‘The Spirit of the North of England’: The Portico Prize’s Longlist

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Of the 14 titles named to the Portico Prize fiction-and-nonfiction 2021 longlist, eight are debut publications for their authors.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Fourteen Titles, Four of Them Nonfiction
Another day, another awards notice, this time one which, as our readers will recall, stresses “the spirit of the North” in England.

logo of The Portico PrizeThe biennial Portico Prize for Literature carries a purse of £10,000 (US$13,560) and recognizes work that “explores Northern lives and landscape across fiction and nonfiction.” Established in 1985, its mission has benefited in recent years from the ongoing conversation in the British market about the traditional London-centric nature of UK publishing industry. As more publishers create “northern offices,” the Portico program has a chance to gain relevance for its potential in highlighting regional talent.

It’s interesting to note that while many in the United Kingdom’s industry feel that areas outside London get less attention from leading publishing houses, most of these books—with just three exceptions—are published by the household names: either a Big Four house or one of the major independent houses that hold such sway in Britain. Here are Hachette; Pan Macmillan and its Picador division; Bonnier and its Manilla Press (which really is spelled with two Ls); HarperCollins and its 4th Estate; Oneworld; Little, Brown; Faber & Faber; and Bloomsbury.

Of the three lesser-known houses, one—Jacaranda—is an avidly watched independent press run by women of color to promote diversity. Little Toller Books is indeed a regional press, based in West Dorset (with a bookstore in Beaminster) and well known among discerning industry players for its production of serious literature. Eye Books, established in 1996, has widened its purview beyond travel and geographically relevant material to broader nonfiction and a fiction imprint, Lightning Books. Last year the company set up a digital-first fiction list, Lighting Bolts.

The award is housed in and named for the Portico Library, a 215-year-old independent subscription library on Mosley Street in Manchester. The library hosts not only the Portico Prize but also an annual Portico Sadie Massey program of awards for young people in categories of book review and creative writing.

It’s interesting, too, to consider how frequently we hear about the difficulty authors may have in finding debut publication. In the Portico list, eight of these 14 titles are debuts. In fiction, five of the novels are debuts. In nonfiction, three of four are debut publications for their authors. We’ve made a note of that beside each title where pertinent.

This is a trend, by the way, in the many (many, many, many) publishing and book awards programs we cover: lots of debuts. The prospects may not be quite so bleak as it’s comforting to say they are, when it comes to finding a genuinely powerful publisher for one’s first outing on the market. It’s always good to remember that there’s usually a difference in the first thing someone gets published and the first thing that same person has written.

And just for the record, the value of the Portico Prize’s focus on the North of England is borne out by the caliber of many of its past honorees, who include Benjamin Myers, Richard Benson, the late Anthony Burgess (who was a Manchester native); the ubiquitous Val McDermid; Norwich’s Sarah Hall; AS Byatt; new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage; and someone named Hilary Mantel.

Portico Prize for Literature 2021 Longlist

Fiction

  • Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth, Hachette/Sceptre
  • The Outsiders by James Corbett, Eye Books/Lightning Books (debut)
  • The Blind Light by Stuart Evers, Pan Macmillan/Picador
  • Mrs England by Stacey Halls, Bonnier Books/Manilla Press
  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain, HarperCollins/HQ (debut)
  • The Khan by Saima Mir, Oneworld Publications (debut)
  • Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J. Morgan, Hachette/ JM Originals (debut)
  • The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu, Little, Brown/Dialogue (debut)
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan, Faber & Faber
  • Male Tears, short stories by Benjamin Myers, Bloomsbury

Nonfiction

  • Sea State by Tabitha Lasley, HarperCollins/4th Estate (debut)
  • Are We Home Yet? by Katy Massey, Jacaranda Books
  • I Belong Here by Anita Sethi, Bloomsbury (debut)
  • Ghost Town by Jeff Young, Little Toller Books (debut)

A shortlist is expected on December 7.

The winner is to be named in a ceremony in Manchester—at guess which library—on January 20.


More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book prizes is here. And more from us on the United Kingdom is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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