New Welsh Writing Awards 2019: Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella Longlist
New Welsh Review is delighted to announce the longlist for the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 which this year sought entries across two categories: the Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella, run in association with Aberystwyth University, and the Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting, which was made possible thanks to the generous support of long-term subscriber Richard Powell.
Now in its fifth year, the Awards were set up in 2015 to champion the best short-form writing in English. Last year, the winner of the Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection was won by Ed Garland for Fiction as a Hearing Aid which New Welsh Review will publish on 19 September 2019.
This year, in the dystopian category, the settings range from Britain in the 1800s to the twenty-second century, from an archipelago-bound London to a military research base in rural Wales. Characters in these dystopian novellas face conflicts from identity theft or being abandoned by their parents, to being the last human left alive on the planet – or so they thought….
In the Rheidol category for writing on Welsh settings and themes, the Awards attracted a strong field of both fiction and non-fiction, varying from an epistolary account from the 1700s, to a memoir of growing up in Zimbabwe and on a Ceredigion smallholding, to a story set in interwar Cardiff. We ascend slate-quarry faces with 80s oddball postal dole-claiming rock climbers in Snowdonia, while elsewhere in the longlisted entries we learn about the gaps between generations and the current state of identity politics in contemporary Wales.
New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged the Awards with help from students from Aberystwyth University's Department of English and Creative Writing. Congratulations to our longlisted writers below, in alphabetical order by author surname:
ROSEY BROWN – Adrift (Cardiff, Wales)
Adrift follows fourteen year old Anna as she navigates the final year of her schooling, and the dystopian landscape around her – a UK rendered archipelago by sea-level rise – with London as an all powerful, ultimate destination. Encouraged by her domineering mother, she studies for the exams that could provide her a scholarship to London. Surrounded by a watery, dilapidated landscape, Anna can't wait to leave, and believes there is nothing left for her to discover in her village - but soon a girl called Clover appears who makes Anna question her worldview.
Rosey Brown lives in Cardiff, where she works as a coordinator of community arts and education projects. She makes zines, sometimes makes music in bands, and has performed with and written for experimental music ensemble NewCelf. She is also part of Sull, a new collective of eleven artists who are running a new arts space/studio in the Capitol Centre. She was part of the Hay Festival Writers at Work scheme in 2016 and 2017.
KATE CLEAVER – Piss and Wind (Swansea, Wales)
In 1800 a sailor, James Norris, was placed in Bethlem Hospital, under a court order, after attacking several people whilst in a rage. Having been placed in Bedlam he raged against the conditions and almost killed one of the keepers. Dr Munro and the apothecary, Haslam, gave him the diagnosis of being incurable. Norris’s ability to escape meant Haslam created a restraint for Norris, who was kept in a cage. The dystopia that he lived in is all the more horrifying because it existed. In 1814 a philanthropist, Edward Wakefield, visited Bedlam and found Norris chained to a pole, a mere shadow of the sailor he’d been. What shocked Edward most was the fact that Norris could hold a conversation. Norris became the poster boy for asylum reform and slowly the law and social expectations changed. For Norris, his conditions got better, he was given a low security cell and the ability to move around. But for him this small freedom only lasted three months and ended in tragedy.
Kate Cleaver, née Murray, is studying for a PhD with Swansea University. She is researching the lives of ordinary people who found themselves incarcerated in the Briton Ferry Insane Asylum, Vernon House. She has begun to create stories, James Norris was one that she couldn’t help but tell. The story is based in truth and for her, Kate has found that linking her stories to historical fact is a way to bring people from the past to life. As Kate Murray, she has been published in both adult and children’s fiction, as well as some non-fiction colouring books.
JL GEORGE – The Word (Pontypool, Wales)
In a not-wildly-distant future, two teenage boys, Rhydian and Jonno, hide in the attic of an abandoned house in a bombed-out street. They listen to the sound of approaching military machinery—but there are no bombs or tanks, just a bank of loudspeakers that will broadcast their country’s most dangerous weapon: the Word. The boys have the ability to compel anyone who understands what you’re saying to obey you. Raised in a military research centre, sheltered from the world and taught that their island nation was a bastion of greatness attacked by jealous neighbours. This centre’s effort to use the Word as a weapon exposes the fautlines in the boys’ relationships and raises some important moral concerns.
JL George was born in Cardiff, lives in Pontypool, and writes weird and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in anthologies including Resist Fascism, The Black Room Manuscripts, and Into the Woods, and she is a 2019 Literature Wales bursary recipient. A graduate of Manchester and Cardiff universities, her academic interests lie in literature and science, the nineteenth-century Gothic, and the classic weird tale. She once dreamed of growing up to be the female Nicky Wire, but fears she may actually just be the Welsh Daisy Steiner. You can find her on Twitter at @jlgeorgewrites
DEWI HEALD - Me, I’m Like Legend, I Am (Llantwit Major, Wales)
A sudden an unexpected apocalypse has occurred in Wales and now the survivors must try to make sense of it and survive in a completely changed landscape. A military government has been formed and appoints 'scribes', writers who will travel each county of Wales trying to understand what and how things have suddenly changed. The novella follows one of these scribes as she tries to make sense of her own life, the new world she lives in and her uneasy friendship with the military commander of the Vale of Glamorgan. More than anything, she just wants to survive without anyone else finding out that she has gained her important role in post-apocalypse Wales under false pretences ... a problem when she discovers that her former best friend is now the Scribe for Newport. When you have lost everything, how far will go to protect what you have left and how important is your identity?
Dewi Heald was born in a town he calls Aberalver in 1972 and went to university in Aberystwyth before settling in the Vale of Glamorgan. He has worked in youth work and education for most of his life, while also writing short stories, comic essays and political blogs. He also masquerades as Dai Bongos singing comedy songs locally. Dewi is a believer in writing while on trains and has always enjoyed the criticism of strangers looking over his shoulder. He would like to thank the UK's train operating companies for often unexpectedly extending the amount of writing time he has.
RHIANNON LEWIS – The Significance of Swans (Abergavenny, Wales)
After the ‘removals’, Aeronwy believes that she is the last human being on earth. She has lost her children and her husband, and for years she has struggled to survive with little food and no power. The chance find of an old newspaper report suggests that the ‘removals’ are somehow connected to the existence of swans. This gives her hope that her brother may also have survived. She sets off across Wales to find him. But when she reaches his farm, she discovers that another man is living there. Aeronwy fears that he has killed her brother, and tries to leave, but is spotted before she can escape. This man also believes that the swans are connected to the ‘removals’, but thinking that they are malevolent, his response is violent. Aeronwy cannot leave without stopping the destruction, and believes that the only way to stop this stranger is to threaten his life.
Rhiannon Lewis’s debut novel, My Beautiful Imperial, was published by Victorina Press in December 2017. In March 2018, it was listed by the Walter Scott Prize Academy as one of its ‘recommended’ historical novels. The Spanish translation, Mi Querido Imperial, was published in December 2018. Rhiannon has also had success with short stories, including the Bristol Prize, 2018 (shortlisted), Hammond House International Short Story Prize, 2017 (third place) and Frome Festival 2017 (winner). Originally from Ferwig, Cardigan, Rhiannon divides her time between Abergavenny and London.
THOMAS PITTS – The Chosen (Newbury, England)
The solar system of the twenty-second Century has been colonised, but a nanotech war has destroyed humanity. The only survivors are the pacifists of an asteroid, the Space Amish, Christians who reject violence and modern technology. They cite the Bible: 'they who deal out violence’ have slain each other; they are ‘the chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.’ A garbled distress signal reaches them from another asteroid. They reluctantly send a rescue mission, which includes the daughter of the mission’s leader. Arriving at the asteroid, they witness devastation – she begins a crisis of conscience: heathens were humans, too. The survivors are discovered in a greenhouse, children with lion-like features, a ‘profane’ experiment that has increased human beauty and altruism. ‘Into your hand they are delivered,’ quotes a fundamentalist Amish, ‘You shall destroy the peoples that the Lord gives over to you.’ Their disease-immunity is superior, too, thus their survival. The more liberal Amish persuade the fundamentalists to depart, leaving the profanities to starve. The daughter runs to join them, infecting herself with close contact. Before she dies, she will teach them how to grow food. The Amish can only depart, and we ask, Who will inherit creation?
Thomas Pitts, who is half-Italian, is from Newbury in Berkshire. He's had two mainstream short stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and others published in print, both science-fiction and mainstream. He is currently finishing two novels, one an historical fantasy, the other a love-and-war epic in a future solar system of two dystopias and two utopias. Among his favourite prose writers are Wells, Twain, Vonnegut, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Austen, and Kafka.
HELEDD WILLIAMS – Water, Water, Nowhere… (China, educated in Llandudno, Wales)
In this story set in 2028, society has collapsed due to climate change, resulting in a water shortage crisis. Mattie sees an opportunity to change her circumstances.
Originally from north Wales, Heledd Williams has been an English teacher in Hong Kong since 2006. She started writing in 2018 and acknowledges Margaret Attwood, Irvine Welsh, Roald Dahl and Charlie Brooker as inspiration. So far, Heledd has enjoyed serving up speculative fiction that combines slivers of the macabre with a comedic twist. Some stories have appeared in anthologies, and Heledd has an appetite to create new diverse flavours. As an avid reader, she appreciates all forms of literature and tries to incorporate new ideas into her writing.