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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
'Nuclear' book wins 10,000 prize
Robert Minhinnick (Photo: Toril Brancher)
Robert Minhinnick called his prose 'political writing through imagery'
The poet and writer Robert Minhinnick has won the 10,000 Wales Book of the Year award, announced in Cardiff.

To Babel and Back is partly based in his home town Porthcawl, but also draws on travels to Iraq and Argentina, with nuclear and political themes.

The shortlist also included a first novel and a poetry collection.

The Welsh language prize, also worth 10,000, was won by Rhys Evans for his biography of Plaid Cymru's first MP Gwynfor Evans, who died in 2005.

Neath-born Minhinnick, who is editor of Poetry Wales, said his book was a collection of essays, observations and stories "both real and imagined".

It also has a thread of his own personal journey, following depleted uranium to Iraq.

One of the more disturbing extracts of the book, which takes in political, nuclear and environmental themes, details a day trip he took to Babylon.

He was taken to a bunker where 400 people burned to death after an American smart bomb in the first Gulf war had exploded.

Rhys Evans
Rhys Evans worked through boxes of personal files and papers

Minhinnick thought he saw bats hanging from the ceiling. "After my guides had taken me through the bunker they said those blackened shapes were children's hands," he said.

"Parents had held the children up to the ceiling to help them dig for safety from the fire but instead their hands became fused to the burning hot ceiling.

"After, they tried to pull the bodies from the bunker but the hands remained stuck to the ceiling."

Minhinnick said he was surprised the book even made the shortlist, as the judges had thought it "patchy".

He said it was a demanding and difficult book. "But once you start on page one you continue until 200, so it's well worth it," he added.

Also nominated were Swedish-born Kitty Sewell for her first novel Ice Trap, and poet Ifor Thomas, who drew on his experience of being treated for prostate cancer.

The Welsh language prize was won by BBC Wales journalist Rhys Evans for his biography of Gwynfor Evans, his first book.

He said it was sparked by his own "obsession" for the subject, backed up by painstaking research of boxes of papers and letters belonging to the former Carmarthen MP, who died aged 92 in April 2005.

But he admitted that being a first-time author had been tough. "Bit of a curate's egg really, at times extremely painful and very tiring, given that I did it as a part-time project in my spare time," he explained.

However, he said at times he found it "absolutely exhilarating".

Peter Finch, chief executive of the awarding body Academi, said: "The judges' choice for Wales Book of the Year Award 2006 shows the maturity of the literature of Wales by selecting authors at the height of their powers."

"I was suprised it was even on the shortlist."


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