Cult science fiction writer Chris Beckett has won this year’s Edge Hill Short Story Prize – the UK’s only award for a short story collection by a single author. The judges chose his book The Turing Test, with its tales of robots, alien planets, genetic manipulation and virtual reality over collections by Anne Enright, Shena Mackay, Ali Smith and Gerard Donovan.
Chris was presented with the £5,000 prize and a specially commissioned painting by Liverpool artist, Pete Clarke, at a ceremony held by Edge Hill University on Saturday evening, 4 July, at the Bluecoat centre in Liverpool. He was also awarded the £1,000 Readers’ Prize. Anne Enright won the second prize, worth £1,000, for her collection Yesterday’s Weather published by Vintage.
This year’s judges were James Walton, journalist and chair of BBC Radio 4’s The Write Stuff; author and 2008 winner Claire Keegan and Mark Flinn, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Edge Hill University.
James Walton commented:
‘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.
This was a very strong shortlist, including one Booker Prize winner in Anne Enright, and two authors who’ve been Booker shortlisted in Ali Smith and Shena Mackay. Even so, it was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction.’
The Edge Hill Short Story Prize was launched by the university three years ago and is co-sponsored by Blackwell bookshop.
Ailsa Cox, Reader in Creative Writing and English commented:
‘This is a double for Chris Beckett. He not only wins the first prize but also the Readers’ Prize, voted for by local reading groups and MA Creative Writing Students. They also responded strongly to the powerful Irish voices in Gerard Donovan’s work. Once again the prize celebrates the enormous appeal and vitality of the short story, whether it’s the black humour of Anne Enright’s Yesterday’s Weather or the postmodern playfulness in Ali Smith’s The First Person. So far as I’m concerned, each of these collections is a winner and I’m glad that I wasn’t the one who had to choose between them.’
The phrase ‘The Turing Test’ refers to a proposal made by Alan Turing in 1950 as a way of dealing with the question of whether machines can think.
About the winners:
THE TURING TEST
Fourteen stories featuring, among other things, robots, alien planets, genetic manipulation and virtual reality, but which focus on individuals rather than technology, and deal with love and loneliness, authenticity and illusion, and what it really means to be human. Chris Beckett‘s first story was published in Interzone in 1990, and his stories have since appeared in Britain, the US and Russia. His novel The Holy Machine was published in 2004 by Wildside Press, and his second novel, Marcher by Leisure Books in 2008. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and three children and lectures in social work. www.elasticpress.com
‘A committed, serious writer of science fiction – subtle and adventurous in equal measure… he should already be on the radar of anyone who professes concern for science fiction as a literary form.’
Alastair Reynolds, author of the Revelation Space series
‘Aficionados of the genre will know Beckett for his intellectually rigorous and entertaining short fiction, and this outstanding collection should bring him to the attention of a wider audience. His preoccupation is with identity and self-perception… He’s good at delineating the psychology of the outsider, and brilliant at depicting artificial intelligence and humanity’s relation to it.’
Eric Brown, The Guardian
Booker Prize-winning author Anne Enright presents a series of moving stories about women stirred, bothered, or fascinated by men they cannot understand, or understand too well. Anne’s first collection of stories, The Portable Virgin, won the Rooney Prize, and she has published three novels, The Wig My Father Wore, What Are You Like? – shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and winner of the Encore Award – and The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch. Her first work of non-fiction, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, was published in 2004. The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Anne Enrightwas born in Dublin, where she now lives and works.