New Writers Awards 2016: Sarah Urwin Jones

Narrative Non-Fiction

Sarah Urwin Jones is an arts journalist and classical music writer who writes regularly for a number of national newspapers and magazines. She has been The Times’ Classical Music Critic for Scotland for many years and writes fortnightly on visual art for The Herald. She was formerly Theatre Critic for The Independent and has contributed as a subject specialist to Chambers Biographical Dictionary. Other publications include BBC Music Magazine, The Sunday Times, Scotland on Sunday, and The Sunday Herald

Born in London, she studied French and European History at Edinburgh University and the Sorbonne, Paris before going on to postgraduate study at St. Andrews University in Mediaeval Art History. She has previously worked as an Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic Scotland, has dug up nuns – archaeologically-speaking – in a Merovingian nunnery in remotest France and trawled through mediaeval cesspits in St. Andrews. She once spent four months in perpetual festive spirit working in the Christmas Decorations department of a well-known London store.

Writing sample

Every night for the past two weeks since my father died the wind has battered the exposed cottage where he once lived. I lie awake in the dark, my son cradled, sleeping, in my arms, listening as the unsettled air shakes the tiny window above my bed. The wind shrieks and curls, throwing itself in gusts against the brick and stone terrace-end. The cottage, in its turn, shoulders-in to the gale as it has done for the last two centuries. Inured from the shock of death in this wadding of wind and brick, I lie curled up, numb, all emotion surrendered to the raging winds outside. 

The noise has an evocative power from this cocoon in which all is shrunk to nothing but the sound of a small living breath within and an outraged howl from without. My rational mind knows that these December storms are the result of a series of deep Atlantic depressions rounding on the UK, brass-necking their way in on a strong Jet Stream, the low air pressure whipping up high winds before it like dust swept up by a broom. And yet I cannot escape the feeling that it is as if the elements are raging at my father’s passingSometimes, I feel that it is my father’s spirit itself shaking our house, and raging, as a fellow Welshman once said, against the dying of the light.

I imagine the wind’s path over land to this point, in from the stormy tip of Dungeness, over the shingle beaches and the wooden huts and houses, shrieking through the sheep-trod Marshes to the rise of land that marks the old Anglo-Saxon coastline and up the hill to rattle the casement window of the bedroom in the little cottage where my father once slept. If there are ghosts anywhere, they are here, loitering in the sea mists and alleys of this former Cinque Port. They are here, eavesdropping outside the Kings Head, lingering at the mediaeval mooring post now marooned a half mile from the sea, idling in the draft that blows over the skulls stacked up in the old church chancel. 


Sarah says:

"I am incredibly delighted and very surprised to have received this award – my feet still hadn’t touched the ground a week after the phone call. I am hugely excited about all the opportunities of the coming year, from the writing time that this award offers to meeting and working with a mentor. Wonderful."