After forming just under a year ago, the Manchester Book Society has signed up over 50 members, establishing a community of avid readers who regularly come together for a variety of book-themed events. The Manchester Book Society was one of six reading groups from across the UK selected to shadow the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, tasked with reading and reviewing Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris. Here the group share their experiences of taking part in the reading programme.

Tell us about the Manchester Book Society.

Founded by three friends in June 2022, we created this book club to share our love for reading with others and create a monthly event to meet like-minded book lovers in the Manchester area. We have regulars but we also get to meet new people which is fabulous! As our goal is to promote reading and create a space for booklovers to socialise and bond over their love of literature, we also host social events every month. These have included independent bookshop trips, library tours, silent book clubs, cinema trips, book swap events, and meals out. A fun fact about The Manchester Book Society is that we are one of the fastest growing book clubs in the North West.

What was it like to shadow the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, and what impact has the experience had on your group

We share many of the same values as the Women’s Prize Trust – empowering women’s creativity and developing a community of readers – so to collaborate during this process has been a tremendously exciting experience. In the beginning, it felt surreal to be part of a programme on this scale, especially since our book club is under a year old, but now we feel truly connected to the Women’s Prize Trust, and have become passionate advocates during the process.

We particularly enjoyed how interactive the whole experience was, from networking with our selected author on social media to participating in the live shows. We felt connected during the whole experience as authors can often feel like celebrities, but participating in this programme has offered us a chance to speak to some of the shortlisted authors on a more intimate scale, and ask any burning questions.

During this experience, we learnt about some of the process that goes into selecting a winner for the Women’s Prize, as well as a detailed insight into the writing process from the authors who participated in the live shows. We also learnt about the other programmes under the Women’s Prize umbrella, such as the Discoveries programme, something our book club members were very interested in.

Overall, the process has felt inclusive and empowering, and we are grateful for the opportunity.

What did the group think of Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris?

Our reading group thoroughly enjoyed the book, with some people considering it a new favourite. As it was a book that many people wouldn’t normally pick for themselves, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed it. Everyone felt like they learnt a lot from the book and that it was a valuable reading experience, despite the fact that it wasn’t everybody’s preferred genre. As our allocated book was a fictional take on true events, we discussed the Siege of Sarajevo, with many members noting how they were not familiar with the details of this dark moment in history and had to research certain events as they were reading. We compared the events in this book to the current situation in Ukraine and discussed the similarities between the two. Black Butterflies offered us a new perspective on these current events with many of us feeling even more empathetic to the situation. Overall, everyone reacted positively to the book and found it very moving and an important insight into this particular historical event.

Love the sound of the Manchester Book Society, you can follow them over on instagram to follow their updates and reading journeys!