When we decided to run our first-ever Resurgence & Ecologist Nature Writing Competition we had no idea we would trigger such an interesting debate - amongst the judges and in our editorial offices - on what constitutes Nature Writing.
Is it solely good writing? Or an engagement of the reader even if the writing is plain or poor? Or is it the ability to take us into a new landscape and show us something we may otherwise have missed? Between them, the 80-plus entries to our competition offered all this and more.
We were impressed by the diversity of the entries and the different ‘voices’ that emerged to tell stories of climate change, walking, plant-hunting, gardening, wildlife-spotting, camping, star-gazing and even blackberry picking. But, after lots of reading and even more discussion, we produced a shortlist of 11 articles to pass to our final judging panel, led by the internationally-acclaimed author, Michael Morpurgo.
The final judges (see details of the panel below) chose three winners and one highly commended runner up and we will be publishing all four of these pieces in the next (July/August 2013) issue of the magazine. Online users will be able to download the pdf version of the magazine here at the beginning of July. Until then, here are the 2013 winners with a brief summary of their topics and their prizes:
1st prize: Wild Wales by Julie Bromilow
Julie has won £500 plus a week-long residential writing course generously donated by the Arvon Foundation and worth £655. The judges described her essay as unusual, fresh, original and beautifully written. Judge Ruth Borthwick adds: “Wild Wales is fresh, engaging and optimistic. Through her account of a journey around Wales following in the footsteps of Victorian George Borrow, Julie paints a lively picture of contemporary Welsh society.
There are gorgeous descriptions of Nature using bright colours and memorable textures, 'smashed orange beech leaves' and 'cashmere clouds soften the hills'. And there are new professions to replace the old traditions, such as Sky salesmen and Wildlife Trust volunteers.
Julie's encounters with the inhabitants are sometimes the source of wry humour, such as the Welsh farmer who suggests her type of Welsh isn't understood in the north. Above all, Julie expresses a sense of change as opportunity and not necessarily a bad thing: "Times have changed, and they'll change again.”
2nd prize: In Search of Ramonda by Sue Kindon
Sue has won £250 and a botanical coastal walk with the judge and Resurgence & Ecologist editor-in-chief, Satish Kumar, followed by afternoon tea at his Devon home.
The judges particularly enjoyed her very detailed description of a plant hunting expedition which although she had set out to find an entirely different species - led the writer to the elusive ghost orchid.
Judge Harry Barton said: “For me, this was the best piece on the theme of discovery. It skillfully weaves together the beauty of place, quest, historical reference and the roles of chance and the passing of time. I will be looking up these plants as soon as I get home.”
3rd prize: I Will Remember by Sarah Walsh
Sarah won £75 and a year-long membership of the Devon Wildlife Trust; plus a guided tour of the Trust’s Marsden Wildlife Reserve. The judges felt Sarah conjured a much-loved and deeply-felt landscape, taking the reader on a unique journey across Bodmin Moor and cleverly using sound as a very original way to share her knowledge of that less well known and often challenging landscape.
Highly Commended: Allotment by Peter Jewel
Peter has won a year-long membership of The Resurgence Trust (worth £30) and will receive six complimentary issues of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. The judges agreed this piece captured both a natural curiosity that shone through the writing and a sense of the essence of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.
There were also a number of other pieces deemed worthy of publication amongst the 80-plus 2013 entries and we shall publish these, with the authors’ permission, over the course of the year.
Summing up the challenge to select just a handful of winners, judge and nature writer Miriam Darlington said: “In the end it was the freshness of expression, the surprises and the sheer narrative energy of the winners that I admired the most. Each writer chose a different style in approaching the theme of rootedness and each skillfully took the reader by the hand into a place that was alive with finely wrought textures, sounds and sensory details.
The winning pieces distinguished themselves by inquisitiveness about the ecology of each chosen place and by creation of sympathy with their human and non-human inhabitants. The lightly executed self-deprecating and humorous touches were especially welcome as they gave a powerful sense of the writer as well as their own quest for rootedness in the chosen landscape.
In some there was a fascinating journey into the meshed presence of humans past and present, and in each I felt I was learning something new, whether it was the onomatopoeic sound of a footfall on a boggy moor, the precise names and appearance of particular plants, or eavesdropping on the thoughts and preoccupations of a farmer in her kitchen. In each one the description was never overdone but subtly enlivened the landscape with biological precision and seasonal detail. And a strong sense of devotion to the land and to writing about it shone through all of them.”
Final Judges for the Resurgence & Ecologist Nature Writing Competition 2013;
Michael Morpuro – chair
Satish Kumar – Editor-in-Chief, Resurgence & Ecologist magazine
Ruth Borthwick – chief executive, Arvon Foundation
Harry Barton – chief executive, Devon Wildlife Trust
Peter Reason – author, nature writer and Resurgence contributor
Miriam Darlington – poet, nature writer and Resurgence contributor
Jeremy James – author, nature writer and Resurgence contributor
Susan Clark – Associate Editor, Resurgence & Ecologist magazine
For full details of the 2013 Resurgence & Ecologist Nature Writing competition, the suggested themes (which many of the writers adopted) visit our websites;