Thursday, November 05, 2009

Manchester's Literary Renaissance

I couldn't help smiling at this posting in the Guardian about Manchester's Literary Renaissance, if only because of its somewhat haphazard nature. The Manchester literary scene ebbs and flows over the years, with magazines, readings, writers falling in and out of the city as life and literature changes for all of them. At this point in time, there's certainly a critical mass of writers based in Manchester, with courses at all 4 Greater Manchester Universities (Manchester, MMU, Salford and Bolton), and rarely a week goes by without a reading night.

Yet the city remains a little stubbornly unliterary in some ways. Though the critical mass of writers will no doubt look locally on occasion for their subject matter, it is usually its underbelly that makes it into fictions such as those by Joe Stretch and Chris Killen. Though for every Cracker, there's always a Cold Feet, and Didsbury suburbs feature in the work of a number of Manchester writers.

The Manchester Fiction Prize was won by an established writer with few connections with the city, Toby Litt, whilst Carole Ann Duffy's poetry, though it sometimes references the city, is anything but Mancunian, if that means anything. Even our most famous literary son, Anthony Burgess, only really wrote about the city in his memoirs, though he had enough of a chip on his shoulder to state that "the novelist is Mancunian."

Many of those writers linked with the city, involved in the city, myself included, are emigres, and I still rarely see the city that I know, usually love, and occasionally despair of, depicted realistically - or even with the definition that you find in the songs of Mark E. Smith and Morrissey, or in great TV like Cracker and Queer as Folk. The great Mancunian novel remains stubbornly unwritten - and it is Gwendoline Riley's slim vignettes (not mentioned in the article), "Cold Water" and "Sick Notes" that would be key texts in any "writing about Manchester."

Jerome De Groot, who writes the article, is based at the University, and on the board of the festival, so its nice that he balances the institutions with the literary underground, and good to see Jeff Noon's Manc classic "Vurt" remembered in despatches. For me, writing in the city since 1995, its only recently that I feel that I have enough perspective to write substantially about the city.

My own favourite story is of Borges, visiting England with his mother, having won the inaugural International Publishers Prize in 1961 visiting Manchester to pay homage to De Quincey. I like to think Borges sprinkled a bit of his magic in the waters of the Irwell, and we occasionally catch a glimpse in the Mancunian rain.


Sarah-Clare Conlon said...

I agree with you about Gwendoline Riley - she's always overlooked, and unjustly so, in my humble opinion. Sick Notes and Cold Water conjure up really vivid images of dive bars and incessant rain and always remind me of my student days in the city.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Always felt I was a bit-part player in those books as I used to to Night & Day to see bands alot when she worked there. They'll get forgotten, then re-discovered I reckon.