A 16-year-old boy from Northern Ireland has won a major UK literary prize.
Dara McAnulty was awarded the 2020 Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing for his first book – Diary of a Young Naturalist.
The teenager, who appeared on the BBC NI series The Chronicles Of Erne, said winning the award was an “astounding moment” for all young writers and nature lovers.
Judges said his “extraordinary” book should be on the national curriculum.
Dara described his win as “crazy” and “humbling” but added it that showed young people’s stories are important and “youth voices can be heard”.
He told Good Morning Ulster winning the prize has been “intense”.
He admitted it was hard to sleep last night and said: “I’m shaking at the moment, seeing the incredible response there has been to it.”
Experience of bullying
Aged 12, Dara began to write a nature blog.
The following year he started writing his debut book, a diary which chronicles a year of his life from spring 2018 to spring 2019.
As well as showcasing his love and observations of nature, the diary is also a personal journal – dealing with family life, changing schools, bullying and his experience of autism.
‘Our voices matter’
In a video posted on Twitter after his win was announced, the schoolboy said he was “stunned, honoured and deeply humbled”.
“It is an astounding moment, not just for me but young people, young writers, young nature lovers.
“This tells our community that our voices matter, our ideas are worthy, our stories captivating.”
When the book was shortlisted, Dara explained he had started his diary aged 13 to express “my isolation due to bullying and being autistic” as well as “my curiosity and joy in nature”.
He added it was his way of making sense of the world but “never imagined” his book would be nominated for the Wainwright Prize.
“As the youngest ever winner of a major literary prize, Dara’s book is an extraordinary portrayal of his intense connection to the natural world alongside his perspective as an autistic teenager,” judges said.
Dara said he was aware the Wainright judges were worried about how he would cope with the huge amount of attention the prize would bring.
But he said he would put his “head down for a little bit and let everything come in”.
“I haven’t cared about what trolls and bullies say for many years now, so I’m not going to start,” he told Good Morning Ulster.
“I’m not going to go back to living in constant fear of other people and what they have to say.”
TV presenter Julia Bradbury, who chaired the judging panel, said they “would like to call for it to be immediately listed on the national curriculum”.
She described Dara’s writing as “remarkably astute and candid”.
“This book would be good if it was written by anyone of any age,” 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 both because of and regardless of his age – it is beautifully written.”
It is not the first time Dara has been recognised for his writing or wildlife campaigning.
His work has been published in New Nature magazine and by the Wildlife Trusts.
In June 2017, he was awarded the BBC Springwatch Unsprung Wildlife Hero Award, presented by Chris Packham and is currently among the judging panel for this year’s BBC Countryfile photographic competition.