The shortlist for The Portico Prize for Literature – the UK’s only award for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North – has been announced today.

The six books on the shortlist for the £10,000 prize, once described as ‘the Booker of the North’, span both fiction and non-fiction.

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. Previous winning and shortlisted authors have included Anthony Burgess, Val McDermid, Sarah Hall, A.S. Byatt, Hilary Mantel and new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. 

Of the six books on the shortlist this year, three are debut novels. And half of the titles are published by independent publishers.

Shortlist for The Portico Prize for Literature revealed for books that best evoke the spirit of the North I Love Manchester

The first novels include Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who moves to London, taking her northern roots with her; Ironopolis, a haunting novel by Glen James Brown, set on a fictional council estate in post-industrial Middlesbrough; and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe, a novel inspired by the life of Bradford playwright, Andrea Dunbar, best known for the 1980s hit Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

The other fiction title to make the shortlist is The Mating Habit of Stags by Ray Robinson, a reflective novel set on the moors of North Yorkshire, which judges called “the perfect northern noir”. 

Shortlist for The Portico Prize for Literature revealed for books that best evoke the spirit of the North I Love Manchester

In non-fiction, Benjamin Myers, joint-winner of the 2015 Portico Prize, returns with Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place, an investigation into nature, literature, history, memory and the meaning of place in modern Britain.

In The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness, Graham Caveney describes growing up obsessed by music in the North of England during the 1970s as a member of the ‘Respectable Working Class’ – and his experience there of sexual abuse.

The judges chose the six books on the shortlist from a longlist selected by the Portico Prize’s newly formed Society of Readers and Writers.

This year’s panel of judges is chaired by journalist and broadcaster Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads. He’s joined by stage and screen actor Holliday Grainger, who comes from Didsbury, stand-up poet Kate Fox, and Zahid Hussain, author of The Curry Mile.

Shortlist for The Portico Prize for Literature revealed for books that best evoke the spirit of the North I Love Manchester
Photo: Bernard Walsh

“This list defies the rumour that it’s grim up North,” says chair of judges Simon Savidge.

“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.”

“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,” says Lynne Allan, chair of The Portico Library, about the shortlist.

The winner of The Portico Prize will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester on Thursday 23rd January 2020. Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2020 and the winner will receive £10,000.

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