Books from Fleet, Picador and Lightning Books are in the running for the £10,000 Portico Prize for Literature, an award "for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North".
The shortlist of six was revealed on Monday (9th December) and was praised by the judges for celebrating "the spirit of the people, the spirit of place and the wonderful diversity of the North". It comprises four fiction titles, three of which are debuts, and two non-fiction titles, while the ratio of books from mainstream publishers against independents is 50:50.
The fiction titles up for the award are: Saltwater by Jessica Andrews (Sceptre), a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who moves to London, taking her Northern roots with her; Ironopolis by Glen James Brown (Parthian), a novel of interrelated stories set on a fictional council estate in post-industrial Middlesbrough; The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson (Lightning Books), which judges called "the perfect Northern noir", focusing on the moors of North Yorkshire; and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe (Fleet), inspired by the life of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar.
The non-fiction titles competing are The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney (Picador), describing growing up obsessed by music in the North of England during the 1970s as a member of the "Respectable Working Class"; and an investigation into nature, literature, history, memory and the meaning of place in modern Britain, Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place, by the joint-winner of the 2015 Portico Prize, Benjamin Myers (Elliott & Thompson).
The six books were whittled down from a longlist selected by the Portico Prize’s newly formed Society of Readers and Writers. They were chosen by a panel of judges chaired by journalist and broadcaster Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads.
Savidge said: “This list defies the rumour that it’s grim up North. Yes, it can be gritty up North; yes, it can be gothic up North; but more than anything it’s glorious and great up North. These books celebrate the spirit of the people, the spirit of place and the wonderful diversity of the North.”
Lynne Allan, chair of The Portico Library, said: “This exciting shortlist encapsulates the essence of The Portico Prize, ‘the best writing that evokes the spirit of the North of England’, and what a positive force that is. Vitality and independence are reflected in the publishers who entered the books, and in the writers themselves. The authors and the places and people they write about are truly representative of the whole of the North, from east to west. Fresh new voices speak alongside more established writers but, for them all, their books are an exploration of how environment, landscape and experience shape us – and how the Northern spirit is triumphant even in adversity.”
After the prize this year partnered with the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Jess Edwards, head of English at the university, added: “This year’s Portico Prize shortlist reflects the energy and inventiveness of contemporary writing exploring Northern lives and landscapes. The Portico Library event series Rewriting the North, curated by Manchester Met’s Centre for Place Writing, has shown that ‘spirit of place’ is never fixed, but always being re-imagined.”
The winner of The Portico Prize will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester on 23rd January 2020.