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Down teen Dara McAnulty scoops Hay Festival award for debut book Diary of a Young Naturalist

Dara's novel chronicles his relationship with wildlife


Top award: Castlewellan teenager Dara McNulty

Top award: Castlewellan teenager Dara McNulty

Top award: Castlewellan teenager Dara McNulty

A Co Down teenager has scooped one of the biggest accolades in the literary world with his debut book.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, from Castlewellan, has been named Hay Festival Book of the Year 2020.

He received the accolade after hundreds of book lovers nominated their favourite titles of the year online.

The book chronicles the changing of the seasons and Dara's connection to wildlife, and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling.

Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara's intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as an autistic teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning.

In the book, the diarist recounts his life as he and his family move across Northern Ireland, transporting him away from his beloved forest, called Big Dog, near his previous home in Co Fermanagh, and the added challenges of changing schools and dealing with bullying.

The book evolved from his wildlife blog, Young Fermanagh Naturalist, which he began when he was 12, charting how he finds peace in his connection with nature, chronicled from spring equinox to spring equinox, from his 14th to 15th birthday.

Previous Hay Festival Book of the Year winners include The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (2019), 2018's Inventing Ourselves by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris in 2017.

Gareth Howell-Jones, bookshop manager at Hay Festival, said Dara's tome had struck a chord with book lovers.

"In Diary of a Young Naturalist Dara McAnulty shares his extraordinary vision of nature," he explained.

"It's both lyrical and exact - above all, it's hopeful. The book was one of the most talked about in our spring event and we are delighted to celebrate it as our title of 2020."

It is the second major accolade for the young writer, who has autism. In September he won this year's Wainwright Prize for nature writing.

Speaking at the time, Dara said he was "stunned, honoured and deeply humbled" to receive the award. In his acceptance speech he expressed his delight, adding: "It is an astounding moment not just for me but for young people, young writers, young nature-lovers.

"This tells our community that our voices matter, our ideas (are) worthy, our stories captivating. When young autistic people are nurtured and accepted, miraculous things can happen and this is certainly one of them."

Now in its 21st year, the 2020 Hay Festival is being streamed online due to the Covid crisis from Hay-on-Wye from tomorrow until November 29.

The line-up of speakers and performers includes the winner of this year's Booker Prize, Douglas Stuart, along with comedian-turned-author Dawn French, who will be presenting her latest novel, Because of You.

Popular crime writer Lee Child will also be making an appearance.

To view the full festival programme, and to register online, visit hayfestival.org/wwe.

Belfast Telegraph