Graham Mort, one of contemporary poetry’s most accomplished practitioners, has been named the winner of the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize 2011.

His name was unveiled at a special awards ceremony tonight (7th July) at Blackwell bookstore in Charing Cross, London for his collection Touch. In settings from the heat of Africa to the warmth of France or the snowbound dales of northern England, the twenty-one stories displayed a deep sensitivity to both the natural world and to human relationships.

Presenting the first prize, judge Jeremy Dyson said: “When you’re a writer you never get a chance to read so it was a real pleasure to be able spend time reading the short-listed collections, the quality of which was extraordinary, it made me want to give each one a prize. For me, when something stays with you after you have read a story that is what makes a good writer. Graham Mort’s collection is so vivid and evokes character in just a few lines. His one story about the travelling salesman really haunted me. He won this prize for the sheer range of stories in his collection, I fell into so many places in one book and saw into so many lives, for me it was so wonderful to read.”

Footage from the awards ceremony.

Although Graham was unable to receive the first prize of £5,000 in person due to commitments to a project working with writers in Uganda, he sent a message of thanks, saying: “I’m sending this message from Kampala, and the title story, Touch begins here in Uganda and that seemed somehow fitting. My relief at winning was tinged with regret for the other finalists – all of them terrific writers, who also deserved to win. I’m glad that some of them will be picking up other prizes and I’m honoured to be listed amongst them. Literary prizes were never intended to provoke competition alone but to celebrate diversity, quality and commitment. I’m pleased to have been awarded the prize on those terms and in that spirit of solidarity.

“I’m sorry not to be at the ceremony, though I’m not sorry to be here in Kampala, working with Femrite, a women writers association who represent an emerging generation of Ugandan writers who don’t have this kind of opportunity to publish or win prizes. Their work is pitched at social conditions that they believe can be changed by the insights and understanding that literature creates. Thank you and cheers – have a great evening.”

Graham was born in Lancashire and studied English at Liverpool University. 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 also currently 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’.

He writes mainly poetry but has written short fiction and radio drama for BBC Radio and also won the 2007 Bridport Prize. He has also received a major Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors for his first collection of poems, A Country on Fire and Circular Breathing.

This year’s £1,000 Readers’ Prize went to Tom Vowler for The Method and Other Stories who, upon receiving the accolade, said: “It feels wonderful and a real honour to have won the Readers Prize. This is my first short story collection and for me this is the perfect form of writing because there is such an intensity and energy to it, which is different to the novel. All writers want to be read and it’s fantastic to know that people have picked up my book and read it and they liked it, especially the young sixth formers who judged this category, it’s nice to know that my writing appealed to their age group.”

Considering himself as a late developer; he didn’t even discover books until his mid-twenties. He then tried 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.

The other authors included on this year’s shortlist were:

Anglo-French author Michele Roberts, Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, for Mud, Stories and Sex and Love (Virago); London-born journalist Polly Samson, who has written lyrics for two number one albums, with Perfect Lives (Virago); and Helen Simpson, with her fifth collection Inflight Entertainment (Jonathan Cape).

The judging panel included:

Jeremy Dyson, winner of the 2010 Edge Hill University Short Story Prize, and co-creator of the hit West End play Ghost Stories and TV series The League of Gentlemen; author, presenter and Edge Hill alumnus Stuart Maconie, Marcus Gipps, editor at Gollancz Publishers and Dr Ailsa Cox, Reader In Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.

This year’s winner of the Edge Hill University MA Creative Writing category went to Avril Scott, who received a prize of £500.

Ailsa Cox, Co-ordinator of the Prize and Reader in Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill University, said: “The quality of the shortlist was phenomenal this year, with a range of highly acclaimed writers, from both ‘mainstream’ and independent presses such as Graham Mort’s publisher, Seren. Graham’s well-deserved success is a reminder of the high standard of small press publishing in the UK.”