New Welsh Review, in association with Aberystwyth University, announced the winner of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018: Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection at a ceremony at the Hay Festival on Tuesday 29 May.
Ed Garland, originally from Great Manchester and now residing in Aberystwyth, won with his collection of essays, entitled ‘Fiction as a Hearing Aid’ which expertly examines how literature can provide comfort and clarification to those with hearing difficulties. His prize comprises a £1000 advance on an ebook deal, published on the magazine's book imprint New Welsh Rarebyte, together with a critique by London literary agent and Awards partner Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown.
NWR Editor and Awards judge Gwen Davies said that this was a piece in which the "distinction, and weighted value of ‘reading’, compared 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."
[Video by Emily Roberts, artwork by Gemma Roberts.]
Gwen's adjudication continued: "Ed Garland describes precisely, in his first essay, his own hearing loss and interference connected to severe tinnitus, and how fiction helped him learn how to change ‘the emotional response to… physical injury’. He began to imagine, and write about, a ‘sound map of Wales… currently ranging ‘from Lewis Jones’ Rhondda valley in the south, to the west coast and valleys of Cynan Jones, up to Brenda Chamberlain’s Ynys Enlli.’ Seeking in particular, ‘moments of enhanced listening’ and ‘revelations of the ear in which sound is shown to exert emotional pressure’, he finds ‘geographic, social, psychological and emotional energy’ carried through sound throughout our fiction, past and present. In Niall Griffiths’ novel Grits, a low-flying jet has a ‘social and psychological charge’. In Cynan Jones’ The Dig, sound, loss and violence are inextricably linked. Meanwhile, Ed’s second essay explores how, having ‘misplaced the will to live’ and facing his twenty-third job, as court usher, where discontent is audible, he turns from music as a means to silence his harmful thoughts and first of all becomes a ‘voracious reader… blast[ing] the words through my head at high speed and top volume.’ Only later does he discover that space, time and silence are essential for actually listening in reading and thereby accessing the emotional connections and experiences of characters, which is the true reward of fiction.
"Ed Garland’s intelligent, rigorous, personal, humorous and compelling presentation of words as soundscape made ‘Fiction as a Hearing Aid’ rise to the top of our shortlist.
"The hallmark of a good essayist was coined by the American Eula Biss in her first collection, On Immunity: An Inoculation: ‘He or she should ‘be a citizen thinker’, she says, and I think this is especially apt for the Welsh context in which we run both our magazine and these writing Awards. This is a place where nationhood and communal ties help build a writerly community and a sense of responsibility among both readers and writers towards where we live as well as making us acutely aware of those British and global issues that affect, reflect and challenge our values, which include tolerance of and support for difference. Ed Garland, who we are pleased to celebrate by way of giving him this award, deserves the label ‘citizen thinker’."
The other top prize winners announced at the festival were as follows. In second place, Bristol's Alex Diggins, with 'Sea Change: An Argument in Six Parts': Alex won a week-long residential course at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in Gwynedd. And in third place, Presteigne's Nicholas Murray, with 'Writing and Engagement': Nicholas won a weekend stay at Gladstone's residential library in Flintshire. All six nominees will be published in extract form in the autumn edition of New Welsh Reader (118) published on 1 September, and all three shortlisted writers will also receive a one-year subscription to the magazine.
Gwen Davies has been editor of New Welsh Review since 2011. She has worked as creative editor at publishers including Parthian, and founded the imprints Alcemi and New Welsh Rarebyte. As a literary translator her titles include Robin Llywelyn's White Star (Seren Wen) and two of bestseller Caryl Lewis' novels, Martha, Jack & Shanco (Martha, Jac a Sianco) and The Jeweller (Y Gemydd). She has also been a Literature Officer at the Arts Council of Wales, a member and Chair of Literature Wales' Writers' Bursaries Panel for seven years, represented literature for the Arts Council of Wales' Creative Wales Awards and has been a writers' mentor, both privately and for Literature Wales. She has been judge for the New Welsh Writing Awards since its inauguration in 2015. She grew up in a Welsh-speaking family in West Yorkshire and now lives in Aberystwyth with her family.
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