The internationally-renowned writer Claire Keegan has been announced as the winner of the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize 2008, with her second short story collection Walk the Blue Fields.

Keegan, originally from Ireland, received £5,000 in prize money along with a stunning glass sculpture by award-winning glass maker Amanda Notarianniduring an awards ceremony at the Bluecoat. Simon Robson took second prize, receiving £1,000 and Christopher Fowler was named as the Readers’ Prize winner, also receiving £1,000.

The judges, BBC radio producer Duncan Minshull, Prof. Rhiannon Evans from Edge Hill University and the short story writer and novelist Hilary Mantel said: “Keegan wrote superbly crafted stories, successfully merging them together as one volume. Her lyricism and dream logic, coupled with the harsh realism of an Ireland wrestling with its past, created a whole world under an uncompromising gaze. The sense of place was acute, and her often sly and dry humour was a constant delight.

“She is a young writer who has already staked her claim to genius. Her mastery of language and her full-blooded and flowing narratives impress on the reader a certain bleak and tender vision, which has much in common with that of the great Irish writer John McGahern. Yet it is distinctive, personal and modern. Her stories stand at the strong point where myth and reality intersect. Even in this competitive year, they were in a class of their own.”

The second prize went to Simon Robson for his debut collection, The Separate Heart. Robson graduated from RADA and appeared briefly in EastEnders as a doctor. He is an actor and playwright of several productions, including The Ghost Train Tattoo which premiered at the Royal Exchange, Manchester in 2000. He lives in London with his two children and wife, the soprano Sophie Daneman.

Christopher Fowler won the Readers’ Prize with his eighth collection Old Devil Moon – a tale of dark, compelling urban unease. Old Devil Moon was also shortlisted for the Horror Writers’ Association Bram Stoker award. The collection depends less on blood and gore and more on the psychological flaws of the characters – ordinary people who yield to everyday temptations. Fowler has also published novels, including the Bryant and May mystery series and comic books and is a reviewer for The Independent. He lives in Kings Cross, London.

Unusually, the Readers’ Prize is judged primarily by Get Into Reading – an organisation that gives people who might not normally think of joining a reading group the chance to enjoy stories and poems together. In a typical week, Get Into Reading works with recovering drug abusers, elderly people in day centres, young homeless men, full-time carers, isolated young mums and people with mental health or other chronic illnesses. Even those who cannot read have been encouraged to participate in the judging, with the stories being read aloud.