AN ABERGAVENNY-BASED author has picked up a prize in a prestigious writing competition for her dystopian novella, The Significance of Swans.

Rhiannon Lewis won second prize at the New Welsh Writing Awards for her story of Aeronwy, a woman who believes she is the last person on Earth.

But the chance find of an old newspaper report gives her hope that her brother may also have survived, so she sets off across Wales to find him.

Mrs Lewis picked up her prize at an awards ceremony in May, held at the Hay Festival.

“It was full of people there, and very exciting,” Mrs Lewis told the Free Press this week.

“It’s always nerve-wracking trying competitions, especially when you start out writing – you have to try and get attention, which is really difficult in this day and age when you’ve got lots of big publishers.”

The inspiration for The Significance of Swans, she said, came from a poignant moment in her past, shortly after her father had died.

“My brother and I had been to the cemetery to visit his grave, where our mother is also buried,” she explained.

“All of a sudden, seven swans flew overhead. I’d never seen swans flying before.

“It was quite a striking sight and really etched itself in my memory. It was almost like a sign.

“Afterwards, I wondered if I could write a story where the swans were literally a sign of something, and it all came from that.”

Mrs Lewis, who grew up on a farm in Cardigan, now divides her time between Abergavenny and London.

She said her inspiration for writing often comes from memory, experience, and connections to places.

“I spend a lot of time away from Wales and I think the distance can give you clarity about the life you had as a child.

“It’s almost like when you’re too close to something, you can’t really see it.”

Mrs Lewis’ debut novel, My Beautiful Imperial, was also rooted in her family history, following the true story of her sailor uncle’s voyage around the world, ending up in war-torn Chile.

She next plans to develop The Significance of Swans into a novel-length book.

As part of her New Welsh Writing Awards prize, Mrs Lewis can also take part in a week-long residential course at the Ty Newydd Writing Centre in Gwynedd.