Thursday, July 2, 2009

Behind the Scenes of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize

We welcome Ailsa Cox, fiction writer, critic, tutor of creative writing, and one of the coordinators of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, giving us a quick peak behind the scenes of the Prize, whose winner will be announced on July 4th:

Just about to name the winner of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story and as usual my lips are sealed. I’m giving nothing away – not even a clue. I don’t want anything to spoil that moment of surprise and delight at the award ceremony. This year’s shortlist includes two Irish writers, a science fiction writer, two Booker nominees and a Booker prizewinner - in other words, Chris Beckett, Gerard Donovan, Anne Enright, Shena Mackay and Ali Smith. Five really strong contenders. I’m glad the decision isn’t up to me.

The prize was started in 2007 after I ran the first of several short story conferences at Edge Hill University. Many people don’t know where Edge Hill is, which is one of the reasons why the university was keen to put us on the map with a prestigious prize. It is in fact in Ormskirk, Lancashire, somewhere between Liverpool and Southport. By giving £5000 to the author of a published short story collection we were doing something unique; we have the National Short Story Prize and the international Frank O’Connor Award Munster Literature Centre Home for any collection published in English but there is nothing for writers in the UK and Ireland which is anything like, for instance, The Rea Award for the Short Story in the US. We hoped the prize would help change attitudes in the literary world, and actively encourage publishers to accept and promote collections, in the knowledge that they might get some recognition for it.

Since then the university has upped its contribution, so there is now a second prize and a Readers’ Choice; and Blackwell Bookshops have sponsored a specially commissioned artwork to go to the winner. This is not your average bit of engraving gathering dust at the back of the mantelpiece! I’ve been watching Pete Clarke, a painter with a special interest in using text and imagery, create something really special for this year. This year’s judges were last year’s winner, Claire Keegan, Mark Flinn, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university and James Walton, the writer and critic. Waiting for their final decision was gruelling – I had no idea what would come out of their discussion and dreaded personality clashes or stalemate; and as the time ticked by I needn’t have worried. Though none of them really knew one another, they made a good team, open-minded and sensible and their decision was unanimous. The Readers’ Choice is decided by a combination of local groups from Get Into Reading The Reader - Outreach Programmes and students from our Creative Writing MA Creative Writing. Last year it was won by horror writer Christopher Fowler. What will happen this year? I told you, I’m not saying.

Five writers, three prizes (and theoretically the winner could also get the Readers’ Choice). Not to mention those writers who didn’t quite make the shortlist but have produced outstanding work. This, after all, is a prize for a collection, and sometimes the quality of an individual story isn’t sustained across the whole book. As a reader, I find this especially in small press publications. When a less well known writer does get onto the shortlist it’s so exciting, for them and for us. Last year Rob Shearman didn’t win anything; but even though Tiny Deaths went on to win a World Fantasy Award he says it all started for him with the Edge Hill Prize.

Thanks, Ailsa - we will announce the winner as soon as the news is made public! Good luck to all.

For more about the prize, visit the Edge Hill Short Story Prize page and Ailsa Cox's Edge Hill home page.


Group 8 said...

Very interesting. THanks for that Ailsa and Tania.
Ailsa we met at Cork and Lisbon! See you in Toronto??!!

John Jarrold said...

This from The Bookseller magazine’s website, about Chris Beckett, a client of my literary agency:

A science fiction collection from defunct indie publisher Elastic Press has won the 2009 Edge Hill Short Story Prize, beating collections from Faber, Vintage, Cape and Hamish Hamilton.

Elastic Press author Chris Beckett won for his collection The Turing Test. He was presented with £5,000 plus a specially commissioned painting by Liverpool artist Pete Clarke at a ceremony held by Edge Hill University at the Bluecoat Centre in Liverpool on Saturday (4th July). He also picked up the £1,000 Readers' prize.

Anne Enright won the second prize, also worth £1,000, for her collection Yesterday's Weather (Vintage).

Judge James Walton, journalist and chair of BBC Radio 4's "The Write Stuff" said: "I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books. In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand.
"Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most—and one by one we admitted it."

The Edge Hill Short Story Prize was launched by the university three years ago and is co-sponsored by Blackwell; it is the UK's only award for a short story collection by a single author. This year's shortlist also comprised: Country of the Grand by Gerard Donovan (Faber), The Atmospheric Railway by Shena Mackay (Cape) and The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton).

Elastic Press closed in November 2008, although it is still selling backlist, it is no longer accepting submissions.

As you can imagine, I’m delighted that Chris should win a major literary prize – and that an SF collection should do so!

John Jarrold
John Jarrold Literary Agency


Bev Jackson said...

This IS exciting! Thanks for the heads up, Tania. Great coverage. In the world of book prizes, there's nothing more fun than a surprise, eh?
Congrats to the brilliant author.

Group 8 said...

Sad that Elastic is now gone. It makes the win bittersweet for them. Great for the aptly named Mr Beckett though!