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Swansea writer wins prestigious short story competition

21 Sep 2023 4 minute read
Matthew G. Rees.

Swansea writer Matthew G. Rees has won the 2023 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for his story, Harvest.

The competition recognises the very best unpublished short stories in English in any style and on any subject up to a maximum of 5,000 words by writers aged 18 or over who were born in Wales, have lived in Wales for two years or more, or are currently living in Wales.

Harvest is the story of the ageing Cock Davies, a long-time cockler who we encounter on the estuary sands of west Wales astride his tractor, ‘war-like’ against the new ways of the world.

Language, bureaucracy, and outsiders all threaten his kingdom. In this almost biblical story of a man in his natural habitat, Cock rakes up ‘the finest cockle…- that any man can ever have tasted’ and confronts his destiny in the liminal space between the ebbing and flowing tide.

Matthew grew up in a Welsh family in the border country between England and Wales known as the Marches and has roots in both industrial and rural Wales.

Now based in Swansea, he has, among other things, been a journalist, a teacher, and a night-shift cab driver.

Matthew has also had a regular slot writing for Nation.Cymru.

His books include Keyhole, a collection of short stories set in Wales and the Marches. His most recent book is The Snow Leopard of Moscow & Other Stories, a collection set in Putin-era Moscow where Matthew lived and worked for a period. BAFTA-winning writer Stephen Volk has called him “a master of concise not-a-word-wasted yet cinematic storytelling”.

Established in 1991, there have been 10 Rhys Davies Short Story contests to date. The competition was relaunched by Swansea University’s Cultural Institute on behalf of The Rhys Davies Trust in 2021, in association with Parthian Books.

Matthew receives £1,000 and has his winning entry featured in the Rhys Davies Short Story Award Anthology 2023, which is published by Parthian in October. The stories from the other 11 finalists in this year’s competition will also feature in the anthology.

Masterful voice

This year’s guest judge, the award-winning Welsh writer, Jane Fraser, said: “Matthew G. Rees’s Harvest exhibits a distinctive and masterful voice in storytelling. With a surety of narrative control, and delicious, newly-minted language, Rees succeeds in portraying the character of Cock Davies and the physical setting he inhabits in this tale of belligerence and inevitability. Harvest held me from the opening line and kept holding me long after the final sentence was read.”

On receiving the award, Matthew said: “As a lifelong lover of short stories, I’m incredibly pleased, moved and feel very honoured to receive this award. The case can be made that the short story – with its special capacity to captivate and resonate – is the literary form that has best given voice to what might be termed ‘the Welsh experience’. Rhys Davies is, of course, a totemic figure within this tradition.

“I salute all those who’ve been involved – as organisers, sponsors, judges, editors and publishers – in putting on the award that bears Rhys Davies’s name, giving a fitting stage to a form of writing which, as I say, seems such an essential part of Wales’s story. I hope that readers of the 2023 anthology will find it rewarding. I know that I’m looking forward to reading the stories!”

Born in Blaenclydach in the Rhondda in 1901, Rhys Davies was among the most dedicated, prolific, and accomplished of Welsh prose-writers in English. He wrote, in all, more than 100 stories, 20 novels, three novellas, two topographical books about Wales, two plays, and an autobiography.

Matthew G. Rees, guest judge Jane Fraser, editor Elaine Canning, Parthian Director Richard Davies, and the finalists of the 2023 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition will talk about the collection and the short story form at the launch of the anthology in Swansea’s Waterstones on Thursday, 12 October at 6pm.

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