Scenes from a Hokkaidan Life by Eluned Gramich scoops inaugural New Welsh Writing Awards (26-07-2017)

Eluned Gramich wins the WWF Cymru Prize for Writing on Nature & the Environment for memoir of Japanese life and landscape

Eluned Gramich's poignant, mature and beautiful long-form memoir essay of 19 months spent living with a 'home-visit' family on the far northern Japanese island of Hokkaido caught the attention of judges Mark Cocker and Gwen Davies in the New Welsh Writing Awards. Mark presented Eluned with a cheque for £1000 as an advance on publication in New Welsh Review's new epub imprint, and she was treated, along with a packed audience at the Old College's Seddon Room, to the premiere of a marvellous filmic interpretation and performed reading of her piece. As a preface to a separate shortlisting film showcase, which was also premiered on the night, co-judge Gwen Davies commented that prizes and publications such as ours that promote writing on nature also bring into focus a sense of place, in this case not just of Wales in the case of Philip Jones' Newgale Beach-set surfing essay, but of neglected spots of crucial and resonant cultural importance such as Heligoland in the North Sea and Hokkaido in far northern Japan. Presenting the prize to Eluned, co-judge, the eminent author, naturalist and environmental campaigner Mark Cocker, noted that he had been astounded to learn that Eluned was only 26, so assured was her writing and mature was her outlook and perception. The author is awaiting publication of her translations of stories from German and will look forward to meeting William Morris Endeavour literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes as part of her prize. Mark Cocker also drew attention to the high standard of highly commended authors Timothy L Marsh, Philippa Holloway and Ellie Rees, while Gwen Davies noted that extracts from all six shortlisted and highly commended pieces, including the winner, would be published in the summer edition, published on 25 May, and that pre-publication copies of the spring edition were available exclusively to audience members.

Co-judge Gwen Davies said of the winner, 'We have, in Cardiff translator Eluned Gramich, an author who knew nothing about Japan when she won her Daiwa scholarship to travel to the far north of the country. Her touching and perfectly written memoir shows her moving, from feeling lost and lonely, to learning a language, fitting in with her ‘home-stay’ family and neighbours, and understanding how central nature and appreciation of landscape is to Japanese culture.'

Elaine Ewart, 39 and from Norfolk, came second with Heligoland, An Ecology of Exile. She won a week-long residential course in 2015 of her choice at Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre in Llanystumdwy, north Wales. Philip Jones, who is 27 and also lives Cardiff, is the runner up with Waves on the Hydrocarbon Seas of Titan. All three authors will receive a year-long subscription to New Welsh Review.

Co-judge Mark Cocker said of the three shortlisted authors: 'Elaine Ewart has had a long hard look at the physical and imaginative ecology of a famous German island - Heligoland - and produced a meticulously researched essay full of literary promise. Eluned Gramich has written the perfect essay - a minutely detailed yet nuanced evocation of place and personalities that is full of ecologically precise imagery and is as attentive to the Japanese language as it is to Hokkaidan landscape. Meanwhile Philip Jones’ piece is hugely original; it’s an engaging blend of the technical and the reflective and of the private and the cosmic. The author has made us ponder the deep connections between all parts of nature.'

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