Julia Darling’s top 10 books about northern England

Julia Darling is a playwright, poet and novelist and the winner of the 2003 Northern Rock Foundation writer’s award. Her second novel, The Taxi Driver’s Daughter, is longlisted for the Booker Prize 2003

1. Out of One Eye: Jimmy Forsyth, photographer by Anthony Flowers and Derek Smith
This is a book about Jimmy’s life and shows a range of his photographs up to the present day. I find these pictures both magical and memorable. Jimmy lets us look into the eyes of people in the north-east and see their dreams and hopes. It’s a book I return to again and again.

2. 1956: a collection of short stories edited by Margaret Wilkinson
Some of these short stories show us a refreshing view of the north-east, as seen by a dazed New Yorker. Through Wilkinson’s eyes we look with wonder at over-heated sitting rooms and coal fires in August. We hear the confusing dialect and puzzle over strange words. Some stories are set in New York and all have a sense of being ‘outside.’

3. Counting Stars by David Almond
Almond is a wonderful short story writer. His work is filled with a kind of visionary tenderness. You can feel the history of the north-east, as far back as St Bede, running through his veins. His writing makes me feel happy.

4. Cousin Coat: selected poems by Sean O’Brien

O’Brien inhabits an imaginary and dangerous north. his world is one that is filled with visions and demons and the dark and forgotten parts of England; his style is fruity and compelling. This poetry is full of new ideas and is always a joy to pull down from the shelf. Some of it is vehement and angry, but there are tender poems too that make me feel like weeping.

5. Broke Through Britain by Peter Mortimer

Peter Mortimer has been living and writing in the north-east forever. Broke Through Britain tells the story of Peter’s journey on foot from south to north when he relied on the kindness of strangers, having not one penny in his pocket. It’s a book about the English capacity for kindness (and cruelty) and is strangely gripping.

6. Lintel by Gillian Allnut
Allnut’s poetry is vivid and ethereal and you have to work hard at it, but I have recently become a complete fan, and find her work marvelously other-worldly and important. You feel as if every line has been considered over months. I think she is a visionary.

7. Loving Geordie by Andrea Badenoch
Andrea has written several excellent crime books, and this one is the most recent. It inhabits the landscape of the slum clearances in Scotswood in the 60s at the time of the Mary Bell murders. She also used some of Jimmy Forsyth’s images as inspiration. It’s a really moving, cracking read that shows us a northern landscape at its most terrifying.

8. 2nd: the second collection by Andrew Waterhouse
This collection has just been published by Rialto Press. Waterhouse was an emerging poet at the time of his death in 2001. His work is tremendously intelligent and also fragile, and is filled with humour that is never cynical.

9. Only A Small Boat by Cynthia Fuller
Fuller’s poems are thoughtful and impressive. She notices the details in domestic life, and speaks of subjects like grown up children visiting home, of old flames who won’t leave you alone. These poems are full of female wisdom and sensitivity and, like all the poetry I enjoy, they ‘speak to my condition.’

10. The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook
This is an entertaining, witty book about a great teenage character called Rowena. The cover makes it looks light and frothy, but in fact it’s extremely sharp and very well written. It makes you laugh and cringe simultaneously.

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Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2003/mar/20/bestbooks.fiction