Congratulations to both SF author Chris Beckett and small publisher Elastic Press: last night Beckett's collection of stories The Turing Test won the prestigious Edge Hill Prize over shortlisted collections from mainstream publishers by Ali Smith, Anne Enright, Sheena Mckay and Gerard Donovan. The Turing Test is a book of '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'.
Anne Enright won second prize with her collection, Yesterday's Weather. Chris Beckett also won the Readers' Prize, voted for by local reading groups and MA Creative Writing Students.
The judges, who read the shortlist selected by Edge Hill staff, 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.’
As I have commented previously, the stress of the Edge Hill Prize (which is the brainchild of my former co-editor Ailsa Cox), is on not only great writing but cohesive collections. At the award ceremony (which I attended) Mark Flinn said interestingly that the judging process had taught him that the short story collection takes us back to the song cycle of the past, in that it is more than a collection of narratives but involves an overall unity, and that Chris Beckett's collection in particular achieved this.