Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J Morgan is the winner of the prestigious Portico Prize for 2022. The debut novel was inspired by Morgan’s real-life encounter with serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.
The Portico Award was established by The Portico Library in Manchester in the year 1985 in order to increase awareness about the rich cultural, historical, and literary heritage of North England. The coveted award endeavors to recognize the diversity of North of England and to captivate the public eye with the tales, texture, and voices of the Northern.
The distinguished prize is awarded to a prominent literary work “that best evokes the spirit of the north of England.” The biennial honor is open to new works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. An eligible entry should involve a central theme or subject which engages with the spirit of North through sensibility, character, or place the book is set in.
Morgan was awarded the GBP 10,000 cash prize and an artwork by British artist Barry Anthony Finan from Venture Arts, a Manchester-based charity for creators with learning disabilities. Jessica Andrews became the youngest author to win the Portico prize for her debut book Saltwater in 2020.
Toto Among the Murderers is set in Leeds and Sheffield of the 1970s and follows the life of Jude (nicknamed Toto) and other women as the serial murderers Wests hunt the English countryside for vulnerable women.
The novel’s blurb reads, “It is 1973, and Jude – known to her friends as Toto – has just graduated from art school and moves into a house in a run-down part of Leeds. Jude is a chaotic wild child who flirts with the wrong kind of people, drinks too much, and gets stoned too often. Never happy to stay in one place for very long, her restlessness takes her on hitchhiking jaunts up and down the country. Her best friend, Nel, is the only steady influence Jude has but Nel’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems.”
“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 recognized in this way by the Portico Prize is enormously affirming,” shared Morgan.
The 2022 Portico Prize judges included British journalist Gary Younge, English television broadcaster Melanie Sykes, and Somali-British poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri. The Award ceremony was hosted by Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads with 2020 winner Jessica Andrews and past and present Longlist panel members.
Gary Younge, chair of Judges expressed, “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.”
The 2022 Portico Prize shortlist consisted of Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre); The Outsiders by James Corbett (Eye Books); The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ, Harper Collins); Sea State by Tabitha Lasley (4th Estate); and Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan (Faber).