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Two Catherines reign in short book prize New Welsh Writing Awards 2017 in Novella and Memoir categories on the subjects of healing and trauma

user image 2017-06-01
By: AmeriCymru
Posted in: Book News


New Welsh Review, in association with Aberystwyth University and AmeriCymru, announced the winners of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017: Aberystwyth University Prize for Memoir, and AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, at a ceremony at the Hay Festival on Thursday 1 June.

The Prizes celebrate the best in both Memoir and Novella from emerging and established writers, and received entries from both new and established writers based in Wales, England and the US. New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies judged both categories with the help of students from Aberystwyth University. The Novella Prize was co-judged by Welsh-American writer David Lloyd. David is the author of nine books including poetry collections, a novella and novels, and directs the Creative Writing Program at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

Catherine Haines, a dual English-Australian citizen, won the Memoir Prize, for her account of a young woman’s experience of anorexia while at Oxford University, entitled ‘My Oxford’. Cath Barton, from the English Midlands and now living in Abergavenny, south Wales, won the Novella Prize for her story ‘The Plankton Collector’, a gentle pastiche of an idyllic world populated by archetypes who will help us heal and learn.

Both writers were given cheques for £1,000, as well as e-publication by New Welsh Review on their New Welsh Rarebyte imprint. They will also receive a positive critique by leading literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes at Curtis Brown

NWR Editor Gwen Davies said ‘In our two winning entries in the novella and memoir categories, chosen from nearly all-woman shortlists (putting our political parties to shame), healing, trauma and the fluidity of memory and experience predominate as themes.

‘On our memoir shortlist were true accounts of bad luck, eating and Cold War paranoia, all taken to extremes. From it triumphed a rigorous, philosophical case for regarding eating disorder as pilgrimage. Our four-minute animation [] of ‘My Oxford’, made by Aberystwyth University graduate Emily Roberts, uses typography to show the to-and-fro of academic discourse and the skull of Yorrick from Hamlet to illustrate Catherine’s experience of how anorexia started turning her into ‘a floating head… devoid of emotion.’

‘On our novella shortlist were dark stories of sexual abuse, grooming and escaping domineering fathers. From it triumphed a beautifully controlled mix of magical realism and nature writing about time, healing, trauma and the fluid, unreliable nature of memory. Our four-minute animation [] of ‘The Plankton Collector’, made by Aberystwyth University graduate Emily Roberts, deploys 1960s-style children’s book illustration to depict a lost natural golden world of childhood and the healing Everyman that Cath’s mysterious Plankton Collector represents.’

Second Place in the Memoir Prize was awarded to Mary Oliver for ‘The Case’, a ‘cross-genre fictionalised memoir’ that is ‘innovative, affecting, with depth of heart and breadth of research’. In the Novella Prize, Second Place was awarded to Olivia Gwyne for her story ‘The Seal’, a tale of ‘complex, nuanced characterizations and a narrative that expertly builds tension and suspense’. Mary and Olivia will both receive a weeklong residential course at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in Gwynedd, north Wales

Third Place in the Memoir Prize was awarded to Adam Somerset for ‘People, Places, Things: A Life With The Cold War’, a memoir that ‘paints a sweeping landscape of the Eastern Bloc as experienced through the eyes of a British backpacker.’ Nicola Daly was awarded Third Place in the Novella Prize, for her ‘innovative style and the masterfully-created, surreal world’ in her novella ‘The Night Where You No Longer Live’. Both Adam and Nicola win a weekend stay at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, north Wales.

All twelve nominees will be published in extract form in upcoming editions of New Welsh Reader; all six shortlisted writers will also receive a one-year subscription to the magazine.

New Welsh Review also reminded those present of the winners of their New Welsh Readers' Poll 2017: Best Memoir & Novella, originally announced in spring. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Vintage Books) is the winner of the Best Memoir category and received 50% of the vote. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Faber) is the winner of the Best Novella category with 55% of the vote. Congratulations to Marjane Satrapi and Max Porter. #newwelshawards

The 2017 New Welsh Writing Awards are sponsored by Aberystwyth University, the core sponsor and host of New Welsh Review, and US online magazine and social network AmeriCymru. The Awards are run in partnership with Curtis Brown, Gladstone’s Library and Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre.

For images, more details on the Prizes, Readers’ Poll and for interview requests please contact Jamie Harris on or 07812 804505. Please note that Catherine Haines is currently in Hong Kong but is available via email and video.

Gwen Davies (judge)'s adjudication plus author biographies



A young woman’s experience of anorexia while at Oxford University enriches a lively account of student life with literary, philosophical and existential questions. As the Cambridge Weight Plan spins out of control, a post-grad’s academic subject, ‘the mind-body problem’, goes through an existential phase to become ‘extraordinary morality’ rather than a mental health problem. Catherine Haines developed anorexia and underwent religious conversion while facing extreme academic pressure at Oxford University. She wrote it in tribute to a male friend who died from the condition, to explore her own experiences deeply and as self-vindication against friends’ harsh judgement of her in the light of her work at the time as a model. She feels that eating disorders may be regarded as a ‘pilgrimage’ rather than being a ‘media-inspired dysfunction’. ‘My Oxford’ augments a cool, detached style in order to emphasise the rigour of the author’s academic training and the physical process of anorexia which made her ‘something of a floating head… devoid of emotion’. This is a rigorous, perceptive, original and truly felt piece of writing from a very fine mind.

Catherine Haines is a dual English-Australian citizen. She studied Philosophy at the Australian National University and took her Masters Degree in English at the University of Oxford. Catherine currently lives in Hong Kong, and will shortly begin a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham. Her work has been published in Needle in the Hay, Cherwell and Woroni. Her debut novel, The Wicked and the Fair, is currently being circulated.



Jim, an emigrant from England to Canada, awaits release from a progressive mental hospital and reconciliation with his baby daughter. He is in turns hopeful migrant, stowaway, farmer, thief, hobo, rough poet and ever-loving brother. This story approaches its subject prismatically through different documentary sources, and is based on an historical character. Innovative, affecting, with depth of heart and breadth of research, this cross-genre fictionalised memoir, about ‘one man’s bad luck’ and what his life shows about society, rewards re-reading.

Mary [MJ] Oliver was born in Clun, Shropshire and since then has lived mainly in Scotland and Cornwall. Having gained a BA and an MA in Fine Art from Reading and Falmouth Universities, she exhibited paintings and installations across the UK. Her work was collected by Carmen Callil and some were reproduced as book covers by Virago. To supplement income, she also taught for many years; from facilitating Art Workshops in Barlinnie Jail, Glasgow, to lecturing in Fine Art at Falmouth University. Mary has been writing full time since 2014 and has had a number of prize nominations for her work.


ADAM SOMERSET (ABERAERON), ‘People, Places, Things: A Life with the Cold War’

This memoir paints a sweeping landscape of the Eastern Bloc as experienced through the eyes of a British backpacker. The account is coloured with frequent references to the historical hinterland and details of the author's encounters with the inhabitants of the world beyond the Iron Curtain - all these elements coming together to provide the reader with an immersion into the ‘culture of apocalypse’.

Adam Somerset has lived in Ceredigion for 23 years. His first piece of writing was a play Quay Pursuits produced at the Questors Theatre in Ealing. He wrote an article on national theatre in 2007 for Planet magazine. In the same year he began to write for Theatre Wales, a review site based in Aberystwyth. He is the author of 600 commentary articles and reviews of theatre books and productions. He has written 100 reviews and articles on art, photography, history and television for Wales Arts Review. His reviews of books on politics have featured on the website of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Gwen Davies and David Lloyd (co-judges’) adjudication plus author biographies


CATH BARTON, ‘The Plankton Collector’

“Look,” the narrator directs the reader at the start of this beautifully-written novella. “We are approaching a country house, somewhere in the middle of England.” And with this narrator’s guidance, we enter the house, and enter the lives of its inhabitants - who are ordinary and, it turns out, quite extraordinary. Through an assured combination of magical realism and traditional realism, this story tells of the mysterious Plankton Collector, whose intercessions help members of an apparently conventional family come to terms with debilitating traumas: infidelity, isolation, a closeted gay husband, the death of kin. It is a wise tale of vulnerability, healing, and love. Ultimately, memory and trauma work in tandem, and the power of imagination triumphs. The elegant and finely-tuned prose made “The Plankton Collector” rise to the top of our short-list.

Cath Barton was born in the English Midlands and now lives in Abergavenny, south Wales. Her short stories have been published in anthologies in Australia, the US and the UK, and her flash fiction has appeared on-line in Fictive Dream, Firefly Magazine and Long Exposure, amongst other places. Cath was Literature Editor of California-based Celtic Family Magazine (2013-2016) and is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.



This is a story of unequal power, and the grooming of an eleven-year-old girl by a nineteen-year-old male. He spots the source of her vulnerability in her crazy religious Nana and her fearful mother. Strong beach and caravan-site settings coupled with the cat-and-mouse story make compelling reading. ‘The Seal’ is short-listed in second place because of the complex, nuanced characterizations and a narrative that expertly builds tension and suspense.

Olivia Gwyne, originally from Hereford, is now based in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 2015 her pamphlet of short stories, The Kittens’ Wedding, was published by Womach Press, and the same year she won the SASH Writing Prize. Olivia has also been shortlisted for the Wells Short Story Competition, the Home Start Short Story Prize and the Horror Scribes Flash Fiction Ghost Story Competition. Her work was recently featured in Halo Literary Magazine. She holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Newcastle University.


NICOLA DALY, ‘The Night Where You No Longer Live’

A first person, dark European fairytale about abuse, cross-dressing and the main character Claudette’s desperate attempts to escape a cruel, deceased father’s shadow and a living brother’s evil intent. Unusual, unsettling language animates each page, as does Claudette’s immediate voice. The novella’s dense texture is further enriched with references to modern Paris as well as Baudelaire and Sartre. This novella is our third place choice because of the innovative style and the masterfully-created, surreal world.

Nicola Daly was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in 1974. However for most of her life she has lived in Chester. Her short stories, non- fiction work and poetry has been widely published by a variety of publications such as Honno Women’s Press, The North West Arts Council Anthologies, Myslexia, Rialto, and many more.

About New Welsh Review

New Welsh Review was founded in 1988 as the successor to The Welsh Review (1939- 1948), Dock Leaves and The Anglo-Welsh Review (1949-1987) and is Wales’s foremost literary magazine in English, offering a vital outlet for the very best new fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, a forum for critical debate, and a rigorous and engaged reviewing culture. New Welsh Review Ltd is supported through core funding by the Welsh Books Council and hosted by Aberystwyth University Department of English and Creative Writing. The magazine’s creative content was rebranded as New Welsh Reader in 2015, with reviews moving entirely online. New Welsh Review can be bought by Direct Debit on subscription at £16.99, UK only (£20.99 for all other subscription types, UK) via New Welsh Review Ltd, PO Box 170, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1WZ, Tel: 01970 628410, Email:

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