Social work lecturer writes sci-fi stories with a more 'human' touch

Published: 20 May 2009 at 15:17

Anglia Ruskin University social work lecturer is shortlisted for short story prize

An Anglia Ruskin University social work lecturer's short story collection has been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, the UK's only national award for single-author short story collections, launched three years ago by Edge Hill University.  

Chris Beckett, who also teaches on Anglia Ruskin University’s creative writing courses, was nominated for his collection of science fiction stories The Turing Test, published in 2008 by Elastic Press. His book is on a short list of five alongside books by Ali Smith, Anne Enright, Shena Mackay and Gerald Donovan. The winner of the award will be announced at a ceremony at Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool on July 4th. 

Ailsa Cox, from Edge Hill University's Department of English and History, comments,

“We're thrilled by the range and quality of the shortlist. Some of these names are already familiar from the Booker and the Orange Prize, while others are newer discoveries. Not many prizes put a science fiction author from a small press alongside the literary heavyweights. I'm especially pleased that there's so much humour in the writing - another great year for the prize.”

The 14 stories that make up The Turing Test feature, among other things, robots, alien planets, genetic manipulation and virtual reality, but their centre focuses on individuals rather than technology, and they deal with love and loneliness, authenticity and illusion, and what it really means to be human.

Speaking about the nomination, Chris who is from Cambridge, said:

“It was a wonderful surprise to hear that my book had been short listed for this prize, in such illustrious company.”

The Turing Test is a collection of science fiction stories published by a small press. These are both factors which would have prevented many people from taking the book seriously, so I'm very pleased that the judges have been willing to look beyond them and judge my book on its merits alongside books by mainstream literary authors with much larger and better-known publishers. For myself I would like to think my book is not just a good science fiction book, or a good small press book, but a good book full stop. I write in the way I need to write to say the things I want to say.” 

Chris Beckett's first story was published in Interzone in 1990, and his stories have since appeared in Britain, the US and Russia. His novel The Holy Machine was published in 2004 by Wildside Press and his second novel, Marcher by Leisure Books, in 2008. He also writes books on social work.

This year's judges include James Walton, journalist and chair of BBC Radio 4's The Write Stuff; Claire Keegan, last year's winner of the Prize and Mark Flynn, Vice Chancellor of Edge Hill University.

The winning author will be presented with the £5,000 prize at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on 4 July.

The second prize winner and the readers' prize will also receive £1,000 each. The readers' prize is judged primarily by Get into Reading, an organisation that gives people who might not normally think of joining a reading group a chance to enjoy stories and poems together.