11 debut novels from new writers set to be released this year
By Hannah Stephenson
This year’s new authors are covering a cornucopia of subjects ranging from chilling crime (snapped up in lucrative auctions) to love stories set to be adapted for screen.
Here are just some of the new names that should bring joy during lockdown and beyond. But keep an eye on publishing dates, which could be prone to change…
Thrills and chills
1. Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (4th Estate, Feb 4)
Online fakery is certainly a zeitgeist topic and this terrific debut sees a young woman who suspects her boyfriend of cheating go through his phone. In doing so, she discovers he has a secret online identity as a conspiracy theorist. It provides much food for thought about how to maintain a sense of self in a world of online fraudsters.
2. People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd (Mantel, Jan 14)
Husband-and-wife writing team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos collaborated for this taut, tight thriller under the pen name Ellery Lloyd. Told from three viewpoints – an Instagram influencer mum, her cynical former novelist husband and an anonymous follower with a terrible grudge – it’s a great contemporary subject, examining Instagram culture and the consequences of sharing too much of yourself on social media. Plus, it’s the first in a two-book deal won in a five-way auction.
3. Girl A by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins, Jan 21)
Watch out for HarperCollins’ lead debut this year, acquired in a fierce auction – Girl A is a story of survival and hope as a set of siblings deal with the aftermath of growing up in their ‘house of horrors’ at the hands of their father, a religious fanatic. TV rights have been snapped up by Sony with the Chernobyl director attached, book rights have been sold in 26 territories and early endorsements have flooded in from Chris Whitaker, Louise O’Neill, Jessie Burton, Jeffery Deaver and more.
4. Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz (Sphere, May 13)
This lead fiction debut is less a whodunnit, more a who was the victim and what did she leave behind? It features two main female voices – Alice and Ruby – one is a murder victim and the other, the person who finds her body. Alice is sure Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life – and death. And Ruby – struggling to forget what she saw – finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.
Love and relationships
5. The One Hundred Years Of Lenni And Margot by Marianne Cronin (Doubleday, Feb 18)
This sparkling debut explores the relationship between 17-year-old Lenni, who is living on the terminal ward of a Glasgow hospital, and fellow patient, 83-year-old Margot, who she meets in the art therapy room. Together they share stories from Lenni’s short life and Margot’s long one, celebrating our huge capacity for love and friendship when we need it most.
6. The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson (Bantam, Apr 1)
This ultimately uplifting book is a story of dreams dashed and then realised again, told alternately through the eyes of 12-year-old Norman and his mum, Sadie. Norman’s dreams of appearing at the Edinburgh Festival with his comedy partner Jax are dashed when Jax dies suddenly. Seeing this, his single mother steps in and takes the reins to get him to the festival, doubling as a road trip to find his missing dad.
7. Snowflake by Louise Nealon (Manilla Press, May 13)
Nealon is a new Irish talent who brings us this literary coming-of-age novel about a young woman who lives on a farm in rural Ireland with her dream-obsessed mother. She escapes her sheltered village life to spread her wings at university, but finds things aren’t all they seem. TV rights have already been snapped up by Element Pictures, the team behind Normal People.
Race and identity
8. We Are All Birds Of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (#Merky Books, Jan 21)
In a story spanning generations, that moves between Uganda and London over a difficult, unsettled century, this debut sees Sameer, a successful lawyer, return to his family home because of an unexpected tragedy, where he begins to unravel his family history. The author, who is an international dispute resolution lawyer, bases the story on her own, moving from present day London to 1960s Uganda, exploring racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong.
9. How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (Tinder, Jan 21)
Booker prize-winner Bernardine Evaristo has described this as ‘a hard-hitting and unflinching novel from a bold new writer who tackles head-on the brutal extremes of patriarchal abuse’. Cherie Jones, a black female lawyer from Barbados, sets this story in 1984 Barbados, when a heavily pregnant woman finds her husband fleeing the scene of a bungled burglary where a white man has been shot dead in front of his wife. The novel is a powerful exploration of women surviving male violence with resourcefulness and courage.
10. King Of Rabbits by Karla Neblett (William Heinemann, Mar 25)
This coming-of-age story explores the magic and confusion of childhood, following Kai, part of a mixed race family living on a rural council estate, and how he perceives the world. Despite his difficult background – his three sisters have different fathers and his mother is being encouraged into crack addiction by his crooked dad – Kai’s top priority is to become the fastest runner in school, like Linford Christie. King Of Rabbits covers class, race and how society so often fails young working class men.
11. A Net For Small Fishes by Lucy Jago (Bloomsbury, Feb 11)
We’ve had so much Tudor fiction over the years, from bestselling authors including Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory, that it’s great to escape to a different era, as Lucy Jago takes us to the court of James I, in which she revisits a real scandal: the poisoning of courtier and poet Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613. The story is angled from the point of view of the two women who were involved and their motivations, considering lust, witches and sorcery along the way.