Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife (Andersen Press) has won the English-language category of the Tir na n-Og Awards 2021 for children’s and young people’s literature.
The book was written as part of Caldecott’s PhD in Creative Writing, which explored the creative opportunities of bilingual writing and this is the first time she has won a Tir na n-Og Award. The winning announcement was made on the Radio Wales Arts Show on Friday evening (21st May), with the author receiving a cash prize of £1,000 as well as a specially commissioned poem by Bardd Plant Cymru (Welsh Children’s Laureate) Gruffudd Owen.
The other two books on the English-language shortlist were The Quilt by Valériane Leblond (Y Lolfa), about a family emigrating from Wales to the US at the turn of the 20th century, and Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth (Orion), a contemporary story set in the Celtic rainforest of north Wales.
Now in their 46th year, the annual Tir na n-Og Awards celebrate the best books for children and young adults in Wales published during 2020. They are organised by the Books Council of Wales and sponsored by the librarians’ association CILIP Cymru Wales.
The Short Knife is aimed at children aged 12 and above, and is set many centuries ago, in the early Middle Ages, 454. It was a time when a new Welsh identity was starting to emerge, when the Romans had left and the Britons and Saxons were battling to take hold of different territories.
It is narrated through the voice of Mai, a young girl who, up until now, along with her sister Haf, has been kept safe by her father. The story starts with the arrival of Saxon warriors at their farm, forcing the family to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Mai must survive in a dangerous world where speaking her native language could lead to her death and where she comes to mistrust even the people she loves the most.
Chair of judges, Jo Bowers, described the book as “an outstanding and original story with a strong female voice, a story with a twist that grips you right from the start”. She added: “It is an eloquently written novel with lyrical language throughout, set in the early Middle Ages at an important time in Welsh history.”
Caldecott, a Bristol-based children's author, said: “I am over the moon that The Short Knife has won this award. When you write about home, the reception the novel gets from the people who live there matters enormously. To have the book so championed and supported means the world.”
Casia Wiliam won the primary school age category for her novel Sw Sara Mai (Sara Mai’s Zoo, published by Y Lolfa), with #helynt (#trouble) by Rebecca Roberts (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) taking the top prize in the secondary school age category.