Manchester is many things, but one which often gets overlooked is its status as a UNESCO City of Literature. There are only 39 of these cities in the world, and each one has a starring role in the preservation, promotion and production of our collective global literary wealth.
Here are five works from key Manchester authors which you should listen to as audiobooks during lockdown…
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is one of those stories that most people have heard of – but how many have actually read it? Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale of magic, adventure and family is a classic set in Yorkshire, but inspired at least in part by the author’s childhood in Manchester.
Often called a children’s book, The Secret Garden has something for people of all ages. Join protagonist Mary Lennox on a journey through her childhood as she embarks on a quest to discover the secrets of the locked garden in her new home. Possibilities, the power of the human imagination and the wonder of nature all shine through in this delightful novel.
Nothing Like the Sun – Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess is one of Manchester’s most famous literary sons and is best known for A Clockwork Orange – an iconic dystopian black comedy which plumbs the depths of depravity and violence in society and was adapted to film by the one and only Stanley Kubrick.
However, Burgess has a rich catalogue of other works which are just as riveting and worthwhile. One of our favourites is Nothing Like the Sun, a mixture of fact and fiction that tells the story of William Shakespeare’s love life as he develops into the greatest writer in the history of the English language. The novel explores how time and place affect art, and shows how even the most extraordinary genius lives side-by-side with ordinary life.
The Luckiest Guy Alive – John Cooper Clarke
There’s nobody on earth quite like John Cooper Clarke. As well as being easily one of the most important British poets of the 20th century, he’s also one of the most interesting. A no-nonsense approach to life, a wry sense of humour and a well-maintained level of anger towards injustice make Cooper Clarke iconic.
The Luckiest Guy Alive is his first new collection of poetry in more than 30 years, and it’s clear from the first beats that he hasn’t lost his touch – far from it. Whether you are a lifelong fan or a newcomer to his work, introducing a bit of John Cooper Clarke into your lockdown life is a decision you won’t regret. Thrilling, funny and full of life, this is an essential listen.
My Name is Why – Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay is Chancellor of the University of Manchester and another of the city’s poetic sons. He is also a playwright, artist, essayist, a trustee of the Manchester International Festival and patron of the Letterbox Club which delivers parcels of books to children every six months.
His life story is no less interesting. Originally believing his name was Norman Green, a childhood spent moving between foster families and care homes was uprooted even further at the age of 17. Upon receiving his real birth certificate, Sissay discovered his real name, his Ethiopian heritage and learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth.
My Name is Why is a reflection on Sissay’s childhood in care, the nature of Britishness and an exploration of race, family and what it means to be ‘home’. Sissay has spent his whole life asking questions, and this memoir is a fascinating account of where that has led him.
Vurt – Jeff Noon
Finally, we’re recommending a trip into an alternate reality. Jeff Noon is a science fiction legend and his novel Vurt takes us into a psychedelic version of Manchester where the boundaries between what’s real and what’s virtual are tenuous.
In this bizarre version of Manchester, society is shaped by a hallucinogenic drug called Vurt which comes in different colours and has made the dreams and mythology of mankind real. The novel follows Scribble, the protagonist, as he searches for his sister, Desdemona, with the help of his gang, the Stash Riders. How much of himself and his sanity is Scribble willing to sacrifice to find her?
Winner of the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke award, Vurt is a work of staggering imagination which may just make you look at Manchester in a slightly different way. This is a novel for those who want something completely different.