New Welsh Writing Awards 2018: Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection Longlist

New Welsh Review in association with Aberystwyth University is delighted to announce the longlist for the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018: The Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection.

Nine writers, both new and established, and based in Wales, England and Northern Ireland are in the running for the top prize. Themes found in work by the longlisted authors include art’s ability to endure beyond conflict – whether that is in Northern Ireland, Wales during the Second World War or in Spain during the Civil War; how literature can provide comfort and clarification to those who have hearing difficulties, and how mining has an impact across many generations of one family working below ground.

With other entries, we look at the artist’s public role, from the Victorian era, through swinging Sixties Liverpool, to contemporary Athens. We hear from a woman based in mid Wales discussing her diagnosis of autism and how, as someone who grew up here, language and perceptions of rootedness impact on her own identity as someone with neurological differences. We also learn, through a series of candid snapshots, about diabetes and depression. Elsewhere, we learn how Montaigne is the forefather of blogging, and finally how important it is, in this modern day, to keep an open door to wilderness and the spirit beyond….

New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged the Awards with help from students from Aberystwyth University's Department of English and Creative Writing: Martha Casey, Lexus Ndiwe,  Mikey Jones and Caitlin Hall. 

Congratulations to our longlisted writers below:

BRIDGET BLANKLEY (Southampton) In the Shadow of the Mines: A Personal Essay

These essays explore the impact of mining on the author’s family through generations, and the industry’s relationship to themes of memory, nostalgia and identity. The sections relate to each other well, the voice is accessible, authentic and balanced, and research is very well handled.

Bridget Blankley

Bridget Blankley came late to writing, having worked in engineering, education and quality assurance before she got the chance to stop working and write stories instead. Bridget was born in Nottingham where most of her family still live. Although her home is in south Wales, Bridget is living in Southampton at the moment, having just completed a creative writing degree. Bridget’s first book, a YA novel called The Ghosts and Jamal, is just out with HopeRoad. Bridget has two children and two grandchildren, who are happy to accompany her on walks by the sea to chase waves and collect stones.

MICHAEL CULE (High Wycombe) What Do I Know

Understands the essay concept, from Montaigne to present-day blogging. This makes a companionable read, funny and with wide ranging sources. Opinionated in the best sense.

Michael Cule

Born in Manchester in 1954, Michael Cule was educated at Cheadle Hulme School, Wadham College Oxford (2nd class degree in English) and at Manchester University (postgraduate Diploma in Drama). Michael spent decades trying to make a living as an actor (and still hasn’t given up all hope). He is probably best remembered for appearances in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Knightmare: there are some other parts he wishes he could forget. He went into the Civil Service towards the end of the last millennium and spent about fifteen years chained to various lowly desks. Now comfortably retired more through luck than judgement. Michael’s hobbies include science fiction, role-playing games and medieval recreation. 

ALEX DIGGINS (Bristol) Sea Change: An Argument in Six Parts

This collection situates cogent arguments in the present modern world. It also maintains a balance between, on the one hand, personal experience and voice, and on the other, impartiality, reference and research. The central concept of keeping an open door to wilderness and the spirit is clarion clear, as is the urgency of building individual and communal identity through place, and narrative’s role within that. Literary references range from Nan Shepard to RS Thomas. Handles particularly well the dichotomy, for lovers of art and nature, of the former’s claim to immortality in the Anthropocene age.


Alex Diggins is a freelance writer and researcher with a keen interest in landscape and literature and the endlessly fascinating dialogue between them. A graduate of Cambridge and Cardiff Universities, Alex is currently working as a secondary school supply teacher in Bristol which provides more than enough material for the aspiring writer! In the future, Alex hopes to study in the States, though he thinks he will always be most at home in the wild places of Wales.

ED GARLAND (Aberystwyth) Fiction as a Hearing Aid

These engaging and finely written essays work both as standalone pieces and as a collection. The concept, how literature can provide comfort and clarification to those with hearing difficulties, is clear, authentic and original. These pieces’ Aberystwyth setting, and their exploration of Niall Griffiths’ work, make them especially relevant to these Awards’ Welsh context. The distinction, and weighted value of  ‘reading’ as opposed to ‘listening’ is one that is true to the judge's heart. In all, an intelligent, rigorous, personal, humorous and compelling presentation of words as soundscape.

Ed Garland

Ed Garland is a part-time student on the MA in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. His writing has appeared in Antic magazine, A Glimpse Of, and various collaborations with the illustrator Inkymole. He is from Greater Manchester, and lived in Leicester and Bristol before moving to Aberystwyth with his wife, Helena, in 2016. He was awarded a BSc in Music Technology from DeMontfort University in 2005. He works as a copywriter. He has worked as a court clerk, a climbing instructor, a poster seller, and many other things. @EdGarland9

KATYA JOHNSON (Aberystwyth) On the Endurance of Art

These essays on art are innovative, well written and approachable. They discuss the 'endurance of art' as lying not in an artwork's ability to endure, but in the significance of art to culture and the extent to which people will go to hide them away, drawing on examples in Wales during WW2 and the Spanish Civil War; and, in the second essay, in enduring representations of passive bourgeois women, albeit within the subversive context of the Camden Town Painters group.

Katya Johnson

Katya Johnson is a PhD candidate in Creative and Critical Writing at Aberystwyth University and works as a part-time teacher at Aberystwyth University’s School of Art. Her research interests include ecology and art history, and explore ways in which human identity is shaped by our environment and creative processes. Katya’s critical work and fiction writing has been published by New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Cheval 10 and New Writing. She was awarded the runners-up fiction prize for the 2017 Terry Hetherington Young Writer’s Award and first prize, for fiction, in the 2018 Terry Hetherington Award.

S.A. LEAVESLEY (Droitwich, Worcestershire) This < > Room

A forensic look at depression, diabetes and vision that flows forwards and backwards through time, painting the picture of a life through a series of snapshots. Themes and images of sight, and how we see, recur throughout, from photography to kaleidoscopes. An examination of the self as consistently shifting and malleable. Very strong style and striking imagery.

S. A. Leavesley

S.A. Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer, journalist and editor. She is also Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015 and highly commended in the Forward Prizes, and has also been published by the Guardian and Financial Times. A state-school Oxford University graduate with a 2:1 in modern languages (French and linguistics), Sarah also has a postgraduate diploma in print journalism from University of Wales, Cardiff, (1998). She returned to university for a Masters in creative writing from Manchester Writing School at MMU (2014). She was also longlisted for the memoir prize in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017. Sarah is author of four poetry collections, two poetry pamphlets, a touring poetry-play and two novellas.

NICHOLAS MURRAY (Presteigne) Writing and Engagement

The artist in the public sphere is the linking theme of these essays, which move from Victorian and Sixties Liverpool (where the city is palpable) to Greece and wider rumination on writing forms and structure. The tone balances literary professionalism with vivid journalism and personal voice.


Nicholas Murray is a poet, literary biographer and winner in 2015 of the Basil Bunting Prize for Poetry. He lives in rural Powys and his latest poetry collections are A Dog’s Brexit (2017) and The Museum of Truth (2018). His poems, essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines. He is a Fellow of the Welsh Academy and with Susan Murray runs the Powys-based poetry imprint Rack Press. His Crossings: a journey through borders was published by Seren in 2016.

KERRI NI DOCHARTAIGH (Derry, Northern Ireland) That Further Shore

This collection hinging on Northern Ireland is strikingly organised around images of wild animals. Its themes are ‘making place’ through art, exile, transfer, transition and bridges to reconciliation. Its voice is personal, empathetic and political. Classical references, symbols and motifs from the natural world put this entry into the class of literature.

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Kerri ní Dochartaigh is a writer who grew up during the Troubles that ravaged Ireland. She lives in a very northwesterly part of the island, where the sky is grey and unbearably beautiful; where the land is folkloric and full of swan song. She read English Literature and Classics at Trinity College Dublin and has been writing since she was four. She writes about nature, literature, place, beauty, grieving and healing.  Her favourite bird is the curlew and her favourite place is the Atlantic Ocean. She writes at her kitchen table with the back door open; even when it snows. Kerri is on Instagram @whooperswan 

RHIANNON LLLOYD-WILLIAMS (Machynlleth) The Wrong Kind of Happiness

This collection coheres clearly around the theme of identity as a Welsh woman with autism. Stylistically, there are some really lovely parts. The most original aspect is the idea of ‘not fitting in’ and how, in Wales, language and perceptions of rootedness impact on explaining neurological difference to oneself.

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Rhiannon Lloyd-Williams, playwright, poet and public speaker, blogs at Her first play, The Duck. takes to the stage this year. She was diagnosed with autism in 2015 and uses her infatuation with words to communicate experience. She loves translating how her autism processes the world; sharing the patterns and connections that it creates in language. She grew up on a hill-farm near Aberystwyth, before leaving to study English Literature in Southampton. Her hiraeth finally carried her home again, and she now lives in mid Wales with her husband and five children.