shining the spotlight on short story collections
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.