says Norman Warwick

In her memoir,  Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson locates the city of her birth with a laser-guided accuracy: “Manchester is in the south of the north of England,” she writes. “Its spirit has a contrariness … at once untamed and unmetropolitan; yet at the same time, connected and worldly.”

Others have been more direct in their appraisal, like the Guardian reader Degruswho commented under a 2009 piece about Manchester’s burgeoning literary renaissance: “Everyone who comes from Manchester knows that it’s a shithole … However, we also know that it’s not a shithole without charm; Mancunians are proud of their shithole. The best writing about Manchester springs from this.” The city has changed a great deal in the intervening years, but writerly interest in what Degrus calls the “whole complicated bloody mess of a situation” remains a constant.

My first collection of poetry, In the Flesh, opened with a poem about an obsessional imaginative remaking of Victorian Manchester. My second, A Herring Famine, charts the journey of my mother’s family from Aberdeen – where they were fishermen – to the city where they came to work in the newly built Trafford Park. Most recently, I’ve been working on a novel following a brother and two sisters in Manchester from 1890 to the eve of the first world war.

As well as being home for much of my life, Manchester has always had a central place in my imagination and my sense of the city is informed by my reading. The following list is, of course, entirely personal: there are many Manchesters and many more writers who have captured the city’s identities and moods than those listed here. These are just the ones who matter most to me.


The Emigrants by WG Sebald

Sebald, before his untimely death, was rumoured by many to be in line for the Nobel prize. His Manchester of the 1960s is one wearied and worn down; a stark, near-deserted cityscape that the narrator wanders through disconsolately until meeting the painter Max Ferber. For readers who grew up in the south of the city, there’s a particular thrill in seeing its neighbourhoods subject to Sebald’s attention. Travelling from the airport early one morning, the narrator passes through “the not unhandsome suburbs of Gatley, Northenden and Didsbury”.

The Manchester Man by Isabella Banks

The novel, published in 1876, tells the story of Jabez Clegg, a baby rescued from the river Irk. It still has interesting things to say about selfhood, mutability and the swaths of history that shaped the city’s inhabitants from the Napoleonic wars to the Peterloo massacre. The gravestone of Anthony H Wilson, founder of Factory Records, carries a quote from the novel and gestures towards how the arts are interconnected in the city, linking it to that other Manchester – the irreverent, joyous, after-dark city that Banks may or may not have recognised as she looked down from the window of her father’s Oldham Street home.

Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley

On the level of the sentence, there is maybe no finer novelist working in Britain today. By an habitué of the city and its bohemian northern quarter for many years, Riley’s prose captures a certain type of life lived out in barrooms and bedsits. This, her debut, is the story of 21-year-old Carmel.

McKisco and it is studded with phrases of achingly acute observation. Ice-cold and razor sharp.

Mancunia by Michael Symmons Roberts

Coming out this summer, this new collection from the poet and librettist has a spectral quality to it. Mancunia isn’t Manchester but “an imagined city and a fallen utopia”. The collection includes poems such as A Mancunian Taxi Driver Foresees His Death. A work of grace, wit and compelling strangeness; a hymn to the city, that draws on a fascinating range of historical and contemporary sources.


 A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

Initially written as a novel but later turned into a play, this is a work in which drabness and desire walk arm in arm, through the story of Jo and her mother Helen and some very difficult love life. It was later adapted for the screen by Tony Richardson and became a classic of British New Wave cinema. Manchester’s arts have always cross-pollinated, and it would go on to influence a young Steven Patrick Morrissey, who references Delaney and her work in a number of his songs.

As regular readers will know, we often share news we have found in the I Love Manchester newsletters we receive. Yesterday our Sidetracks and Detours gathered news about some of the awards presented at the city´s first annual I love Manchester awards ceremony, and also looked at the way the city has been presented through both fiction and non-fiction books (and films and song) over the years. On the back of that, we think this is an opportune time to publish in our blog ¨Sidetracks And Detours through Manchester´. Each day from Monday 25th December to Friday 29th December we will publish an article about the city: The rise and fall of Boddingtons´ Brewery and on two female stars of Coronation Street, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Hayley Cropper, and an exclusive interview with her colleague Jane Danson. We will also bring you an exclusive feature on Nigel Kennedy, the boy who gazed at the moon. So, if you´re looking for sidetracks and detours take the final exit at the cobbled end of the motorway.

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