either ‘freaks’ or frauds. The tensions between the sisters as well the people they encounter, the sense of place, of being an outsider and of living a lie are all the sources of problems which can’t be happily resolved.

Jo is a novelist, essayist, poet, short story writer and photographer. Her collection of stories Diving Girls (Parthian) was short-listed for Commonwealth Best First Book and Wales Book of the Year and her debut novel Significance (Seren) won The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize in 2015. Her third collection of stories, Ritual, 1969 (Seren) was long-listed for the Edge Hill award and shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year.