Voice of the north: Author Karen Woods’ rise from illiteracy to become ‘Manchester’s answer to Martina Cole’

By Ben Ireland

Already being hailed as ‘Manchester’s answer to Martina Cole’, author Karen Woods struggled with basic reading and writing until only a few years ago.

Until 2009 the mum-of-four was working as a cleaner, unable to read books and with no qualifications, but now she is currently working on no less than her seventh novel, Sleepless in Manchester.

And the Manchester-born writer is currently in the process of turning her debut narrative Broken Youth into an ITV drama and a play, showing at Salford’s Lowry Theatre next year.

Her gritty, down to earth writing is epitomised by Broken Youth, which has even inspired music from Manchester bands and attracting interest from Bez of the Happy Mondays.

While working as a cleaner, her former employers offered her a place on an adult literacy course at Openshaw College.

It may have taken a couple of gos until she passed, but it was here where her talent was awoken, ‘inspired’ by her supportive tutors.

When asked ‘What is your life ambition?’, Karen said she wanted to write a book. Brimming with the confidence handed her from the literacy course, she started writing Broken Youth.

When Karen showed the book to teacher Christine Ansell, she was advised to take it to a local publisher.

This was done, and six months later it was on the shelves, reaching number 1 on Waterstones bestsellers list.

Ms Ansell said: “She is very special and deserves all her success. I feel privileged to have been part of it!”

Broken Youth went down a storm. Voiced in Manchester dialect, Karen described her writing as: “Raw, gritty, real life situations that we can all relate to.”

And Karen is thankful for her opportunity.

“I left school with no qualifications whatsoever,” she said. “So for me, even to get signed is amazing because there are some really talented people out there who haven’t.”

Following the remarkable success of Broken Youth, Karen’s readers were desperate for more.

Confident in her story’s success, before ‘Broken Youth’ was on the shelves she had been working away on Black Tears.

Shameless star Rebecca Atkinson wrote the book’s foreword. In it she described the book as ‘a bittersweet insight into Manchester life that is heart-breakingly accurate’.

Karen went from strength to strength, and has produced four more novels, with another on its way.

She is also working on an auto-biography of Karl Power, the infamous Mancunian hoaxer, known for his invasions of major sporting events, including an appearance in a Manchester United Champions League team photo.

Karl, who went to the same school as her, described Karen as ‘the voice of The North’. He’s happy she is on board to write his life story, as he feels she really connects with the everyday life of your average Mancunian.

Karen’s story is due to feature in an episode of new ITV drama The Estate, to air later this year. Each week will see a different account of real life from the council estates around the U.K.

Next in line for Karen will be the stage adaptation of Broken Youth, being shown at The Lowry at Salford Quays on November 29.

Karen said the casting had been ‘a roller coaster of emotion’ with around 50-60 actors turning up for the auditions.

Some famous faces were overlooked for parts as Karen stressed the importance of keeping it Manchester.

She added: “I wanted real life people who know what it’s like to grow up in that environment.”

After the Manchester show, Karen is hopeful she can take the play to Liverpool, Birmingham and the capital.

Karen’s ascent from obscurity to literary ground-breaker is an inspirational example of natural talent for putting pen to paper. Her talent is not one moulded by the country’s best schools, and really relates to a people who don’t have a host of exemplary role models.

In Karen, they are truly given a voice.

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