BLOG Erica Shepard

NWR Issue r32

Wales Book of the Year 2019 at Aberystwyth

Ailbhe Darcy winner of Wales Book of the Year English category with Insistence published by Bloodaxe

Literature Wales held the Wales Book of the Year 2019 at Aberystwyth’s Art Centre on the twentieth of June. It was a night to honour those for whom Wales has either been home, become a home, or has found a home in their writing. From debut novels to a TS Eliot Prize shortlister, these works came together in a celebration of their successes.

Standing at the theatre bar clutching my drink, which I had wrongfully assumed was champagne (it was sparkling apple juice), I experienced the nostalgia of being a little kid in the middle of a grown-up party. I watched the authors, standing just a few feet away from a display of their respective books, chatting and laughing as if they were blissfully unaware. I remained green and in awe until I gathered the courage to speak to them. While their success and experience topped my own, I found comfort in finding that they, as well as the editors, publishers, artists, and tutors that were present, had gathered to not only celebrate those shortlisted but also to pay tribute to literature. I was amongst company united in their passion for reading and writing.

Ailbhe Darcy was the first winner to take the stage, receiving the Roland Mathias Poetry Award, which will make her the final writer to receive the award as this will be its last year with this particular title. Insistence explores the beauty and fear that comes with bringing a child into the world, honing in on an anxiety that is uniquely experienced in our time: climate change. The force of a mother’s natural devotion to her child and his future stands as an example of the strength we must employ in our fight for our environment. It reminds us that it is not just for us but for future generations. Darcy’s collection was further recognized for its excellence and was awarded the overall prize, Wales Book of the Year. Upon speaking to her about her collection and its efforts to highlight climate change she told me, ‘We all have to do what we can.’ She will be donating her £4,000 prize to Extinction Rebellion.

The Aberystwyth University Fiction Award was awarded to Carys Davies’ West. Up to now a short story author, Davies extended her many titles to include novelist, with West. Set in the old American West, a plain of unforgiving and unexplored nature, Cy Bellman sets out to find the mysterious monstrous bones that are rumored to lie somewhere along the Mississippi River. He leaves behind his young daughter Bess, whose fierce confidence in her father’s success remains constant despite the doubts of nearly everyone. While a relatively short read, it is perhaps Davies’ skills as a short story writer that make her novel a triumph. Determination birthed from grief melts into desperate longing felt by both Cy and Bess and the reader.

The final category, Creative Non-Fiction, was presented to Moneyland. Author Oliver Bullough accepted the award dressed in a black suit jacket and a bright red Hawaiian shirt, a material example of his ability to understand the complexities of governments and finances and his ability to write about these subjects in a way that is both clever and comedic. Moneyland, a place where the rich get richer, has its ugliness unmasked by Bullough as he digs to its roots and revels the widespread poverty it has caused. Relative to the current growing urgency for change, Bullough keeps the reader invested by making a superficially confusing and tedious topic into a witty piece of entertainment.

As the evening drew to a close and the crowd dispersed, there remained a sense that something wonderful had happened. People travelled from across the UK not just to commend the winners but to celebrate the power of words. Whether they remind us to care for our planet’s future, entangle us in adventure and sorrow, or to impart us with the knowledge and understanding to fight against the wrongdoings of others, words stay with us. So, we toast them with our glasses of sparkling apple juice.

Erica Shepard is studying at Aberystwyth University’s Department of English and Creative Writing.


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