Jessica Andrews has won the £10,000 Portico Prize for Literature for her début novel Saltwater (Sceptre), described as "a tender tribute to women across generations and an important exploration of women’s lives today".
The UK’s only award for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North, Andrews was named the winner at the Portico Library in Manchester on Thursday evening (23rd January).
Other titles shortlisted for the £10,000 award were Benjamin Myers’ The Poetry of a Place (Elliott and Thompson), Ironopolis (Parthian) by Glen James Brown, The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness (Picador) by Graham Caveney, Under the Rock: The Mating Habit of Stags (Lightning Books) by Ray Robinson and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile (Fleet) by Adelle Stripe. Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2020.
Saltwater, published by Sceptre, is a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who heads to university in London, taking her northern roots with her. Lucy's transition to a new life is more overwhelming than she ever expected. As she works long shifts to make ends meet and navigates chaotic parties from East London warehouses to South Kensington mansions, she still feels like an outsider among her fellow students. When things come to a head at her graduation, she takes off for Ireland, to seeks solace in her late grandfather's cottage and the wild landscape that surrounds it, wondering if she can piece together who she really is.
Organisers said: "Saltwater is an exploration of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the challenges of shifting class identity." Like her protagonist, Andres grew up in Sunderland. It has sold 2,532 copies in hardback since last May according to Nielsen BookScan.
Journalist and broadcaster Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads was joined on the judging panel by Holliday Grainger, stage and screen actor Kate Fox, along with stand-up poet and author Zahid Hussain.
Savidge said: "Saltwater shows the ‘spirit of the North’ is diverse and multifaceted. The North is not just around us, or a particular location to visit–but a place within us. It’s something we take with us when we set out to find our space in the world and when we spread Northern stoicism, joy, grit, humour and hope wherever we go. Saltwater celebrates all this in a powerful, provocative and poignant tale."
Lynne Allan, chair of The Portico Library adds: "The Portico Prize aims to shine a spotlight on the very best writing about the North and the voices that deserve to be heard. We are more than proud to award this year’s prize to Jessica Andrews whose remarkable début is full of optimism. It is a tender tribute to women across generations and an important exploration of women’s lives today."
The Portico Prize was established in 1985 by The Portico Library in Manchester to celebrate the strong regional and literary identity of the North with the aim of raising awareness of its historical, cultural and literary heritage. This year it announced a new partnership with the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.