Our judge Jeremy Lazell writes:
"R Bass’s The Pelicans is the clear winner for me. There is much to praise in the piece, not least its success in avoiding the lure of cliché that snags so many travel articles. What immediately makes it stand out is, however, is how instantly transporting it is: “the tic-tic-ticking of the motor”, “the steady rise and fall” on the waves. One sentence in, you’re there. And so it goes on: by the time you get to the colony of jostling, tripping birds, you can almost smell the putrid odor.
The writer of The Pelicans also exhibits a real feel for language: “the whisper of the tall marsh grasses”, “the gentle hello of the deep violet morning”, “the dancing grass”...these are lovely phrases. They make it an uplifting read.
Where so many travel articles content themselves with bald description, this is a thoughtful, arresting read. The writer here doesn’t just describe – they interpret. So the pelicans aren’t just jostling and tripping, they’re laughing and arguing, too, even “deciding the fate of Senegal”. I love the idea of the birds glancing into the boat as if to nod a polite ‘good morning’. It’s a great observation, and again, it transports you straight to the boat in a way that merely saying the pelicans glanced in would not have done.
All in all, this is a wonderfully thoughtful piece, the writer managing to articulate how the encounter made them feel, without swamping the reader in cutesy, forced sentiment, and without making themself the focus of the picture. Quite an achievement. A strikingly vivid snapshot of a magical moment, it is a wonderful piece of travel writing."