All about Manchester

Manchester in literature

How our city looks on paper


Sad, silty puddles

Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley is a short, snappy novel where not a huge amount actually happens. It’s a poetic tale of a young girl working in a Manchester “dive bar in the American style”, about her relationships with other people and with her city. Riley has a real talent for capturing the modern city – bin smells, building sites, a book shop in a disused Victorian urinal. It’s a curious feeling, reading a book filled with places you know so well. £8.99, Vintage

Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley

Waterborne babies

Set in the days of Manchester’s industrial revolution, when Ducie Bridge was associated with an actual bridge and not a ropey (now closed) pub, Isabella Banks’ 1876 novel The Manchester Man is so iconic a quote from it has been etched onto Tony Wilson’s headstone. The tale follows the life of an orphaned baby, from being rescued from the River Irk to climbing the social ladder. The author’s phonetically-written dialogue really brings to life the thick, working-class accent of the era: “What ar’ ta gooin’ to do?” £7.99, EJ Morten Publishers

The Manchester Man by Mrs G Linnaeus Banks

Inflatable dolphins

We here at Emerald Street loved The Adult by Joe Stretch when it was first released in 2013. It’s a light-hearted, alarmingly nostalgic book (we didn’t realise how far away the 1990s and Lynx Africa felt until we read this), which captures the more vibrant, amusing side of Manchester. Stretch describes the Arndale tower as “a vertical Spanish beach” and reminds us of when Katie Price stood as the candidate for Stretford and Urmston in the 2001 General Election (and got 713 votes). £6.65, Vintage

The Adult by Joe Stretch

Up in smoke

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South – subsequently turned into a wildly popular BBC miniseries in 2004 – isn’t explicitly set in Manchester. Rather, it is set in “The North”, and the fictitious industrial town of Milton (Mill-town, geddit?). But there are cotton mills and industry, dust and bad air, so it feels like an accurate retelling of what life was like here in the mid-19th century – and how the North’s spirit is, ultimately, brighter than it first appears (and better than the South’s). £5.99, Penguin Classics

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Grim up North

The version of Manchester portrayed in Habit (now a feature-length film) is not the version the tourist board would want to share. This horror is seriously dark, but it’s oddly entertaining to read about this (we hope) fictitious and seedy underbelly to the city. Stephen McGeagh leads his readers on a haunting journey through Manchester, and this book will stick with you as you walk home late at night. We can’t stop noticing how many of the Northern Quarter’s unremarkable doors could be hiding hideous secrets. £8.99, Salt

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