The latest Writers at Manchester Met event brings together two of the most exciting and important contemporary novelists working in the city right now, Sarah Butler and Okechukwu Nzelu. The pair will read from their work, chat about their processes and inspiration, and take questions from the audience in this free, open forum, organised by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Sarah Butler, whose writing has been translated into 14 languages, is a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing at the School and she lives in Manchester with her family, while Okechukwu Nzelu was born in Manchester in 1988 and, after reading English at Girton College, Cambridge, has returned to the city to work as a teacher alongside pursuing a writing career.
The pair will read from their work, chat about their processes and inspiration, and take questions from the audience
Sarah’s third novel, Jack & Bet, is out with Picador on 5 March (when she’ll be having a launch event at Simply Books in Bramhall at 7.30pm; free entry). “Even the longest marriages have their secrets…” tempts the tagline, and Jack and Bet have been together a long time – 70 years, in fact. When their son Tommy wants them to move from their Elephant & Castle flat into a care home, the couple (along with their new friend, a young Romanian woman called Marinela) have other ideas and what pans out is a story described as “unforgettable”, about “love and loss, the joys and regrets of a long marriage, and the struggle to find a place to call home”. Sarah has written two previous novels, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love (2013) and Before The Fire (2015), plus a novella, Not Home – written in conversation with people living in unsupported temporary accommodation. The award-winning author of A Good Son, Paul McVeigh says: “I look forward to Sarah Butler’s books which are always honest and tender. Jack & Bet is a moving yet unsentimental story about family and love and the secrets we live with.”
Okechukwu Nzelu’s debut novel, The Private Joys Of Nnenna Maloney, is set in Manchester and follows a half-Nigerian teenager as she searches for the answer to that essential question: who am I? Praised in Metro for its “zingy, insightful observational comedy” and described by Manchester Writing School’s Andrew McMillan as “a magnificent novel, full of wit, warmth and tenderness”, in 2015 the manuscript saw Okechukwu win a New Writing North Award to help him finish it – which he did, publishing it last year with Dialogue. The Guardian calls the book “a vivid picture of people seeking security and identity in the maze of modern-day England. This is fiction as sculpture: skilfully paring down a scene to reveal the shape of the pain hidden within. Jonathan’s search for validation, and Nnenna’s drive to create an identity for herself, are moving and relatable stories, intimately told.” Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams says: “I haven’t been able to put it down… Okechukwu Nzelu has effortlessly captured the tricky nuance of life, love, race, sexuality and familial relationships.” And if you don’t make it to this event, you can also catch Okechukwu – whose other work has appeared in Agenda, PN Review, E-magazine and The Literateur – at the Words Weekend festival on the last weekend of March.