Chance to win second top title

6th May 2005 at 01:00
An anthology of poems has put a past winner and English teacher on the book prize list again. Nicola Porter reports

An English teacher could scoop Wales's Book of the Year competition and a pound;10,000 cash prize for a second time.

An anthology of poems, written by Mike Jenkins in between marking essays, has been long-listed for the coveted award.

One of the poems in Language of Flight has already impressed members of Welsh band The Manic Street Preachers. Mr Jenkins, 52, wrote about the unsolved disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards 10 years ago - and sent it to the chart-toppers for approval. They replied, saying the poem "gave them hope". Richey Edwards's car was found abandoned at a service station near the Severn Bridge. His body has never been found.

Mike, a teacher at Radyr comprehensive, Cardiff, said: "The poems are about a mixture of things. The main poem, and the title Language of Flight, is all about my daughter and her first steps and movements. Then we have the poem about Richey Edwards and some of my other favourite musicians, such as Robert Wyatt."

He first won the Wales Book of the Year title in 1998 for his novel Wanting To Belong. Meanwhile, he has a children's book in the pipeline and has just published a collection of short stories, called Child of Dust. It is the characters and experiences of Mr Jenkins's colourful, carefree youth which have inspired much of this latest, semi-autobiographical work.

Told in the dialect of his home town of Merthyr Tydfil, he recounts summers on the football terraces, student jobs and rooting out bugs while working as a chef on Barry Island.

A Cardiff City football club supporter, he describes himself as a bit of a Peter Pan character and giggles like a naughty schoolboy when he talks about his time spent cheering on the Bluebirds.

But there is a dark side too. For 20 years Mike taught at Penydre high school on the deprived Gurnos estate, where he met some "real characters" who captured his imagination and also "brought tears to his eyes".

Mr Jenkins, who lives in Merthyr, said: "The title is all about a dad who kills his baby while he is high on heroin. It's a tragic story but even more harrowing because it happened on the Gurnos, the estate where I worked.

"I've changed the names, but the story is true. It's tragic, heartbreaking and unbelievable."

He added: "I suppose the stories could make you burst out laughing or leave you in tears. They mix the comic with the tragic."

Other authors long-listed for Wales Book of the Year include: Des Barry, Cressida's Bed; Richard Collins, The Land as Viewed From the Sea; Stevie Davies, Kith Kin; Trevor Fishlock, Conquerors of Time; Deryn Rees-Jones, Quiver; and Kym Lloyd, The Book of Guilt.

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