Monday 9 December

The shortlist for The Portico Prize for Literature – the UK’s only award for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North – is announced today, Monday 9 December.

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 2019 shortlist, in alphabetical order by author, is:

  • Saltwater by Jessica Andrews (Sceptre) Fiction.
  • Ironopolis by Glen James Brown (Parthian) Fiction
  • The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney (Picador) Non-Fiction
  • Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place by Benjamin Myers (Elliott and Thompson) Non-Fiction
  • The Mating Habit of Stags by Ray Robinson (Lightning Books) Fiction
  • Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe (Fleet) Fiction

Of the six titles on the shortlist, three are debut novels: 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.

Also in fiction, 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’.

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.

Of the six-strong shortlist, three of the titles are published by independent publishers: Parthian; Elliott & Thompson and Lightning Books.

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 is joined by Holliday Grainger, stage and screen actor; Kate Fox, stand-up poet and Zahid Hussain, author of The Curry Mile.

Simon Savidge, Chair of Judges, says: “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 says: “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 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.”

Dr Jess Edwards, Head of English at Manchester Metropolitan University adds: “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 Thursday 23 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.

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.

For media enquiries please contact:
Jane Acton E: T: 07971 661576

Follow the Portico Prize on Twitter @ThePortico #porticoprize