When I was a child I lived in a council flat on the seventh floor of a tower block in Ashton-under-Lyne. I spent a lot of time on the balcony, looking out towards Manchester. Manchester to me was a long line of bright lights on the horizon. It was also the city where my mum worked and where she would take me on special occasions, to her office, or to see Father Christmas in one of the big stores. It was a place of possibility and excitement.
It was also a place of stories. Those stories came from that horizon and also from my grandmother, who grew up in Collyhurst, then Openshaw. They were stories of terraced streets, of starting work in a factory aged 11, of rag and bone men, and knocker-uppers and Manchester smogs. Later, when I grew up, I became fascinated by all the hidden lives of people who had lived in similar streets to my grandmother’s and by the roads leading into the city and the people who trod them in hope or despair. This developed into an interest in the earlier history of the city, from the medieval period (the wonderful Chetham’s Library and the church that is now the Cathedral) to the industrial. I wrote about this history in The Angel Stone, and in The Whispering Road, but in one way or another all my work, including my Frank the Hamster series and my medieval trilogy for adults, is inspired by our marvellous, ever-changing city.
In the course of my lifetime, Manchester has been many things – a city of factories and football, of science and technology, music and commerce, but most of all, great books.
I didn’t even know, growing up, that many of the stories I loved had been written by people who had lived or worked in Manchester. Stories such as the Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Alan Garner), 101 Dalmatians (Dodie Smith), the Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) and the lesser-known, but much-loved by me, Naughty Sophia (Winifred Letts). Actually, I didn’t think authors lived anywhere – they were supernatural beings whose books appeared magically on the shelves of my local library. I would have been amazed and delighted to know that they were real people living in the same city as me!
Today, Manchester is a UNESCO City of Literature, home to so many great writers, publishers, libraries and bookshops, with links to all the other literary cities in the world. It is international and multicultural. There are over two hundred languages spoken here, and so many different communities – each one a universe of stories of its own.
Manchester has as many layers as an onion and every time you start to peel back one of the layers you discover something wonderful, and surprising…
For all these reasons I am absolutely delighted to be included on this map and in this brilliant campaign by Read Manchester, in association with the National Literacy Trust, Greater Manchester Transport and Manchester City Council. Read more about this exciting campaign here:-
You can download a copy of the map here: