Five very different writers have been shortlisted for the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize 2011.

Now in its fifth year, the unique prize is the UK’s only literary award that recognises a published collection of short stories.

This year’s event attracted entries from a variety of authors, and the shortlist is a mix of both well-known short story writers and newcomers, underlining, once again, that the prize is open to anyone, whether new to the business or well-established in the literary world.
Competition co-ordinator Ailsa Cox explains more about the prize and reveals the names on the short-list.

The shortlist is:

  • Graham Mort, Touch, Seren
  • Michele Roberts, Mud, Stories and Sex and Love, Virago
  • Polly Samson, Perfect Lives, Virago
  • Helen Simpson, Inflight Entertainment, Random House
  • Tom Vowler, The Method and Other Stories, Salt Publishing

Ailsa, Reader in Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill University, said: “We’re delighted by the sheer quality and diversity of the shortlist. Some of these names are already familiar such as Helen Simpson who has won numerous accolades as one of those rare writers to have built a reputation exclusively on short stories. She is pitted against the likes of rising star Tom Vowler who has only been writing for the last couple of years. I think the list reflects the diversity of the prize and that it is open to anyone whether established or not.

“A good short story is intense and exciting, sometimes sad and often very comic. The five collections all have these vital ingredients – so I predict that judging will be difficult this year.”

The judging panel this year includes: scriptwriter and short story author Jeremy Dyson, winner of the 2010 Edge Hill University Short Story Prize, best known as co-creator of the hit West End play Ghost Stories and as a member of the sketch comedy team The League of Gentlemen; author, presenter and journalist Stuart Maconie, who is currently a columnist for Radio Times, Cumbria Life and Country Walking; and Marcus Gipps, previously of Blackwell books, now an editor at Gollancz.

This year’s prize has three categories – the main literary award of £5,000, the £1,000 Readers’ Prize and the Edge Hill University MA Creative Writing Prize of £500.

The winner will be announced at an award ceremony at the Blackwell Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, on 7th July.

Biographies for the five shortlisted writers are as follows:

Graham Mort. The Lancashire-born creative writing professor is also acknowledged as one of contemporary verse’s most accomplished practitioners. He worked as a mill labourer, dairy operative and psychiatric nurse before training as a teacher. He taught in schools, colleges, prisons, special education and psychiatric units before becoming a freelance writer. He now works as Director of Postgraduate Studies for the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University. A specialist in distance learning, he also leads the Lancaster University/British Council African writers mentoring scheme, ‘Crossing Borders’ and has led workshops in Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He writes mainly poetry but has written short fiction and radio drama for BBC Radio and also won the 2007 Bridport Prize.

Michele Roberts. The author of twelve highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House which won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize she is a well established wirter. Her memoir Paper Houses was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in June 2007. She has also published poetry and short stories. Anglo-French, she was educated at a convent school, and the Catholic Church had a deep influence on her work. She went to Oxford University and there she finally allowed herself to escape the constraints of religion – she became a feminist, rejected her faith and decided to write. Michèle Roberts lives in London and in the Mayenne, France. She is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Polly Samson. The London-born journalist is the author of two collections of short stories and a novel and has written lyrics for two number one albums. Polly began writing and illustrating stories and poems from an early age and started a career in journalism writing features for the Observer and the Sunday Times as well as book reviews for the Daily Mail. Her short stories have been published in print and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. In 1993 she co-wrote, with David Gilmour whom she later married, the lyrics to seven tracks on Pink Floyd’s album The Division Bell, which went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

Helen Simpson. She is one of only a few writers to have built a reputation exclusively on short stories and, since 1990 has published a collection every five years. London-based Simpson isn’t short of prizes or admiring reviews. William Trevor is a fan; Jonathan Franzen puts her up there with Alice Munro and David Foster Wallace and her stories go out in the New Yorker and Granta as well as on Radio 4. She was the winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award in 1991 and was also selected as one of Granta’s top 20 novelists under the age of 40 in 1993.

Tom Vowler. Referring to himself as a late developer, he didn’t even discover books until his mid-twenties. He then tried stints at journalism, editing and proofreading before dabbling with fiction. His stories started appearing in literary journals, doing well in competitions, and in 2009 he received an Arts Council grant to research and write a novel. The newcomer, based in Devon, was named the winner of the Scott Prize 2010 for this début short fiction collection. He is also assistant editor of the literary journal Short FICTION.