Prize-winning author Gwendoline Riley is on our list of favourites, with the likes of early novels Cold Water and Sick Notes featuring Manchester as a backdrop, and here she’s talking about highly acclaimed and toe-curlingly tense tome My Phantoms.
Gwendoline Riley’s first novel came out in 2002, and was named one of the five outstanding debut novels of that year by The Guardian Weekend Magazine.
Having studied English at Manchester Metropolitan University, Riley – who was born in London in 1979, and grew up on the Wirral – became literary editor of Manchester’s legendary listings magazine City Life. Gwendoline Riley’s first novel came out in 2002, and was named one of the five outstanding debut novels of that year by The Guardian Weekend Magazine; this was followed by the short story collection Tuesday Nights and Wednesday Mornings in 2004.
Her novels are fairly brief and definitely intense, with a distinctive voice and a poetic style, and a succession of female first-person narrators, each charismatic arty outsiders with a healthy handful of neuroses. The Independent said that to read Riley ‘is to be trapped inside a consciousness whose self-pity, indulgence and petulance are offset by taut style, wry humour, exactitude of image – a consciousness watching itself’.
Gwendoline Riley’s debut, Cold Water, was published when she was 22, and won her a Betty Trask Award. Like its 2004 follow-up Sick Notes, it accurately captures the grey city streets, dive bars and libraries of Manchester; 2007’s Joshua Spassky moves the action to the States, but, as Susan Tranter observes on the British Council website, it ‘takes the girl out of Manchester, but perhaps not the Manchester out of the girl’. It snaffled her the John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award. Riley’s fourth novel Opposed Positions came out in 2012 then 2017’s First Love picked up shortlist entries for both the prestigious Goldsmiths Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of a young woman’s dysfunctional marriage to an older man, and explores the effect of her relationships with her parents.
Family ties and failures during upbringings also drives the story for her latest novel, My Phantoms, described as ‘a bold, heart-stopping portrayal of a failed familial bond, which brings humour, subtlety and new life to the difficult terrain of mothers and daughters’. Gwendoline Riley will be discussing this acclaimed sixth novel with Sarah Tyson from Books Up North.