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Wales Book of the Year 2024 is the ‘perfect illustration of the challenge facing the newly elected UK government’

04 Jul 2024 6 minute read
Sarn Helen by Tom Bullough

As the polling stations welcomed their last voters of the day, it was announced that Tom Bullough is the winner of Wales Book of the Year 2024 with his “modern classic”, Sarn Helen. 

Literature Wales announced the winner of the overall English-language prize, which is sponsored by Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy, at a glittering Award Ceremony in Galeri Caernarfon, which was also live streamed by Cwmni da on amam.cymru.

The winner of the overall Welsh-language Award was Mari George with her novel, Sut i Ddofi Corryn (Sebra).

Acclaim

Tom Bullough’s highly acclaimed Sarn Helen documents the author’s walk along the old Roman road that runs from Neath in the south to Caerhun on the north coast of Wales.

It is an immersive and evocative non-fictional journey through Wales and a revelatory meditation on the nation’s past, present and future. Weaved into the narrative are conversations with climate and ecology experts who explain in stark detail the possible and immediate effects of the climate emergency on Wales and the world.

Tom’s words paint Wales’ beautiful landscape, wildlife and nature as an idyllic backdrop to the contrasting bleak warning about the impending destruction to the environment. Sarn Helen also won the 2023 Waterstones Welsh Book of the Year. 

“There needs to be a systematic response on a government level…I don’t think we appreciate how drastically we need to change.” Research Fellow, Marie Ekstrom in Sarn Helen p.23

Sarn Helen by Tom Bullough is published by Granta Books

Sarn Helen is illustrated by the award-winning and internationally acclaimed artist, Jackie Morris, whose depictions of many red-list species are peppered throughout the book. 

During the Award Ceremony, Tom first took to the stage to collect the prize for the best English-language Creative Non-Fiction book, before returning to be crowned winner of the 2024 Wales Book of the Year Award, receiving a total  prize of £4,000 and a specially commissioned trophy designed and created by the artist Angharad Pearce Jones.

“Momentous”

Speaking at the Award Ceremony, judge Dylan Moore said of Sarn Helen that:  “Despite the fierce competition from fabulous and fantastical fiction and dazzling verse, this book stood out.

“It is the one that will stay with us longest. The depth of its explorations and stark facts, and the momentous import of its message, carries it beyond the prize and into the realm of a true modern classic.

We thank Tom for his passionate advocacy for the planet we all call home, which is written throughout the text as beautifully and deeply as his love for Wales.

“He magically portrays this country as a microcosm of planet Earth, through precise place and across historical time. In this unique book, the climate emergency is faced full-on, and Tom lays out in the starkest terms, the gravity of the situation faced by all of us.”

Celebration

Each year, the Wales Book of the Year Award celebrates talented Welsh writers who excel in a variety of literary forms in both Welsh and English. There are four categories in both languages – Poetry, Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction and Children and Young People.

Each category winner takes home a prize of £1,000. One category winner in each language goes on to win the Overall Award, earning a further £3,000 and claiming the title, Wales Book of the Year. Although it has existed in some form since the 1960s, Wales Book of the Year has been run by the literature development charity, Literature Wales, since 2004. 

Artistic Director of Literature Wales, Leusa Llewelyn said: “This year, Literature Wales marks 20 years of running this award which has given so many writers a platform, and of course thousands of pounds’ worth of prizes. We’ve brought readers and writers together in Cardiff, Caernarfon, Merthyr Tydfil and Aberystwyth to celebrate and be celebrated. 

“Meanwhile, our planet has seen rapid changes. Tom articulates beautifully in his foreword to Sarn Helen the importance of learning about and valuing our little pocket of land to make sense of the “inconceivably vast” threat to our planet.

“How fitting, that as the UK is today selecting who will govern from Westminster, that the book most worthy of this award in 2024 is one that perfectly illustrates the challenge facing the newly elected UK government.” 

The English-language Wales Book of the Year category winners are:

Creative Non-Fiction Award and Overall Wales Book of the Year 2024
Sarn Helen, Tom Bullough (Granta Publications)

Poetry Award
Cowboy, Kandace Siobhan Walker (Cheerio Publishing) 

The Rhys Davies Trust Fiction Award
The Unbroken Beauty of Rosalind Bone, Alex McCarthy (Doubleday)

The Bute Energy Children and Young People Award
Skrimsli, Nicola Davies (Firefly Press) 

The Nation.Cymru People’s Choice Award
In Orbit, Glyn Edwards (Seren)

A panel of judges is appointed each year to read, debate and select their favourite titles.

This year’s English-language panel are author, journalist, and chair of PEN Cymru, Dylan Moore; author, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and experienced mentor, Patrice Lawrence; novelist, playwright, and former Dylan Thomas Prize winner, Rachel Trezise; and poet, novelist, and former chair of the T.S. Eliot Prize, Pascale Petit.

Sut i Ddofi Corryn, Mari George

The Welsh-language Winners

Overall Welsh-language Wales Book of the Year 2024 & Fiction Award
Sut i Ddofi Corryn, Mari George (Sebra)

Poetry Award
Mymryn Rhyddid, Gruffudd Owen (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas)

Creative Non-Fiction
Cranogwen, Jane Aaron (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru) 

The Bute Energy Children and Young People Award
Jac a’r Angel, Daf James (Y Lolfa) 

Golwg360 Barn y Bobl (people’s choice) Award
Trothwy, Iwan Rhys (Y Lolfa)

This year’s Welsh-language panel includes producer, director, and writer, Nici Beech; actor, director and writer, Hanna Jarman; poet and WJEC senior Literature examiner Tudur Dylan Jones; and author and senior lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Welsh, Rhiannon Marks.

For further information about Wales Book of the Year and all this year’s winners, visit: www.literaturewales.org/book-of-the-year


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