A writer from Radnorshire has been shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2024 award.

On Sunday 12th May, the 2024 Wales Book of the Year Shortlist was announced on Wales’ national radio stations. Author of Sarn Helen, Tom Bullough is shortlisted in the Creative Non-Fiction Award category.

Sarn Helen is the account of the author’s journey along the old Roman Road that runs from the south of Wales to the north. Tom grew up on a hill farm in Gladestry, Radnorshire, and now lives in Bannau Brycheiniog with his children. He jokes that living in Breconshire feels ‘a bit like treachery’. The book is illustrated by Jackie Morris.

Speaking to The Brecon and Radnor Express, Tom said: “I started walking from Neath after the first lockdown in summer 2020. At the time, I didn’t mean to continue all the way to the north coast but somehow the Roman road got under my skin: it reveals so much, in its wandering course, about Wales present and Wales past. I’ve always been passionate about history and mythology. I was crazy about princes and castles at primary school, and these past few years I’ve been obsessed with the 5th and 6th-century Age of Saints. The thing about the road, Sarn Helen, was that it allowed me to put these interests into an order. In a sense, it’s the spine of Wales and it seemed natural that it should be the spine of a book as well.”

The book not only weaves in Welsh mythology and history, but it discusses the climate crisis. “The unfortunate fact is that the climate and ecological crisis is probably the greatest threat that we have ever faced. Of course, we need to think urgently about what food we eat, how and if we travel, how we heat our homes etc, but more fundamentally we need to revisit our relationship with the natural world. All of us rely on that and, in Wales as everywhere else, the natural world is in terrible trouble. This is the reason, in the end, why I’ve been so compelled by the Age of Saints – a time when, rather than plundered for “resources”, the natural world was revered.”

He’s said that readers have got in touch to say that it has helped them reconsider how they approach nature. “The risks resulting from the climate and ecological crisis are terrifying, I’m sorry to say, but the book seems to have encouraged some people to engage with the solutions, and if that’s so then I couldn’t be happier.”

The book, popular in bookshops around the UK, has reached monks in Yorkshire. “I did receive one email saying that Sarn Helen was being read aloud each dinnertime in a monastery in Yorkshire. Unfortunately, though, it is a silent order so the monks have kept their reactions to themselves.”

Tom hadn’t expected to be shortlisted for the Literature Wales award, instead thinking that his luck had run out when the book won Waterstones Welsh Book of the Year. “Well, I hadn’t been hoping, put it that way. To be shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year too – it’s wonderful, what can I say?”

He’s thanked Literature Wales for how they have helped his career, meaning that in turn he can help develop new Welsh literary talent. “I’ve had a good bit of involvement with Literature Wales over the years. They’ve been kind enough to give me a couple of grants – both helped me to complete novels – and, more recently, I’ve worked as a mentor on their Representing Wales programme, helping up-and-coming writers. I am a fan, all in all.”

Now, 2024 is set to be Tom’s busiest time yet. “2024 has turned out very busy – far busier than I meant it to be. I am writing a novel set in Wales and Ireland during the Age of Saints, but also travelling slowly up the Wye, filming the river and recording conversations for an audio-visual installation in Hay Castle, and working on a film called Mr Burton, about the early life of the actor Richard Burton, which is due to start filming in Port Talbot in July, and… other things. So, I am productive for once. Usually, everything takes me an age.”

The English-language shortlist was revealed by judge Dylan Moore on the Lynn Bowles show on BBC Radio Wales, and the Welsh-language shortlist by the Welsh judging panel on Ffion Dafis’ BBC Radio Cymru show. The judges and presenters were joined by Leusa Llewelyn and Claire Furlong for the announcements, the Artistic and Executive Directors of Literature Wales, the charity that runs Wales Book of the Year.

Each year, the Wales Book of the Year Award celebrates talented Welsh writers who excel in a variety of literary forms in both Welsh and English. There are four categories in both languages – Poetry, Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction and Children and Young People, with one of the category winners going on to win the Overall Award and claiming the title, Wales Book of the Year. The Shortlist consists of 24 books in total – twelve in each language, and three in each category.

Wales Book of the Year has been run by Literature Wales, the national charity for the development of literature, since 2004. Over the last twenty years, the award has seen our most prolific and well-known writers being recognised, alongside new and emerging talents.

Leusa Llewelyn, Artistic Director of Literature Wales, said: "What a feast the shortlists selected by this year's judges present. Twenty-four books by experienced and new writers, each presenting a different aspect on Welsh literature. It is impossible to summarize so many books, and so many authors – I would encourage you to read them all, each and every one! Congratulations to all the shortlisted writers for your achievement and for entertaining us."

The winners of Wales Book of the Year will be announced at an Award Ceremony in Galeri Caernarfon on Thursday 4 July. Twelve awards and a total of £14,000 in prizes will be shared amongst the writers - £1,000 each for the category winners and an additional £3,000 for the overall winner in both languages. In addition, each winner will receive an iconic Book of the Year trophy, specially designed by the talented artist Angharad Pearce Jones.

Readers will have an opportunity to have their say once again this year, with The People's Choice Award and Barn y Bobl polls now open for votes. The prizes are sponsored by Nation Cymruand Golwg360 respectively.

To find out more about the shortlisted titles and the writers who penned them, head over to www.literaturewales.org/wales-book-year.