Philip Gross has won the 2010 Wales Book of the Year English language award for his poetry collection I Spy Pinhole Eye. The Welsh language award went to John Davies for his learned travelogue Y 100 Lle I’w Gweld Cyn Marw. Both are lavishly illustrated, high quality books, beautiful as objects in themselves.
Professor Davies, who I know slightly from a couple of Cardiff encounters, is Wales’ greatest living historian and although he hardly needs to be showered with more honours, his elegant, coffee-table book of the 100 places in Wales “to see before you die” is thoroughly deserving of the £10,000 prize – and might allow me to scrounge a pint off him next time we bump into each other in the Golden Cross (currently closed for refurbishment, incidentally). There’s no denying the merit either of Philip Gross’s book: an unsparing look at the human condition backed up by Simon Denison’s moving photographs. But, unlike Davies, Gross’s material is not particularly of, from or about Wales. The fact that he has lived in Penarth for five years since becoming a professor at Glamorgan Uni is his qualification for entry. As yet another professor, Ian Gregson of Bangor Uni, handed over the cheque, the thought occurred to this envious, sour, thwarted outsider that the world of Welsh literature is a closed, cosy, mutual admiration society for academics. The delay in publishing my book (put that last word within inverted commas) means it will not be until 2012 before I can go up to collect my cheque at the St David’s Hotel down Havannah Street. Oh well, back to shovelling shit for another year!