What does it mean to be a Geordie: Newcastle-born writer's book deconstructs the Geordie identity

Is hailing from Tyneside a blessing or a curse? This dilemma is explored in a new book by Newcastle-born writer Joe Sharkey

Author Joe Sharkey who has written a book titled, ' Akenside Sydrome' about the Geordie identity
Author Joe Sharkey who has written a book titled, ' Akenside Sydrome' about the Geordie identity

As Ant and Dec collect award after award and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini dominates Saturday night television on the X Factor, it may seem it has never been more fashionable to be a Geordie.

But is hailing from Tyneside and all the stereotypes and connotations that come with it really a blessing?

Or can it be a curse as we try to make our way in the world and seek recognition for our talents and professions, and not simply for being ‘a Geordie’.

This dilemma is explored in a new book by Newcastle-born writer Joe Sharkey.

‘Akenside Syndrome – Scratching the Surface of the Geordie Identity’, is based on a condition Joe believes many Geordies, grappling with their identities, suffer from.

It is named after Mark Akenside, the 18th century son of a Newcastle butcher who went on to become a successful poet and physician to Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Akenside was said to be touchy and sensitive about his humble home city.

And Joe believes there are still many Geordies suffering from ‘Akenside Syndrome’ which he describes as; “A condition of feeling ambivalent towards Newcastle or Tyneside despite often retaining a strong emotional bond with and/or sincere affection for the area. A vague sense of unease and feeling of not quite belonging or fitting in.”

In researching the book Joe poured over scores of editions of The Journal and Evening Chronicle and explored the views of well-known Tynesiders from AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson to Big Brother contestant Narinder Kaur to find out how being a Geordie has impacted on their lives both in and out of Newcastle.

But Joe told The Journal it was his own experiences as a Geordie who left the area that formed the theory that would eventually become his book.

The 41-year-old, who was born in Newcastle’s West End but moved away to study, said he was intrigued by the reactions being a Geordie attracted in his new home, Surrey.

“It was the reactions you get to being a Geordie while you are away,” he said. “Some of the stereotypes are just ludicrous.

“It really is a blessing and a curse. I got this idea of ‘Akenside Syndrome’ after leaving Newcastle.

“As I began to research it I realised other people had experienced what I had and it was quite reassuring that it wasn’t just me. I felt compelled to write this book. It helped me to get to know myself better and get to know my fellow Geordies better.

“I’m aware that it might not be welcomed in all quarters. And it is provocative. But I think it’s an overwhelmingly empathetic book.”

As Joe began researching his book he discovered what he had came to call ‘Akenside Syndrome’ was particularly prevalent amongst people living in the public eye.

Actress Jill Halfpenny has spoken of how she wanted to be known as an ‘actress’ not a ‘Geordie actress’.

And talented comedians from the region have spoken of their hope that their success was because they are funny, not because simply being a Geordie is funny to audience’s outside of Tyneside.

The book features interviews with the likes if Brendan Healy, Tim Healy, Chris Donald, Simon Donald and Graeme Danby amongst others.

“For some celebrities their ‘calling card’ is simply being a Geordie,” said Joe. “And for some being a Geordie has had to become part of their act.

“Just because Ant and Dec are on Saturday Night Take Away and Cheryl is on X Factor it doesn’t mean that accent doesn’t matter anymore, as some would have you believe.

One of the recurring themes of the book is ‘escaping’ Tyneside and what that can mean for a Geordie.

“Sting, Jimmy Nail, Robson Green and even Simon Donald of Viz have all talked of a sense of having escaped, or a need to escape the area,” said Joe. Read one way at least, Billy Elliot is about escaping the North East, and Eric Burdon has said that he loved the North East so much but had to leave, because to know the North East you have to leave.

“And there’s a particular song by The Animals that I’ve come to think of as the Akenside Syndrome anthem: We Gotta Get Out of this Place.”

The Akenside Syndrome begins by exploring what Joe has identified as ‘the four pillars of Geordie identity’; class, accent, drink and football.

The book then goes on to look at race, politics, sexism and homosexuality on Tyneside.

The Journal and its sister paper the Chronicle feature heavily in the book. And Joe said his research would have been impossible without his local papers.

So what did Joe discover about what it means to be a Geordie while writing his book?

He wants to leave this question to his readers.

“This book is meant to be provocative. It’s meant to make you think.”

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