When I was nine I wanted be a writer, or an ‘author’ as we used to say before that particular Americanism took over. As with other childhood dreams (play guitar on Top Of The Pops, attend Rydell High, become an X-Man) nothing came of it, then grown-up things like University, relationships, work and partying took over.
Then I came back to the idea, wrote a short novel that was never published, then a longer novel that was never published. It became frustrating writing things that nobody would ever read, so I decided to start a blog where I could put all the stuff that wasn’t fiction, and hopefully people might even see it…
In April 2008 I started Manhattanchester, the name a fantasy hybrid of Manhattan, the place I dreamed of being, and Manchester, the place I lived and loved. I wrote about my life in Manchester and my obsession with New York and anything else that seemed interesting, kind of like an online diary.
My desire to write fiction surfaced again so I signed up to the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course proved demanding, especially while working full time, but I didn’t want to let Manhattanchester fall by the wayside. The solution was something I’d had on the backburner for a while; an idea to interview residents of Manchester with a list of twelve questions:
- What’s your name?
- What do you do?
- Where do you live?
- Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
- What’s great about this city?
- What’s not so great?
- Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
- Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
- What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
- What do you think is missing from Manchester?
- If I was Mayor for a day I would …
- Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?
This effectively turned me from blogger into editor, a huge labour-saving device. Luckily for me, the responses to my questionnaire proved to be fascinating, beautifully expressed, funny, curmudgeonly and endlessly entertaining. Over the last year it’s become one of the most interesting and widely read things on my blog. (And if anyone is reading who would like to be interviewed, please do get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org).
The best thing about the ‘Manchester: In Residents’ series is that it showcases the breadth of people and activity going on in the city, and because it’s independent and unsponsored it lets people bitch and kvetch as much as they praise and admire. To date I have interviewed journalists, legal secretaries, publishers, photographers, academics, actors, DJs, curators, PhD students, designers, musicians and booksellers. Each time I read a new submission my excitement about Manchester, and sometimes my impatience with it too, is fully revived.
Here are some random highlights:
There are three major theatres right on our doorstep, which means whenever a show I want to see is on tour, I don’t have to travel miles out of the city to see it. I can go enjoy the West End’s finest without having to walk more than half an hour
For a city of over two million people, there are not enough visible hot single straight men and those that disagree should make themselves known.
There aren’t many places I can’t get to on my bike. Social circles are easily maintained, simply because no one has to travel longer than thirty minutes to find you.
Canal Street. I’m not one for banging on about ‘the good old days’ but it seems eternally stuck in 2001, which is so sad as it was once a pioneer in Manchester culture. It’s dated, dangerous (and not in a good way) and refuses to move forward in its ideology.
I remember the punks that used to hang around the entrance to the underground Arndale Market, and I remember the Northern Quarter when it was just fabric shops and disused buildings.
I love the way it’s quite easy to start a new club night, or open a new store, or make a little niche for yourself up here.
Bohemian Grove, Urbis Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, MMU, the Star and Garter, Soup Kitchen, Cord, Chorlton Green, Mint Lounge, Kraak, Common, 2022NQ…
I’m interested in the fact this series is called ‘Residents’ – the kind of peripatetic feel of the city (despite strong ties) is one of its strengths. There are people from around the world here doing fun, crazy, challenging and innovative things. It is also a problem, maybe. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of ‘proper’ Mancs I know well and I’m not sure that I have any real sense of the city – its sprawl, its horror, its violence.
The area around Chapel Street doesn’t reveal its gems easily; it really makes you work for them.
Dear Manchester, your theatre’s rubbish…
Image: Dee, from ‘Manchester: In Residents’: ‘I remember having just visited and saying to my husband, ‘Why aren’t we living here?’ So we moved here…’
I have yet to do the questionnaire myself, but I will, sometime in 2013. In the meantime, I will respond to the previous guest curator Kenn Taylor’s question, ‘What hidden gem in Manchester would you recommend?’ It’s a toughie, not because there is a dearth of things to talk about, but because we are lucky in this city to have a plethora of bloggers and online listings to root out everything old and new that’s worth experiencing. They’re all nicely filling the gap where I still think a hearty, comprehensive and beautifully-designed listings magazine could and should be! (More of that in my next and final post). But as for Manchester tips I would say: try the eggs cocotte at Thyme Out in West Didsbury; try the guest ales at The Molly House on Richmond Street; try any small gig at Islington Mill; try anything with paneer in from The Spice Kitchen in Rusholme; try coming to either one of my parties at Kraak, Off The Hook for RnB and hip-hop, or Drunk At Vogue for disco; try cycling around the unfinished urban vision that is Ancoats; try finding a hidden gem, and be sure to tell me when you do…
Featured image: the hated Piccadilly Wall, learn more from ‘Manchester: In Residents’ here.
Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.