Sunderland author who flies the flag for "Northern, working class women" wins prestigious book prize

A Sunderland-born author who proudly flies the flag for “Northern, working class women” has won a major book prize.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 10:13 am
Sunderland author Jessica Andrews
Sunderland author Jessica Andrews

Jessica Andrews has been named as the winner of The Portico Prize for Literature – the UK’s only award for outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North – and takes home the £10,000 prize for her debut novel Saltwater.

Speaking after the awards ceremony, held at the Portico Library in Manchester, Jess from Newbottle, said: “Winning the prize feels so very special, not just for me but for the kinds of voices given a platform to tell their stories. It is validation for all of the northern, working-class women with fire pooling in their bellies, who are the strongest people I know.”

Drawing upon her own experiences of growing up in Sunderland, Jess’s debut novel, Saltwater, published by Sceptre, is a story of self-discovery by a girl from Sunderland who heads to university in London, taking her northern roots with her.

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Jessica's debut novel, Saltwater

Protagonist Lucy's transition to a new life is more overwhelming than she ever expected. As she works long shifts to make ends meet and navigates chaotic parties from East London warehouses to South Kensington mansions, she still feels like an outsider among her fellow students.

When things come to a head at her graduation, she takes off for Ireland, to seek solace in her late grandfather's cottage and the wild landscape that surrounds it, wondering if she can piece together who she really is.

Simon Savidge, who heads up the judging panel, said: “Saltwater shows the ‘spirit of the North’ is diverse and multifaceted. The North is not just around us, or a particular location to visit – but a place within us. It’s something we take with us when we set out to find our space in the world and when we spread Northern stoicism, joy, grit, humour and hope wherever we go. Saltwater celebrates all this in a powerful, provocative and poignant tale.”

Passionate about her birthplace, Jess, a former St Robert of Newminster pupil who writes both fiction and poetry, was involved in the recent Rebel Women of Sunderland project.

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