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

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

The shortlist includes three outstanding essay collections by authors hailing from the west of England and mid and west Wales - Bristol, Aberystwyth and Presteigne respectively. The shortlisted work covers such themes as staying open to the call of wilderness, how literature can provide comfort to those with hearing difficulties and the role of the artist in society down the ages. The highly commended entries include essays about how working in the mining industry affected generations of one family and how this impact has resonated through the decades, how art has the staying power to endure atrocities, and finally how a sense of place can be forged through art, exile, transfer and moments of transition and reconciliation. Read on for more details of the shortlisted and highly commended entries.

The shortlist was announced at the Bookshop in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Thursday 3 May. The overall winner will be announced at a ceremony at Hay Festival on Tuesday 29th May.

New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged the prize with help from students of Aberystwyth University's Department of English & Creative Writing. 

Congratulations to our three shortlisted and three highly commended authors below:


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. It 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 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


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 originally published in extract form by New Welsh Review, and by Seren in 2016.


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 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.

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 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 ReviewPoetry WalesCheval 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.

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.


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. She read English Literature and Classics at Trinity College Dublin. 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