Northern has teamed up with Manchester Literary Festival to celebrate the local literary landscape
I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Northern in the past. Let’s just say my Manchester commute on the Buxton line didn’t always run smoothly…
The rail operator’s new partnership with Manchester Literature Festival, however, is something I can get behind. Designed both to celebrate the northern literary landscape and encourage people to explore beyond the big cities, it shows there’s more to trains than commuting and more to British literature than the Big Smoke.
It’s an important initiative considering the London centricity of UK publishing
Of course, there’s a plethora of places and people that fit the bill, but this particular partnership focuses on Manchester and Hebden Bridge. One may be a Lancashire metropolis, the other a Yorkshire market town, but they both share a rich literary heritage and are separated by just a short train ride though quintessential rolling hills and millstone grit stations.
As part of the partnership, award-winning poet Helen Mort was commissioned to write a poem on the 34-minute journey. Entitled There & Back, it features a verse on each station stop: from the ‘industrial tattoos’ of Rochdale to Mills Hill, where her granddad once lived on a street that smelled like pickled onions due to Sarson’s Vinegar factory nearby. The full poem can be seen at the bottom of this article.
Considering Manchester Literature Festival stemmed from the Manchester Poetry Festival, poetry is a strong part of its programme. But Mort’s #NorthernPoetryTrain is only one half of the Northern project: visitors to the literature trail website will also find a tour around Hebden Bridge’s literary hotspots, developed especially for the partnership. A Manchester version is due to follow later this year.
It’s an important initiative considering the London centricity of UK publishing, and follows several recent attempts to diversify the industry and highlight northern literary talent. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the Northern Fiction Alliance, featuring some of the region’s most exciting publishers.
Hebden Bridge-based Bluemoose Books is one such example, having published Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole. Recently shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize historical fiction prize, this unflinching novel is based on the fascinating true story of the Cragg Vale coiners (number 5 below).
Other bookish locations include the Stubbing Wharf, on which local legend Ted Hughes based his namesake poem, and the Hepstonstall graveyard where his wife - American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath - was controversially buried.
Of course, Hebden Bridge isn’t Yorkshire’s only literary mecca. Perhaps the county’s greatest legacy is that of the Brontës, whose Haworth home lies just twenty minutes away. With 2018 being the bicentenary of Emily’s birth, the Brontë Parsonage is holding several anniversary events and Northern Fiction Alliance publisher Saraband is launching an intriguing new bio on the ‘mysterious’ sister, often overshadowed by her more confident sibling Charlotte.
Manchester has its own icons, from Elizabeth Gaskell to Anthony Burgess, and both regions abound in contemporary talent (including Confidential’s very own Sarah Tierney, whose evocative debut Making Space was released last year and is based in Whalley Range). But the North West has tonnes of places worth visiting, whether you’re a bookworm or not, and that’s something Northern is very keen to highlight: check out these day trip suggestions for starters.
Northern’s Regional Director, Liam Sumpter said: “We’re excited to have teamed up with Manchester Literature Festival to celebrate the rich literary heritage of the north…a big part of our marketing is celebrating everything the north has to offer and (MLF) is a great example of this.”
Cathy Bolton from Manchester Literature Festival said: “Now in its thirteenth year, MLF brings the world’s leading authors to Manchester, providing an opportunity for people to meet their literary heroes and discover new ones. With many of our guests travelling to events by rail we are delighted to be working with Northern on this exciting project, celebrating the landscapes of Manchester and the Calder Valley which have inspired an array of world re-known writers…and continue to shape some of our most promising writers of today.”
Over the past decade, MLF has featured many of the biggest names in literary fiction and spoken word from across the globe, including: Martin Amis, Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Malorie Blackman, William Boyd, Tracy Chevalier, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Drabble, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Anne Enright, Helen Fielding, Neil Gaiman, Seamus Heaney, Alan Hollinghurst, Howard Jacobson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Armistead Maupin, Eimear McBride, Val McDermid, David Mitchell, Walter Mosley, Andrew Motion, Jo Nesbo, Patrick Ness, Audrey Niffenegger, Ben Okri, Arundhati Roy, Kamila Shamsie, Anita Shreve, Lionel Shriver, Kate Tempest, Colm Toíbín, Rose Tremain, Joanna Trollope, Sarah Waters, Fay Weldon, Jeanette Winterson and Xinran.
This year’s festival will take place 5-21 October 2018, with tickets on sale from early August - to find out more and book tickets for special trailblazer events, visit manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk
Main images: Jonathan Pow
'There & Back' by Helen Mort
At ten, my globe
was this tiled atlas,
the neural pathways
it’s always evening
and I’m holding
my dad’s hand, asking
but now we’re moving,
till we’re out of sight,
now I can’t see
of his face.
Dear Cottonopolis, dear town
of moss and bog. I like your empty
benches and your bramble-twine. I like
your leaves of peeling paint. You look
like the teacher I never had -
flint eyes, cloud-coloured hair.
Stay with me, Moston. Tell me
something I don’t know.
- Hasty, 9.27 to Leeds
It’s LOVE backwards in the window
of a terraced house: magenta capitals.
It’s the frayed ribbon of Oldham Road
and the gate that reads STRICKLY
NO DOG WALKERS. It’s grandad
on the platform, waving, jogging
on the spot, pretending
to keep up with us.
Two black dogs on leads
drag a man the length
of a hedgerow. The day
is a caught scent.
My heart fills slowly
like the level of a lock.
You were George-Clooney-grey this morning
and you had your neat industrial tattoos on show.
You were holding an oil-bright magpie
and a single newspaper. I tried
to read over your shoulder
then the sky took all the words away.
- Speechless, 9.47 to Leeds
An old man unseats himself
says give my regards to Ilkley
and his friend answers I will
but Ilkley doesn’t exist here
only a stately home
where the slim windows
seem to multiply
and wind turbines
turn the day over
and over, making
more of it
Your small name
and your big ridges
planted with pylons.
How the horses all turn
to face Manchester
as they graze.
The tinder of felled birches
and the match of 10am
this store of
I was flying from a tunnel.
You were edged by vivid rocks,
wrapped in a woodland shawl. You
had rooks in your hair. I was
moving too fast. Meet me
next time at the junction
with your flashy redbrick jewellery on.
- Speedy, 10.01 to Leeds
Everything is painted sage
or landrover, or brand new wellingtons -
a deeper colour than the lichen
of the church. The hillside
turns away, shaded with jealousy.
A weathervane. The cool, black tracks.
The unsmudged lipstick of the station doors.
The breath of passengers
outside the waiting room
transluscent, rising, mingling.
Come with me, Dee from Bradford
with your tiny silver nose stud,
walk with me from the bridge.
We’ll laugh at ourselves in the windows
of vegetarian cafés, our faces
tasteful bric-a-brac. There’s time
and we’ll run off with it,
find the hills you used to long for
from the carriage window as a child
the bleached, frost coloured flanks
above Heptonstall, like snow hares
patient, tentative, pausing
to test new air.
ii. & back
Small bullet slicing the afternoon
seeks expansive market square,
proud chimney tops and spires
for long journeys into summer,
mud and cuckoos, leaf-canopies
Must have own Post Office.
- Ambitious, 14.24 to Manchester
The poster pinned to the fencepost
says talk to us, so I do.
I describe the low and high places
of the land, the rabbit-coloured
undergrowth, the leaning
improbable sheds. I say what I mean
by stranger and by homecoming
and rooks settle in the branches
and nothing contradicts me,
nothing murmurs its assent.
Little lover, stealing
the duvet of the sky
and curling into it
the valley moon
and reading alone
by the light
of the silver canal.
As if I could step down from
the train, walk blinking through
the birth and boom of wool,
the clamour of the Rochdale Pioneers,
as if I could touch baize,
kerseys and flannels
my body whirring
spun like cotton
on the river’s spindle.
You say ‘mind the step’
and I think of you climbing down
from heaven, treading gingerly.
I know your secrets,
Blue Pits Village, know your given name,
your ancient boundaries.
Oh, build new walls
around me, Castleton. I promise
to tread carefully.
- Cautious, 14.45 to Manchester
I’m still a kid
on the sandpapery platform
with my Reebok Classics on,
waiting for the arc of track
to sharpen with sound,
waiting for the rails to sing,
waiting for the train to show itself,
smelling the vinegar
and hops of home.
and autumn leaves
the size of dawn
on the Welcome mural.
I used to dream of flying
above Accrington and Burnley
Bury, Radcliffe, Pendleton,
fast over Skipton, Gisburn,
Nelson, Colne and touching down
somewhere this map could only
gesture to - black margins,
daubed white with Zeebrugge
Antwerp, Ghent, all the
the world after Oldham
and now, all I want
is to ghost the tracks at night
to the boundary
of the place I was born
and the place my name’s from
at the terrace window
where my grandad’s pianos
still keep their music
land just one right
and hit the keys
with a noise
that might be
ABOUT HELEN MORT
Helen Mort has published two collections of poetry with Chatto & Windus, Division Street (winner of the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize, shortlisted for the Costa Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize) and No Map Could Show Them. Her first novel Black Car Burning is forthcoming in 2019. Her play Medusa toured with Proper Job Theatre Company in autumn 2017, and her short story collection Exire is forthcoming from Wrecking Ball Press. She joined the Manchester Writing School as Lecturer in Creative Writing in September 2016.