Yesterday afternoon John and I drove over to Liverpool and the awards ceremony for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize in the Bluecoat Gallery, where Irish writer Claire Keegan was presented with the prize for her wonderfully evocative second collection, Walk the Blue Fields. Runner-up was Simon Robson (The Separate Heart), and the Readers' Choice Prize (chosen by reading groups in the area) went to Christopher Fowler for Old Devil Moon. Aslo shortlisted were Jane Gardam (The People on Privilege Hill), and Robert Shearman, whose Tiny Deaths was the one book on the list published by a small independent, Comma Press.
Accepting her prize, Claire Keegan echoed a sentiment I've expressed elsewhere and spoke of the mistake that people make in assuming that the short story is a quick-fix read suitable for a rushed age. Stories are anything but, she said: it's no wonder they're unpopular as they require a special kind of concentration and stillness.
I was told that around thirty books had been submitted (publishers were allowed to submit two books each), that the competition had been stiff and that a consideration in choosing a shortlist had been not simply the quality of individual stories but whether or not a book made a good collection - by which I think was meant a unified collection, a somewhat contentious issue I've discussed previously here. The three judges (who I think read only the shortlist) were novelist Hilary Mantel, BBC producer Duncan Minshull and Professor Rhiannon Evans of Edge Hill.
I had a great evening: the canapes - chosen apparently by Edge Hill lecturer and prize instigator (and my metropolitan co-editor) Ailsa Cox - were probably the best I've ever tasted (goat's cheese and aubergine - wow!) and I had a good chinwag with some really interesting people.
Here I am talking to shortlister Robert Shearman:
These were John's favourite canapes, beetroot and sushi, bit blurred I'm afraid - guess he was overexcited: