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Winner of book prize celebrating the north of England revealed

Author Sally J Morgan (Jessica Chubb/PA)
Author Sally J Morgan (Jessica Chubb/PA)

Sally J Morgan has won an award celebrating literature from the north of England for a novel inspired by her experience of being offered a lift by serial killers Fred and Rose West.

Toto Among The Murderers was named winner of the Portico Prize on Thursday night, during an online ceremony hosted from the library in Manchester that gives the award its name.

Set mainly in Leeds and Sheffield in 1973, the book follows Toto and her friends as they begin life after college during a time when the lives of women were overshadowed by the threat of sexual violence.

Toto Among The Murderers by Sally J Morgan (John Murray Press/PA)

The Wests murdered girls and women at their homes in Gloucester in what became known as the “House of Horrors”.

Morgan, who grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in Wellington, New Zealand, receives £10,000 for winning the prize.

She said: “I grew up in Yorkshire, and I have Yorkshire and the North – where I spent a lot of my adult life working – as a big place in my heart.

“I love to write about place, and I wanted to write about a place and a time and stories that I felt were being neglected and in danger of being lost.

“So, to have (Toto Among The Murderers) recognised in this way by the Portico Prize is enormously affirming.”

The Outsiders by James Corbett and Sairish Hussain’s The Family Tree were among the works shortlisted for the fiction, non-fiction and poetry prize, which celebrates writing that evokes the “spirit of the north of England”.

Portico Prize for Literature
The Outsiders by James Corbett was on the shortlist (Eye Books/PA)

Speaking on behalf of the jury, its chair Gary Younge said: “Finding a winner among this year’s shortlist was not easy but ultimately, while all were serious contenders, we were in broad agreement.

“Sally J Morgan’s Toto Among The Murderers vividly evokes a period in recent history with themes that carry clear, if painful, echoes to today – a time when women in the North, in particular, lived in mortal fear of sexual violence made explicit by daily headlines about mass murderers targeting vulnerable women.

“But what comes through is the determination of Toto, the main character, to refuse to allow the fears to define her as she lives a life of reckless adventure, longing and love.”

Younge was joined on the panel by broadcaster Melanie Sykes, poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri and Anita Singh, arts and entertainment editor at The Daily Telegraph.

Lynne Allan, of the Portico Library, said: “The Portico Library is delighted and proud to award the 2022 prize to Sally J Morgan’s Toto Among The Murderers.

“It was a strong field of shortlisted books, each one powerfully evincing the ‘spirit of the North’ in varied and profound ways.

“The historic Portico Library houses a special collection whose volumes narrate the stories of people and events of the past which have lessons and warnings for the present and future.

“Sally’s book does exactly this; it evokes an era many would like to forget, a time when women feared for their lives.

“The issues raised have a disturbing contemporary resonance highlighting the fact that despite some gains, violence against women remains a global pandemic.”

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