A 16-year-old boy from County Fermanagh received a major British literary prize.
Dara McAnulty received the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Natural Writing in the United Kingdom for his first book – The Diary of a Young Naturalist.
The teenager, who appeared on BBC NI’s The Chronicles Of Erne, said winning the award was “an amazing moment” for all young writers and nature lovers.
Al-Qudah said his “exceptional” book should be on the national curriculum.
Dara described his victory as “crazy” and “modest” but added that youth stories matter and “youth voices can be heard”.
He told Good Morning Ulster that winning the award was “intense”.
He admitted it was hard to sleep last night and said, “I’m shivering right now, seeing the amazing response there.”
Experience of bullying
The teenager, who had been living in Belfast, later moved to County Fermanagh where, at the age of 12, he began writing a blog about nature.
The following year, he began writing his first book, a diary chronicling a year of his life from Spring 2018 to Spring 2019.
In addition to showcasing his love and notes on nature, the diary is also a personal journal – dealing with family life, changing schools, bullying, and his experience with autism.
Our voices matter
In a video clip posted on Twitter after announcing his victory, the student said that he was “amazed, honored, and very humble.”
“It’s an amazing moment, not only for me but for young people, young writers and young nature lovers.
“This tells our community that our voices matter, our thoughts are worthy, and our stories are captivating.”
When the book was shortlisted, Dara explained that he started his memoir at the age of 13 to express “my isolation due to bullying and autism” as well as “my curiosity and happiness in nature.”
He added that this was his way of understanding the world but “I never imagined” his book would be nominated for a Wainwright Prize.
“As the youngest winner of a major literary prize, Dara’s book is an exceptional illustration of his strong connection to the natural world as well as his perspective as an autistic teenager,” the judges said.
Dara said he was aware that the Wainwright judges were concerned about how he would handle the enormous amount of attention the award would bring.
But he said he would lower his head a little and let everything in.
He told Good Morning Ulster, “I haven’t cared what the trolls and bullies say for many years now so I’m not going to start.”
“I will never return to live in constant fear of others and what they have to say.”
“They would like to demand that it be immediately included in the national curriculum,” said TV presenter Julia Bradbury, who chaired the jury.
She described Dara’s writing as “remarkably clever and forthright.”
“This book would be fine if anyone wrote it,” Ms. Bradbury told The Guardian.
“We felt it was a very important book to win because it will reach young people and that is vital.
“So we gave it to him because of his age, regardless of his age – it’s beautifully written.”
This is not the first time that Dara has been known for his writings or for his campaign in the wild.
His work has been published in New Nature and Wildlife Trusts.
In June 2017, he was awarded the BBC Springwatch Unsprung Wildlife Hero Award, presented by Chris Packham, and is currently on the jury for this year’s BBC Countryfile Photography Contest.
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