Our newest intern, Ann Bjerregaard, reviews the new writers’ anthology, Cheval 11.
Last month, I had the good fortune to witness the Terry Hetherington Young Writers’ Award ceremony. The Terry Hetherington Award is an award set up in honour of the late Terry Hetherington, a renowned Welsh poet. He had always been passionate about celebrating and supporting the work of young upcoming writers, and so this award was instituted as the best way to serve his memory.
Over the course of the last year young writers who come from Wales, or who are living here, have been pouring their creative energies into works of literary art and submitting it to the award judges. Thirty-four of these submissions were chosen for publication in Cheval 11, an anthology of this year’s best submissions, published by Parthian Books. At the ceremony the first and joint second prize winners were announced, and they and the thirty-one entrants read excerpts of their texts – be it poems or short stories – out loud for the audience. Something mystical happens to a text when it is read out loud. During these readings, it struck me how much of a difference a voice or intonation can make for a text. The poems especially, though perhaps unsurprisingly, gained from being read out loud, but also the short stories were endowed with a strange sense of vitality, brought to life by the voices who composed them. You could really tell, listening to these readings, that these young writers were serious about their passions, serious about following them. This was deep-felt creativity we were hearing, no less.
Afterwards, I read the Cheval 11 anthology, and while I remembered some of the excerpts from the readings this was an entirely different experience. Due to competition requirements, most of the texts are quite short. This gave many of the submissions a sense of urgency, or denseness of meaning, a sense that every single sentence was loaded with significance – an experience that is quite different from reading most novels. I don’t normally read a lot of short stories, so this was an eye-opening experience. You could tell that these writers are very talented – albeit to varying degrees – and that these texts were very carefully crafted.
Reading the whole collection cover to cover, I was struck by the recurrence of themes such as death, loss, and a sense of falling apart. Many of the stories and poems featured people who were dying, or who did die during the tale. Rather than being repetitive, this created a sense of coherence within the collection, as if these individual submissions were in constant conversation with each other, transferring between the pages some of their sadness and abject, abrupt otherworldliness. There were also several pieces which featured urban or industrial decay; loss of something intrinsic, perceived to be forever gone with the past. It’s an interesting notion – an anthology of the work of young writers full of loss and breaking apart. I wonder if this is a sign of something deeper, something endemic in contemporary Welsh society? What will that promise for the future?
Some of the stories were also quite humorous, such as “Bring me the Head of Dylan Thomas” by Rhodri Diaz, or the poem “Three Wimbledon Sonnets, or Serve, Return and Rally” by Thomas Tyrell. These and other submissions contrasted nicely with the rest of the collections, contributing to show the creative span of young Welsh writing today.
The stories that I remember the best were also the ones that most strongly touched my heart. Here, I especially wish to draw attention to the two texts “Borderline” by Eve Elizabeth Moriarty and Gareth Smith’s “Lost.” Both texts – a poem and a short story – have narrators who struggle with mental illness, and with coming to terms with their diagnosis. One narrator feels that everything about her has been reduced to the word ‘borderline’, a diagnosis stamped upon everything she does and feels, while the other story features a mother who has an anxiety attack in a shopping centre and this anxiety is made all the worse by her own fears of being called ‘crazy’.
These texts, along with many others from the anthology, show how in touch these young writers are with the world and the struggles we are currently facing. In many ways, Cheval 11 is life, condensed.