Eight debuts across list of 14 books

The longlist for The Portico Prize for Literature – the UK’s only award for outstanding Northern writing – is announced today, Tuesday 28 September, 2021.

The £10,000 biennial prize is open to new works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry that best evoke the spirit of the North of England.

This year’s longlist of 14 books explores multiple themes – family, friendship, class, race, identity, masculinity, sexuality, the meaning of place and memories of the past – all connected by the spirit of the North.  Debut writers and independent publishers emerge triumphant from the lockdown of the past year, reflected in strong representation across the list.

The 2022 longlist, in alphabetical order by author surname, is:

  • Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre / Hachette) Fiction
  • The Outsiders by James Corbett (Lightning Books / Eye Books) Fiction
  • The Blind Light by Stuart Evers (Picador / Pan Macmillan) Fiction
  • Mrs England by Stacey Halls (Manilla Press / Bonnier Books) Fiction
  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ / HarperCollins) Fiction
  • Sea State by Tabitha Lasley (4th Estate / HarperCollins) Non-fiction
  • Are We Home Yet? by Katy Massey (Jacaranda Books) Non-fiction
  • The Khan by Saima Mir (Oneworld Publications) Fiction
  • Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J. Morgan (J M Originals / Hachette)


  • The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue / Little Brown) Fiction
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan (Faber) Fiction
  • Male Tears by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury) Fiction (short story collection)
  • I Belong Here by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury) Non-fiction
  • Ghost Town by Jeff Young (Little Toller Books) Non-fiction

Of the ten fiction titles on the list, five are debut novels: The Outsiders by James Corbett, set against the backdrop of the Liverpool riots in the early-’80s; The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain, a moving story of a multi-generational British Muslim family; The Khan by Saima Mir, a crime thriller with a female British Pakistani protagonist; Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J. Morgan, based on her own experience of being    offered a lift by Fred and Rosemary West; and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu, set in Manchester about a  teenager who longs to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian culture.

The five further fiction titles on the list are: Ghosted, an unconventional love story andthe ninth book by Preston-born Jenn Ashworth; The Blind Light by Stuart Evers, a compelling social history of Britain told through two generations of a family; Mrs England by Stacey Halls; a portrait of an Edwardian marriage set in West Yorkshire; and Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan, a powerful story of male friendships that charts an epic night out in Manchester in 1986. The longlist includes one collection of short stories: Male Tears by Benjamin Myers which gathers over fifteen years of work tackling the nature of masculinity. Myers was joint winner of the Portico Prize in 2015 and was also shortlisted for the Prize in 2019.

Of the four non-fiction titles, three are debuts: Sea State, a compelling memoirby Tabitha Lasley about her time spent with offshore North Sea oil-rig workers; I Belong Here by Manchester-born Anita Sethi, a powerful and moving journey through the natural landscape of the North, written after Sethi was racially abused on a train journey from Liverpool to Newcastle, blending nature writing, memoir and current affairs; and Ghost Town in which Jeff Young, a writer for radio, stage and television, layers memory, history and photography to journey back to the Liverpool of his childhood. Also in non-fiction is Katy Massey’s second book, Are We Home Yet?, a moving and funny story, set between 1935 and 2010, of a girl who discovers that her mother earns money as a sex worker.

Independent publishers are strongly represented on the list: Lightning Books, Faber, Jacaranda Books, Bloomsbury, Little Toller Books and Oneworld Publications. 

The longlist of 14 books was selected by the Portico Prize’s Society of Readers and Writers, an appointed group of 21 book lovers and literary enthusiasts with connections to the North of England.

A shortlist of six books – to be announced on Tuesday 7 December – will be selected by a panel of judges, chaired by Gary Younge, the award-winning author, broadcaster and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. He is joined by the broadcaster Melanie Sykes (also Editor-in-Chief of The Frank Magazine and co-presenter of the Sykes & Savidge Book Club); the award-winning author and former Portico Prize winner Sarah Hall; the poet and essayist and former Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri; and Anita Singh, arts and entertainment editor at The Daily Telegraph.

The Portico Prize was established in 1985 to celebrate the strong regional and literary identity of the North of England with the aim of raising awareness of its historical,   cultural and literary heritage.

Mike Murphy, member of the Society of Readers and Writers, says: “As judges of the longlist, we were looking for titles that would move the needle on what people expect from Northern literature. It would be wrong to think of this as a parochial prize. Readers will find a huge variety of perspectives, of experiences and of takes on where we are now in the North of England and beyond. Whatever you’re after, it’ll be there in the longlist somewhere.” 

Lynne Allan, Chair of The Portico Library says: “The Society of Readers and Writers have excelled themselves with the diverse and exciting choices they have made. Both independent and larger publishers are represented and we are particularly pleased with the innovative mix of formats and genres including fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir and biography. New and exciting voices sit alongside established authors. Each one of the longlisted books has the power to engage and move the reader, whatever their background, and reflect the myriad rich experience of Northern life.  Our eminent panel of judges have a formidable task in front of them.”

Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2022.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester in on 20 January 2022.

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Jane Acton E: T: 07971 661576