Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Manchester Novel

Given that there are so many writers in Manchester, I'm surprised how few novels seem to come out of the city. Unlike other metropolises (metropoli?) there's a sense that Manchester isn't quite big enough. The city seems to be zoned whenever its used in TV series, Didsbury for Cold Feet, Hulme for Life on Mars (and gloriously, Chorlton for the "swingers" party). Yet step into the city, step around, and more than anywhere I know, different lives are cheek and jowl. Only need to catch the 85 or 86 to Chorlton, a bus to Levenshulme, or even go down Wilmslow Road, and get a sense of a city of jostling communities, mostly rubbing up kindly against each other. Yet, Withington, where I first came when I moved to Manchester, is increasingly down-at-heel, a clump of drug addicts in the doorway of what (ironically) used to be "Pleasure", and the suburbs' great buildings either shut down (the White Lion) or pulled down (Cine City.)

The gleaming city centre is alive with a different vibe - media types and young professionals during the week; minibuses of out of towners at the weekend; university students during term time; suburban sophisticates down King Street or Selfridges or at the Hilton; football fans pouring through on match days; everyone from hen parties to drag queens on Canal Street; musical subcultures in dive bars, any day of the week. I'm not sure if this ever gets captured for people outside of the city.

I've often toyed with writing a Manchester novel, and found myself foundering on the ambition needed. My stories weave in and out of the city's night life in particular. The legendary rain and the long winters seem to have curtailed any other sense of the city - it's not a city where communities live, they circle the centre at a suspicious distance. There's nothing of the American city.

I need to think again of connecting all of this up - music was the link I once used, and would probably go back to again; or the regeneration itself - I stop, I start. The city sits grand and foreboding, resisting my best efforts.


Katherine Woodfine said...

...not a city where communities live, they circle the centre at a suspicious distance"

Absolutely spot on... I think you should have a go at that Manchester novel!


Adrian Slatcher said...

I'm gearing up for it!