Tony Bianchi on Portico Prize Longlist

16 Sep 2010

The longlist for the 2010 Portico Prize  has been announced and includes Tony Bianchi's novel  Bumping  (Alcemi). This is the only book prize exclusively for books about, or set mainly in, the north of England.

This is a prize administered by Manchester’s Portico library. Bumping,  the author’s first novel in English, is set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The shortlist is announced on 5 October and the winner on 18 November at a dinner at Manchester Town Hall with broadcaster and journalist Stuart Maconie as guest speaker. Judges Dr Stella Butler, prize-winning bestseller crime writer Val McDermid and Ed Glinert selected 10 fiction, 9 non-fiction and 2 poetry titles for the longlist. Separate prizes of  £4000 are awarded to the fiction/poetry and non-fiction categories.

The Portico Prize this year celebrates twenty-five years since its establishment in 1985. It is administered by the Portico Library and Gallery which is housed in a Grade II neoclassical building with an impressive Georgian glass and plaster dome, designed by the architect of the Liverpool Lyceum. Opened in 1806, it is the oldest subscription library in the UK and counts among its famous historical members Charlotte Bronte.

Inspired by his father’s memories of his Merchant Navy days in wartime America   Bumping  takes age as a major theme. His portrayal of narrator eighty-six year-old Tom, struggling to adapt to life in a care home is particularly touching. Tom is only one of three main narrators, however, making this a novel with truly wide readership appeal across the generations, as well as one of distinctive contemporary colloquial Tyneside voices. The other narrators are middle-aged way leave officer Frank, and teenagers Nicky and Barry, the latter of whom bumps locks for fun, giving rise to the novel’s title. Other themes include relationships with home and place, male preoccupation with mechanisms and systems, moral evasion, and the tyranny of random events.

Tony Bianchi says,  "Among the books that have influenced me is Ciaran Carson's  The Star Factory.  I'd love to do for Tyneside what Carson did for Belfast in that book, and perhaps I'll work up to it. It needs doing. But it needs to be elliptical, full of the unexpected, the awkward, the plainly barmy!"

North Shields-born and bred Tony Bianchi is of Italian descent but learnt Welsh so well that he took the major Fiction prize in Welsh, the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize, in 2007, as well as being nominated twice over for the Welsh Book of the Year for his novels in the language. He also taught himself the strict poetic metres and was the 2007 judge for Welsh entries of the Ireland-based International Poetry Competition, Féile Filíochta, which he himself won in 2004. The son of a policeman, he spent most of his career in Wales as Literature Director at the Arts Council of Wales, and still lives in Cardiff.   Bumping,  which was published in May 2010, is Bianchi’s first novel in English.

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