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The Portico Prize for Literature

text: The Portico Prize with architectural black and white portico

Established by the Portico Library, Manchester in 1985, the Portico Prize for Literature is awarded biennially to the highest quality books set wholly or mainly in the North of England and is supported by the Arts Council England and The Zochonis Charitable Trust. The Portico Prize celebrates the strong regional and literary identity of the North of England with the aim of raising awareness of the diversity of its cultural, literary and historical heritage.

The Portico Library has a long association with northern writers, many of whom have been, or are members of the Library. The Portico Library is a key part of Manchester’s literary scene, and its hosting of a range of literary awards, known collectively as the Portico Prize Family, gives effect to the Portico’s wish to support and celebrate writing of outstanding quality and to honour the strong literary heritage of the North of England.

The Portico Prize for Literature (1985-2015) Celebrating 30 Years


The winners of the 2015 Portico Prize for Literature, the North’s leading literary award were announced on 26 November 2015.

Renowned crime novelist Val McDermid, a former winner of the Portico Prize, made the awards at a gala dinner at the Mecure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel that was also a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Prize.

Benjamin Myers was awarded £10,000 for the Fiction/Poetry category for his novel Beastings

Earlier in the year Beastings, published by Bluemoose Books, was short-listed for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. In the past two years Benjamin Myers has won and been short-listed for several literary prizes which include winning the inaugural Gordon Burn Prize 2013 with Pig Iron, The Society of Authors' Tom Gallon Prize 2014 and The Northern Writers' Award 2014 for Beastings.

When a teenage girl leaves the farm she works on and abducts the child placed in her care, the local priest is called upon to retrieve them. Chased through the Cumbrian mountains of a distant past, the girl fights starvation and the elements, encountering the hermits, farmers and hunters who occupy the remote hillside communities. Like an American Southern Gothic tale set against the violent beauty of Northern England, Beastings is a sparse and poetic novel about morality, motherhood, and corruption.

Richard Benson was awarded £10,000 for the non-fiction category for his book The Valley.

Richard Benson is the author of the number one bestseller The Farm, which was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2005 and a 2006 Richard and Judy Book Club choice. The Valley is published by Bloomsbury.

The close-knit villages of the Dearne Valley were home to four generations of the Hollingworth family. Spanning Richard Benson's great-grandmother Winnie's ninety-two years in the valley, and drawing on years of historical research, interviews and anecdotes, The Valley lets us into generations of carousing and banter as the family's attempts to build a better and fairer world for themselves meet sometimes with triumph, sometimes with bitter defeat.

Previous winners of the Portico Prize include Sarah Hall (The Beautiful Indifference), Jean Sprackland (Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach), Jenny Uglow (Elizabeth Gaskell, A Habit of Stories) and Anthony Burgess (Any Old Iron). A full list can be found on the Portico’s website.

The shortlisted fiction authors for The Portico Prize 2015 were:

Rebecca Goss, Her Birth
Alan Garner, Boneland
Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Terror
Benjamin Myers, Beastings
Katrina Porteous. Two Countries
Michael Symmons Roberts, Drysalter

Short-listed non-fiction authors for the Portico Prize 2015 were:

Richard Benson, The Valley
Rob Cowen, Common Ground
James Rebanks, A Shepherd’s Life
Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Last Act of Love
Jenny Uglow, The Pinecone
(Jenny is a former winner of Portico Prize)

The shortlist was drawn up by a panel of judges that includes the acclaimed historian *Professor Michael Wood; ex Albertos’ ukulele-playing singer, writer, broadcaster, and hat collector, *C P Lee and journalist Neil Sowerby for the Non-Fiction category. Poet and priest, Rachel Mann, award winning novelist Joe Stretch, and former Portico Prize Winner and director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Professor Andrew Biswell for the Fiction/Poetry category.

Fiction judge Professor Andrew Biswell said: “The Portico Prize is rightly regarded as one of our most valuable and prestigious literary awards. It's sometimes called 'the Booker Prize of the North,' but in fact the Portico recognises a much wider range of writing than the Man-Booker Prize for Fiction. I'm delighted to be one of the judges for this year's fiction and poetry prize, along with Rachel Mann and Joe Stretch. We have read more than 90 books over the summer, and I know that all of the judges have been favourably impressed by the quality of the entries. Our hardest tasks will be to establish a shortlist, and then to identify the winner for the £10,000 prize. The books have provoked a variety of emotions - as all great writing should - of which pleasure has been the strongest.

Non-fiction judge CP Lee said: “Judging this year’s Portico Prize with Neil Sowerby and Michael Wood has been an experience worth celebrating for the joy and pleasure of sharing all the different authors’ wonder, love, despair and joy at the world that surrounds us and them, particularly here in the North. The books selected present us with a North not only of crags, moors, lakes and mountains, towns and cities, factories and mines, but above all of people and the region that has shaped them.”

Quotes from previous winners:

...I love the idea of a prize which celebrates the north of England as a setting for fiction. The literary world often seems to revolve around London- anything which redresses the balance has to be good!” – Jane Rogers 2012

I'm particularly proud to have won this prize because of its association with the Portico, which is one of the hidden gems of Manchester. It's also very gratifying that the judges were willing to consider a genre novel for a prestigious literary prize. Let's hope this is the start of a new trend!” – Val McDermid 2006

When we go back to London on the train tomorrow, I’ll be making a note of all the factory names we pass. They should all be approached for sponsorship.” – Anthony Burgess, after winning the Prize in 1989 and remarking that an award celebrating the literary North should be on the same plane as the Booker Prize.


Thanks to all who have submitted their titles for The Portico Prize 2015. The next Prize will run in 2017 and invitations to submit entries will be sent out early in 2017. For further information on the Prize please contact

The Portico Prize for Literature 2015 has been generously supported by funding from The Zochonis Charitable Trust and Arts Council England.

The Portico Prize for Literature, established in 1985 by The Portico Library, celebrates the strong regional and literary identity of the North of England with the aim of raising awareness of the diversity of its cultural, literary and historical heritage. The Prize is awarded biennially to a work of fiction (including poetry) and a work of non-fiction.

text: The Zochonis Charitable Trust & Arts Council England