Friday, 3 February 2012

Edge Hill Prize: 'Doesn't have the reach or the backing...'

Stuart Evers's piece on the Guardian Books Blog, 'The Costa short story prize is not enough' did the rounds on facebook earlier this week. Several of my writing friends shared the piece. I thought it was great. I agree with almost everything Evers said - you might think you can hear a 'however' coming, but it's going to be more of an 'and'...

Evers writes:
'There is only one UK prize dedicated to the short story collection, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. And while that is a fantastic initiative, it simply doesn't have the reach, or the backing (or the money) of the BBC or the Times.'
I don't take issue with the above quotation, but I would like to respond to it:

Fiction writer and critic Dr. Ailsa Cox founded the Edge Hill Short Story Prize; she also runs it when she's not teaching, marking, supervising PhD students, writing a novel, writing short stories, and editing Short Fiction in Theory and Practice.

I helped Ailsa with the 2011 prize and I'm also working on the 2012 prize, although 'working' is a bit of a misnomer - what we are really doing is volunteering because Evers is right, we don't have the money of the BBC or the Times.

The BBC has millions of pounds worth of air time - all free - to cross-promote its prize. The Sunday Times, a massive, high profile media platform, is bankrolled by city financiers desperate for respectability. Whereas Edge Hill, a small northern university, has generously underwritten its own prize to the tune of several thousand pounds a year for the last five years with no agenda except to recognise and encourage the short story form.

Ailsa and I squeeze the prize into the gaps in our lives - it sneaks between daily tasks like sand in a jar of marbles. I answer emails from publishers while I cook dinner for my 4 children, I notice a short story writer on facebook whose collection hasn't been entered and I send him a message while I'm having a break from writing my novel. I do this because I love short stories and I believe in the ethos of the prize. I don't want to download a single by a favourite artist when I can get the album; it's the same with short stories.

Despite our countless hours of work, the prize doesn't have the reach we would like. Why? Well, for starters, the broadsheets ignored us in 2011. Stuart Evers writes that Costa passed up on an opportunity to 'show the varied breadth of stories in this country' - so did the Guardian and every other broadsheet newspaper that didn't so much as mention the 2011 Edge Hill Prize.

Let me tell you what the broadsheets missed in 2011. They missed a shortlist that included Helen Simpson, compared in this Guardian review to Flannery O'Connor and Alice Munro; Michele Roberts, whose collection was described in a Financial Times review as 'exhilarating' and 'lustrous'; Polly Samson whose story 'The Egg' from shortlisted collection Perfect Lives was featured on Radio Four's Book at Bedtime; exciting newcomer Tom Vowler whose first novel will be published by Headline in 2013; and eventual winner of the 2011 Edge Hill Prize, Graham Mort, poet and short story writer par excellence.

The broadsheets also missed a longlist of exciting writers such as Vanessa Gebbie whose debut novel The Coward's Tale was published last year and is reviewed in The Independent here; Roshi Fernando whose Guardian reviewed collection Homesick will be re-released by Bloomsbury in 2012; David Gaffney whose work has been reviewed by both the Guardian and The Independent; and fantastic debut collections by Susannah Rickards, Jo Canon and Nik Perring among others.

My blog has a negligible reach. Still, maybe someone from the Guardian, or the Times, or the BBC might read this and see an opportunity to support the only UK prize dedicated to the short story collection. Of course, it would be nice if there was an all-singing, all-dancing, cash rich prize that would 'take a risk' on short story collections. But there isn't. There's us. We're working really, really hard, and if newspapers like the Guardian are serious about short story collections, they can demonstrate it by reporting on the 2012 Edge Hill Prize.


  1. Good for you, Carys. As a former Edge Hill shortlistee I applaud your work. As a loveer of the short story I applaud your work.

    It is frustrating to try to get any notice whatever for short fiction, even these great prizes. Even the Frank O'Connor Prize in Ireland is ignored by most Irish media despite a hefty €35,000 prize! (The Irish Times & the Guardian always report on it but hardly anyone else does.)

    I don't know what the answer is other than that you and I, and the thousands like us, keep plugging away on behalf of short fiction and its British and Irish writers.

  2. Hi Carys
    Well said and very interesting! I had not heard of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize and will start spreading the word in my small way!

  3. Thanks Nuala and Marianne. Hopefully we will get some more notice for the Edge Hill Prize this year.

  4. Good stuff, Carys, keep saying it.

  5. Yes, that's a very trenchant response, Carys. The Edge Hill prize should be much better known and it's symptomatic of the Guardian's infatuation with celebrity and fashion that it isn't. I'm afraid that the pioneering spirit that established the prize simply isn't matched by the sensibility of journalists and reviewers who have little understanding just how important independent presses and literary prizes are in an 'industry' driven by accountants.

  6. Colm Toibin’s most recent short story collection ‘The Empty Family’ does not mention that his previous collection “Mothers and Sons’ won the 2006 Edge Hill prize.

  7. Good points, well put, Carys. Yes, the EH Prize is a minnow among Leviathons, but dozens of publishers feeling it is worth competing for, put their authors forward each year.
    No, it can't mount glitzy metropolitan award ceremonies, with fizz on tap for the guzzling liggers of the press.
    But let's not forget that that five grand prize can give a young/emerging/tyro author two or three months writing space. And raise their profile a notch or two. (Not that the EH's first winner, Colm Tobin, needed such)

  8. Absolutely Failbetter. Additionally, if the £5,000 main prize and the £1,000 readers' prize were accompanied by some broadsheet column inches I think it would be great for the authors and for the prize as a whole.

    2012 is set to be a great year for the prize. I've read 9 of the collections so far and there are some fantastic entries. I will be goggled-eyed by the 1st March closing date!

  9. I'm not about to slight the novel (I have one out next year), but there's a purity and near-perfection found in the best stories, qualities so rarely achieved in the former, which often creak and lumber under the weight of contrivance and structure. What prizes such as the EH do is bring these works to the attention of those who'd love short stories but don't actually know it yet. Increasingly, I'm finding some of my favourite stories resonate across the years/decades far louder than novels I've loved. I like to think I would have come to last year's winner in time, but who knows without the prize. I'm therefore indebted to Edge Hill because, as my review of it shows (, it's pretty bloody good.

  10. Thanks for that, Tom. Without the Edge Hill Prize I wouldn't have come across either your work or Graham's work. In fact, I had only read one of the shortlisted collections before I worked on the prize - In-flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson (one of my favourite writers). I too feel indebted to the 2011 prize for introducing me to so many fantastic authors (and I already feel the same way about the 2012 prize, although I can't say too much about that yet!).

  11. Thanks Carys for making these points. I totally agree (as a short story writer and writer of novels) with Tom's comment too that short stories resonate over the years and that people love short stories but don't realise that they do. The Costa gesture was an opportunity missed but I'm glad that you and your fellow volunteers at Edge Hill are doing what you can to put short story collections centre stage.

  12. Carys, more power to you and Ailsa! You do fantastic work, I am very thankful for it as a reader and short story lover. I wish your short- and long-lists got more publicity, and I know this doesn't help, but it's their loss, really, as with so many short story collections. Readers who love to read great writing but don't read short stories - because they don't know where to find them, because they're "too short" or because the novel is what gets the publicity these days - are the ones who lose out. (I heartily agree with Tom, too!)

  13. Am coming to this post late, but I wholeheartedly applaud all that you say, Carys. I have been longlisted for the EH Prize, but despite the Guardian's supposed championing of the short story form, they haven't reviewed my collection. It would be great if they produced an overall short story review column, like they do for first novels and crime; although it would be more ideal if they just reviewed a few more short story collections by unknowns like me. Like Tom Vowler, the pieces of writing that stay with me do tend to be short stories - something about the concentration of the form makes it more vivid than a novel, though I do love novels too.