Award-winning writer Sarah Hall has been named the winner of the Edge Hill University Short Story Prize 2012.

The writer also picked up the Readers’ Prize, judged by Edge Hill students, at an awards ceremony tonight (5th July) at the Free Word Centre, London, for her first short story collection The Beautiful Indifference.

Receiving both the first prize of £5,000 and the £1,000 Readers’ Prize, Sarah said: “It’s so lovely to win both prizes, especially when you know there has been a big debate about all of the shortlisted collections. To have such a diverse audience enjoy my work is amazing; it’s a mix of people in the literary world and students. In fact, I don’t know of any other prize where students get to read and choose the winner – I think it’s brilliant.”

Although Sarah is no stranger to winning awards for her writing, this is the first time she has won for a short story collection.

Speaking about this genre, she said: “I really love writing short stories; it’s my ideal form because it can be unsettling, allows you to go into dark corners and allows you to challenge the ordinary, which is what I enjoy. It’s taken me a while to have the confidence to write this way though because I never felt I was very good at structure or shape. But winning this award shows I can do it.”

Student Martin Palmer, who is graduating this month with a BA (Hons) in English and Creative Writing, was one of the students who judged the Readers’ category. He said: “It was a great privilege to read all the collections but the winner, Sarah, demonstrated a deep passion for language.”

Judges described a dark, fierce and sensual piece of fiction that gets to the heart of things. Judge Suzi Feay said: “It was an incredibly tough decision, we all spent a good deal of time talking about what we loved about each of the collections, and then we savaged them all to bits, and built them back up again. There were such high standards, but one had to win, which was Sarah’s for the beautiful way in which the collection was written.”

The Cumbrian writer is the author of Haweswater, which won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel, a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award, and a Lakeland Book of the Year prize. Sarah’s four novels have already shown her to be a writer of extraordinary talents, whether in the rough magic of The Carhullan Army, about female resistance in a near-future police state, which was listed as one of The Times 100 Best Books of the Decade, or the passionate intertwined narratives of art and identity that make up the Booker-longlisted How to Paint a Dead Man, which also won the Portico Prize for Fiction 2010.

Born in 1974, she received a BA from Aberystwyth University, Wales, and an MLitt in Creative Writing from St Andrews, Scotland. She is an honorary fellow of Aberystwyth University and a fellow of the Civitella Ranieri Foundation (2007). She regularly tutors for the Faber Academy and the Arvon Foundation, and has taught creative writing in a variety of institutions in the UK and abroad.

Dr Ailsa Cox, Co-ordinator of the Prize and Reader in Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill University, said: “Ours is the only UK award that recognises excellence in a published collection of short stories and each year it just gets bigger and better, attracting established names and newcomers, from a wide range of mainstream publishers and independent presses. This year’s judging was extremely difficult but Sarah’s unique flair and love of language made her a deserving winner.”

The other authors included on this year’s all-female shortlist were: A.J Ashworth, a former journalist, whose debut collection of short stories, Somewhere Else, Or Even Here, won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize 2011; Tessa Hadley, who teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and was shortlisted for The Story Award in the US; Zoe Lambert, a Manchester-based writer who was the founder of cult Manchester literature night, Verberate; and Rowena Macdonald, who works at the House of Commons and has won two Asham Awards.

The judging panel included the 2011 winner Graham Mort, also known as one of contemporary poetry’s finest practitioners, alongside writer and critic Suzi Feay, and Professor Rhiannon Evans, former Pro Vice-Chancellor at Edge Hill University.

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