Galley Beggar Press and CB Editions have both won this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, as its founder announced the contest would no longer be restricted to just one winner.
Murmur by Will Eaves (CB Editions) and Lucia by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press) won £3,500 each, with £2,500 going to the press and £1,000 to the author.
CB Editions is run entirely by founder Charles Boyle but now publishes far less titles after he took semi-retirement in 2017. Murmur takes its cue from the chemical castration of Alan Turing, following a man who responds to tolerable physical and mental stress with love and honour.
Judge Catherine Taylor said it is “a transfixing work, an epic despite its 176 pages, which, while examining the uncomfortable truths about a past of discrimination and prejudice, is also a novel of the future”.
Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press was founded in 2012 by Sam Jordison and Eloise Millar with a mission to publish innovative fiction and non-fiction. Lucia fits the bill, explaining the life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia in “sharp, cutting shards of narrative”.
Judge David Collard described Pheby as a “magician”, saying: “It’s a very rich and strange novel that investigates consciousness, agency, selfhood, mental disorder, medical callousness and misogyny.”
Set up by author Neil Griffiths, presses with fewer than five staff and a commitment to “hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose” can submit for the prize. This year’s judges were critics Collard and Taylor, novelist Niven Govinden and a student panel from the UEA Creative Writing programme.
Griffiths said from now on the prize would no longer be limited to one sole winner, saying “when it comes to art picking a winner is a nonsense”.
He said: “If we raise more money next year, there could be more: it may be that a single book wins, it may be that four do. We want to get to a place where we don’t have to choose between books that we can’t choose between. What I really want is that we don’t have winners at all, but a celebration of the best work of small presses. However, I’m not foolish enough to think a short list will work on its own.”
The entire shortlist will also receive £1,500 each, split £1,000 for the press and £500 for the author. They were Dedalus by Chris McCabe (Henningham Family Press), Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth & S. D. Curtis (Istros), Kitch by Anthony Joseph (Peepal Tree Press) and Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine (Stinging Fly).
Prize money came from sponsors The University of East Anglia, through the UEA Publishing Project, and the Times Literary Supplement, alongside crowdfunding and private donors.
Last year’s prize was scooped by Hackney-based Influx Press for Attrib. and Other Stories by Eley Williams.