17 Books / Six debuts / Ten independent publishers

The longlist 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 30 September.

Once described as ‘the Booker of the North’, the £10,000 Prize is open to literature across the formats of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

The longlist of 17 books explores the myriad themes of identity, belonging, gender, class and the meaning of place – all connected by the spirit of the North.

The 2019 longlist, 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

  • Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth, (Myriad Editions) Graphic Memoir

  • Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns by Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus) Non-Fiction

  • Zebra, by Ian Humphreys (Nine Arches Press) Poetry

  • Us, Zaffar Kunial (Faber & Faber) Poetry

  • Long Road from Jarrow by Stuart Maconie (Ebury Press) Non-Fiction

  • Black Car Burning, by Helen Mort (Chatto & Windus) Fiction

  • Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place by Ben Myers (Elliott and Thompson) Non-Fiction

  • The Mating Habit of Stags by Ray Robinson (Lightning Books) Fiction

  • The One who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla (Atlantic) Fiction

  • The Look Away by Richard Skelton (Xylem Books) Fiction

  • Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe (Fleet) Fiction

  • Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister by Angela Steidele and translated by Katy Derbyshire (Serpent’s Tale) Non-Fiction

  • 2020, by Kenneth Steven, (Saraband) Fiction

  • Mancunia, by Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape) Poetry


Of the eight fiction titles on the list, four are debut novels: Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who moves to London; Ironopolis by Glen James Brown, set on a fictional council estate in post-industrial Middlesbrough; Black Car Burning, a love letter to Helen Mort’s home town of Sheffield; and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe, a novel inspired by the life of Bradford playwright, Andrea Dunbar.

The four further fiction titles on the list are: The Look Away by musician and poet Richard Skelton; The Mating Habit of Stags by Ray Robinson, a reflective novel set in the moors of North Yorkshire; The One who Wrote Destiny, a powerful and important novel about a young Kenyan trying to adjust to life in ‘60s North Yorkshire by Nikesh Shukla; and the novella 2020, Kenneth Steven’s gripping examination of life as it might be in 2020.

In non-fiction, Ben 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 Long Road from Jarrow, writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie masterfully pieces together local and regional history at the time of the Jarrow March with the state of Britain today, and in Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Angela Steidele captivates the reader with her admirable and comprehensive research into the life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack.

The longlist includes two astonishing memoirs: in Lowborn, Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns, Kerry Hudson revisits the towns she grew up in to try to discover what being poor really means in Britain today; and in The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness, Graham Caveney describes growing up in Accrington as a member of the ‘Respectable Working Class’.

There is also one graphic memoir on the list: Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth, as much a personal account of Charlesworth’s life as it is a textbook on 20th-century British LGBTQ+ history.


Two debut collections of poetry feature on the longlist, from poets both based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: Zebra, by Ian Humphreys, a beautifully-written collection about exploration, observation and acceptance; and Us in which Zaffar Kunial explores the convolutions of identity. Meanwhile, Michael Symmons Roberts, the award-winning poet who was shortlisted for the Portico Prize in 2015, presents a collection of poetry inspired by Manchester in Mancunia.


Independent publishers are strongly represented on the list: Parthian, Myriad Editions, Nine Arches Press, Faber & Faber, Elliott & Thompson, Lightning Books, Atlantic, Xylem Books, Serpent’s Tale and Saraband.

The longlist of 17 books was selected by The Portico Prize’s newly formed Society of Readers and Writers.

A shortlist of six books – to be announced on Tuesday 26 November – will be selected by a panel of judges, 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; Zahid Hussain, author of The Curry Mile and Jean Sprackland, Professor of Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Portico Prize was established in 1985 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.

Simon Savidge, Chair of Judges, says: “What a fantastic and varied list! A huge thank you to The Society of Readers and Writers for giving myself and the other judges such an intriguing selection of reading ahead. I’m really looking forward to getting lost in all things northern; reading and discussing these books over the coming months and seeing how they each evoke ‘the spirit of the north’. I already have a feeling that making a shortlist is going to be a tough job.”

Lynne Allan, Chair of The Portico Library says: “We have been delighted with the success of our unique and newly established Society of Readers and Writers, a group of fifteen individuals from the world of literature responsible for selecting this year’s Longlist. Their eclectic selection includes an exciting mix of formats and genres, ranging across fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry, place writing, biography, a graphic history and travel writing. We are especially thrilled that so many regional, independent publishers are represented this year. Established and first-time writers will now compete for a place on the shortlist.”

James Draper, Manager of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University adds: “Manchester Metropolitan University is proud to have supported The Portico Library in relaunching their prizes for literature, and we are thrilled to see such a broad and exciting range of work on the longlist. We’ve enjoyed exploring the cultural heritage of the region through our series of ‘Rewriting the North’ events in partnership between the University’s Centre for Place Writing and The Portico Library – and we’re looking forward to celebrating this further with the announcement of the Prize shortlist and winners next year.”

The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 26 November. Each of the shortlisted authors will be gifted with honorary membership of The Portico Library in 2020.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony at The Portico Library in Manchester on Thursday 23 January 2020.

For media enquiries please contact:

Jane Acton E: T: 07971 661576


Materials for a "lecture-pep-talk-sing-a-long-sermon

Materials for a "lecture-pep-talk-sing-a-long-sermon

Materials for a "lecture-pep-talk-sing-a-long-sermon:

Microphone and speakers
Mic stand 
Head set mic
Curtain and stand
Clips / cable ties
Robe / dog collar
Dentist chair
Laser pen 
Pointer / baton
Reading glasses
Water jug and glass
Clicker - batteries AAA
Karaoke outfit 
Clothes rail and hangers 
Cue cards
Couch / chaise longue... and more!

Book here forInterjectional Exercises at ThePortico Library the third in our summer 2019 events series looking at power, democracy, language and the press, with Rowland Hill and Manifest Arts Performed in English and British Sign Language.

Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre

Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre

Our current exhibition 'Making the News: Reading between the lines from Peterloo to Meskel Square' includes a short film by Sophie Broadgate of the public launch evening, where Amharic speaking Manchester residents Binyam, Sara and Mas introduced the shared histories of St Peter’s Field and Meskel Square and interpreted artworks by Robel Temesgen.

The exhibition runs until 23rd September and is open daily except Sundays and bank holidays.

Making the News is part of a Manchester-wide programme of activities commemorating the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre, exploring themes of protest, democracy and freedom of speech.

Tasting America

Tasting America

Turn-of-the-century American expatriate Elizabeth Robins Pennell did her best to convince readers on both sides of the Atlantic that cookery books were real literature and that “greedy women” ought to be celebrated, herself among them!

Hear these stories and others about American taste-making at our event tonight at 18:30:

Tasting America: An Edible Literary History

Alongside a lecture by our expert Michelle J. Coghlan we'll be serving succotash lettuce wraps, a mini chilli bowl with fresh corn tortillas and mini pumpkin pies. Also serving drinks at the bar, including bourbon and ginger beer. Dietary requirements accommodated for - just get in touch.

Book here:

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

Join us this evening at 6pm to commemorate the Peterloo Massacre which took place 200 years ago this summer, and explore how the press and the public conversation help shape our democracy. Reading, publishing and interpretation all play crucial roles in the struggle for power and representation, today as in 1819.

With new artworks by Robel Temesgen and an introduction to the graphic novel 'Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre' by Polyp, Shlunke and Poole, plus interpretations in Amharic and English from local performers.

Sturday Selection

Sturday Selection

On June 29th 1613, William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned down during a production of The Life Of Henry VIII, a collaboration between Shakespeare and fellow playwright John Fletcher. The theatre's beams and thatched roof caught fire, following a cannon shot fired as a theatrical special effect. The Globe was rebuilt in 1614, and demolished in 1644, before being rebuilt again in 1997.
The Portico has multiple editions of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, the oldest of which dates from 1765. Among the library’s oldest features are the circular portraits of Shakespeare and John Milton, which can be seen on either side of the library’s domed ceiling cupola. This is one of several allusions to Shakespeare strewn around 19th-century Manchester, including the Shakespeare pub on Fountain Street, the statue of Shakespeare above the entrance to the 1845 Theatre Royal (designed by Portico member Francis Chester), and the long-gone Shakespeare Street with its intersecting Romeo Street and Juliet Street.

Rewriting the North: Manchester, Fiction & Rewriting the Past

Rewriting the North: Manchester, Fiction & Rewriting the Past

Tonight at 6:30 we are looking forward to hearing Rosie Lugosi and Livi Michael talk about women, class, drawing inspiration from place and the special way Manchester reinvents itself. Linnie Blake chairs the discussion before an audience Q&A session. We invite you to come along for Event 2 in our “Rewriting the North” series

Saturday Selection: FIFA Women's World Cup

To coincide with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, we’ve picked out Montague Shearman’s 1887 ‘Athletics and Football’, an entry in the 28-volume ‘Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes’.
The 1880s and 1890s were a formative period for football in Manchester, with local clubs forming around churches, pubs and railway depots, and joining rival football leagues whose teams rarely played against one another. In 1887, Gorton A.F.C. (later Manchester City) would relocate to their first long-term home on Hyde Road. In 1892, Newton Heath (later Manchester United) would join the precursor to the modern English Football League.
In 1863, football governing bodies had introduced rules to prohibit violence on the pitch, making it more socially acceptable for women to play. In 1894, the British Ladies' Football Club was founded by Nettie Honeyball, becoming Europe’s most well-documented women’s team.


The Portico’s summer Quarterly is here!

Just in time for the arrival of T-shirt weather The Portico’s summer Quarterly is here, where you can find our upcoming events and exhibitions, and keep up-to-date with library news. This edition contains a fascinating article on Victorian literature and old age by member Alan Shelston, plus illuminating research on The Portico’s hidden heritage and treasures from members Alex Boswell and Nicola Higgins.  

You can also read about the re-launch of The Portico Prize 2019, and our upcoming exhibition Making the News which commemorates the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre. Artist Robel Temesgen will exhibit a brand new work for Manchester, created in collaboration with members of the Manchester Centre for Place Writing.

Download the Quarterly here for more details.

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The Portico Library and Manchester Secondary PRU

The Portico Library and Manchester Secondary PRU

The Portico has been exploring the world of books with students at Manchester Secondary PRU. Workshops at school and visits to The Portico Library, led by Reading Consultant Janet Fitzgerald, have marked the beginning of a wonderful new partnership.

English Teacher, Jay Lanyon talks about the first few sessions:

“The Manchester Secondary PRU is a complex organisation and our students can be complex too. They arrive here often having had a negative experience of education and sometimes with undiagnosed conditions and difficulties with learning. They can be reluctant to engage with traditional ‘lessons’ and teaching styles. It can take a long time, even for a permanent member of the staff team, to build a rapport and establish relationships and learning habits.

When Janet arrived for her first session it became clear quite quickly that we would, in partnership, have to redefine what the objectives would be and reflect together on our expectations for the ‘Reading for pleasure’ project. Janet listened and observed - asking questions and adapting her approach. She talked to staff and students to find a positive way forward and brought great resources to engage the groups. During the third session Janet encouraged students to create posters using the materials she provided… the book review posters helped the students remember books they had enjoyed in the past.

 It would have been easy for a less experienced practitioner to have abandoned the project on seeing how non-compliant our young people can be but instead she reflected on their wide range of needs to get something worthwhile out of the sessions. I appreciate the effort being made to open the doors for our students who have frequently missed out on opportunities for enrichment in education.”

The Portico Prize is now open!

We are delighted to announce the 2019 Portico Prize is now open, in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University. £10,000 will go to the book that best evokes the spirit of the North of England - across fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Our judging panel includes social media influencer and broadcaster Simon Savidge (chair); actor Holliday Grainger; novelist and writing mentor Zahid Hussain; Professor of Creative Writing Jean Sprackland; and writer, broadcaster and performer Kate Fox. £10,000 will go to the book that best evokes the spirit of the North of England - across fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Our judging panel includes social media influencer and broadcaster Simon Savidge (chair); actor Holliday Grainger; novelist and writing mentor Zahid Hussain; Professor of Creative Writing Jean Sprackland; and writer, broadcaster and performer Kate Fox.

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Job Opportunity!

Job Opportunity!

Director of Manchester City of Literature


£42,000 per annum, pro rata

Contract: 3 years from appointment in the first instance. 

Working pattern: 28 hours per week, equivalent to a 0.8 FTE position. 

This is a flexible role with some evening and weekend work.

Manchester was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017, following a successful bid from a partnership led by Manchester City Council, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and involving a range of partners across the city’s literary and cultural sectors.

In order to maximise the opportunities that this designation will bring to our city, a new charitable organisation is being established to coordinate Manchester City of Literature. There will be an Executive Office, which will report to a Board of Trustees, working with a wider Partnership Network, to ensure the designation celebrates the diverse range of voices in Manchester and is truly owned by the city at large.

We are looking for a dynamic leader to join us at this exciting time to help shape this brand-new organisation. If you would relish this challenge, and share our ambitions to create an inclusive, sustainable organisation, we would be delighted to hear from you. We are looking to appoint a Director for a three-year period (with the possibility of extension) who will lead the organisation within the city, region, and internationally, working with a diverse set of stakeholders and partners. We want someone who can commit to ensuring that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of Manchester City of Literature, and that the organisation truly represents the rich diversity of Manchester’s voices.

You should have experience of delivering high quality cultural projects within a complex environment. You will have experience of developing partnerships with education providers, cultural partners and community groups, and excellent planning skills and confidence in dealing with a wide range of people.

Closing date for applications: Friday 14 June 2019 

Interview date: Monday 8 July 2019

Employment Start Date: Ideally 1 September 2019 

First Aid for Books!

Many of our books here at The Portico Library are very old and well loved, so are often not in the best condition. Luckily we have had Tim Higson, who has a wealth of experience in book conservation, volunteering here at The Portico. He has been taking care of some of our books that are in need of repair, such as The Republic of Letters by Alexander Whitelaw. As the pictures show, these books were in poor condition and needed several minor repairs, which were carried out by Tim.

The leather on the books was very fragile and peeling away.

The leather on the books was very fragile and peeling away.

This picture shows the damage to the spine of one of the books.

This picture shows the damage to the spine of one of the books.

First each book had a surface clean to remove any dirt and dust. Other work carried out included stabilising the leather on the books using a leather consolidant and doing some marbled paper repairs using wheat starch paste. Small weights were used to help weigh down the leather and marbled paper while the adhesive dried and one book even needed a bandage to help with its recovery!

Small weights on one of the repaired books.

Small weights on one of the repaired books.

A member of staff assisting Tim with his repairs

A member of staff assisting Tim with his repairs

The bandaged book.

The bandaged book.

The pictures below show the condition of the books after the repairs. As you can see they look much better and are now sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read!

The repaired books.

The repaired books.


'Breathing Spaces': St Luke's Art Project tour of The Portico Library

St Luke's Art Project is a community-based open studio for people experiencing any form of mental health problems and emotional distress - including just having a bad day! They recently came to visit us for a tour of the library and a look at some of our books. Rae Story from the group said that ‘Everybody appreciated the peace and quiet in this special place, and we felt very welcome and comfortable in the space. I think this will turn out to be a very unique breathing space for us all.’

Read more about their visit here:


Event: Alan Turing's Manchester Talk


The mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing is more widely known and admired today than he ever was during his lifetime. In February 2019 BBC viewers voted him the most important person of the 20th century; he was certainly a man who changed the world. Today, his iconography greets Mancunians in Sackville Park Gardens, across the University campus and on the way to the Manchester Velodrome. Even The Portico played a small part in his story.

Jonathan Swinton is the author of a new book called Alan Turing’s Manchester, which explores both Turing and the city he encountered when he lived here from 1948 to 1954. At this event, Jonathan will give a talk on the book and his wide-ranging research into this great scientist and his life in Manchester. You can purchase the book on the night, or at Jonathan’s blog 

Saturday Selection: World Health Day


Tomorrow is World Health Day, and the Portico’s shelves contain numerous writings by 19th-century physicians and biologists who attempted to advance our collective understanding of human wellbeing. Some of them, like the phrenology advocate Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832), didn’t always get it right. This illustration from his ‘Phrenology’ (1825) is part of the 'Off The Shelf' exhibition, which runs at The Portico until 24th June.

Though Portico member Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was among many who still believed in the pseudo-science of Phrenology in the mid-19th century, it had been powerfully discredited by Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) in 1838. Roget, who was the Portico’s first Secretary, is best known for publishing the first 'Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases' in in 1852.