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Creative Non-Fiction Award

Icebreaker, Horatio Clare (Chatto & Windus)

‘We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?’

A message from the Finnish embassy launches Horatio Clare on a voyage around an extraordinary country and an unearthly place, the frozen Bay of Bothnia, just short of the Arctic circle. Travelling with the crew of Icebreaker Otso, Horatio, whose last adventure saw him embedded on Maersk container vessels for the bestseller Down to the Sea in Ships, discovers stories of Finland, of her mariners and of ice.

Finland is an enigmatic place, famous for its educational miracle, healthcare and gender equality – as well as Nokia, Angry Birds, saunas, questionable cuisine and deep taciturnity. Aboard Otso Horatio gets to know the men who make up her crew, and explores Finland’s history and character. Surrounded by the extraordinary colours and conditions of a frozen sea, he also comes to understand something of the complexity and fragile beauty of ice, a near-miraculous substance which cools the planet, gives the stars their twinkle and which may hold all our futures in its crystals.

HORATIO CLARE is the bestselling author of the memoirs Running for the Hills and Truant and the travel books A Single Swallow (which follows the birds’ migration from South Africa to the UK), Down to the Sea in Ships (the story of two voyages on container vessels) and Orison for a Curlew, a journey in search of one of the world’s rarest birds. His books for children include Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot and Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds. Horatio’s essays and reviews appear on BBC radio and in the Financial Times, the Observer and The Spectator, among other publications.

David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet, Thomas Dilworth (Jonathan Cape)

As a poet, visual artist and essayist, David Jones is one of the great Modernists. The variety of his gifts reminds us of Blake – though he is a better poet and a greater all-round artist. Jones was an extraordinary engraver, painter and creator of painted inscriptions, but he also belongs in the first rank of twentieth-century poets.

Though he was admired by some of the finest cultural figures of the twentieth century, David Jones is not known or celebrated in the way that Eliot, Beckett or Joyce have been. His work was occasionally as difficult as theirs, but it is just as rewarding – and more various. He is overlooked because his best writing is imbedded in two book-length prose-poems – In Parenthesis and The Anathemata, making it difficult to anthologise; the work is informed by his Catholic faith and so may feel unfashionable in this secular age; he was a shy, reclusive man, psychologically damaged by his time in the trenches, and loathed any kind of self-promotion. Mostly, though, he was a complete and original poet-artist – sui generis, impossible to pigeon-hole – and that has led to the neglect of David Jones: a true genius and the great lost Modernist.

THOMAS DILWORTH is the pre-eminent reader and interpreter of the work of David Jones and has published extensively on the subject. His books include The Shape of Meaning in the Poetry of David JonesReading David Jones and David Jones in the Great War. He is the editor of Jones’s illustrated Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Jones’s Wedding Poems and Inner Necessities, the Letters of David Jones to Desmond Chute.

All that is Wales: The Collected Essays of M. Wynn Thomas, M. Wynn Thomas (University of Wales Press)

Wales may be small, but culturally it is richly varied. The aim in this collection of essays on a number of English-language authors from Wales is to offer a sample of the country’s internal diversity. To that end, the author’s examined range – from the exotic Lynette Roberts (Argentinean by birth, but of Welsh descent) and the English-born Peggy Ann Whistler who opted for new, Welsh identity as ‘Margiad Evans’, to Nigel Heseltine, whose bizarre stories of the antics of the decaying squierarchy of the Welsh border country remain largely unknown, and the Utah-based poet Leslie Norris, who brings out the bicultural character of Wales in his Welsh-English translations – renders a portrait of Wales as a ‘micro-cosmopolitan country’. The volume is prefaced with an autobiographical essay by one of the leading specialists in the field, authoritatively tracing the steady growth over recent decades of serious, informed and sustained study of what is a major achievement of Welsh culture. 

M. WYNN THOMAS is Professor of English and Emyr Humphreys Professor of English at Swansea University. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and is the author of twenty books on the two literatures of Wales and on American poetry.

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