The Guardian recently profiled a collection of authors who are publishing UK debuts in 2015. The list includes Jessica Cornwell, the granddaughter of John le Carre, whose The Serpent Papers is a literary thriller about a rare book expert; and Laura Barnett, who wrote a book that captures the lives of two people in three parallel narratives called The Versions of Us. It also features a book I just started reading, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper, about an 80-year woman from rural Canada who walks 2,000 miles to see the ocean for the first time in her life.
The article provides background on eight authors, and their works, and then blurbs a handful more. It is nice way to read about some new and interesting authors, though the books might not publish in the US as soon as they do in the UK.
Also in the UK, the Costa Awards were announced and Emma Healey won the Costa First Novel Award for her book Elizabeth is Missing. It is a story about an older woman with dementia who decides to search for her missing best friend. The book has been described as an engaging psychological mystery.
In the US, Mitchell S. Jackson won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for his debut novel, The Residue Years. I have a copy of this book on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it. It has been noted for its unique narrative style (non-linear and with unconventional grammar and punctuation). Set in the 90s in Portland, OR, it tells the story of a young African-American man and his mother and how they struggle to make lives for themselves in a world where crack cocaine dominates their neighborhood.
So many intriguing books to read and never enough time to read them all! Unless those of us on the east coast get snowed in later tonight 😉
The Spinning Heart
By Donal Ryan
Steerforth Press, 2014
Told in multiple voices, The Spinning Heart recounts the story of a small Irish town after the recent financial collapse, bringing to life the struggles of people who can’t find work, are stuck in dead end jobs or bought property in ghost town developments that were only partially built. Ryan is able to bring a community of characters to life, while telling the story of a murder and a kidnapping, in just 156 pages, with a different character narrating each chapter.
I don’t want to say too much about the book, as it is worth meeting the characters and letting the story unfold on the page, but I was deeply impressed by Ryan’s ability to create depth with such brevity. Many debuts publish in the 300 – 500 page range. We live in a literary world where we often reward length over quality. But Ryan’s book is a testament to the power of condensing a story. There is not an unnecessary word in the book. The Spinning Heart was rejected over 40 times before Ryan found a publisher. I am glad he persisted with his submissions.
Ryan lives in Ireland. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2013.
A new blog, 35 over 35, launched at the end of last year and it celebrates writers who debut over the age of 35. As a “late bloomer” writer myself, I always enjoy reading about people who challenge the notion that great books are written only by the young. Another blog in this vein, which I wrote about a couple years ago, is Bloom, which focuses on first books by authors over forty.
The books on the 2014 35 over 35 list feature poets, novelists and non-fiction writers. Some of the writers I have mentioned in this blog already, including Mira Jacob and Smith Henderson. Another on the list is Julia Fierro, whose debut, Cutting Teeth I read over the holiday and will be reviewing later this month, but some of the authors were new to me. A few that stood out were:
Accidental Jihad, by Krista Bremer
A memoir about an American woman who gets pregnant with a Libyan man and moves to Libya to live with him and his family. The book explores how two people from different cultures negotiate their love for each other.
I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes
A debut thriller about a retired forensic crime investigator, who is brought out of retirement to stop a terrorist who wants to destroy America.
Mating for Life, by Marissa Stapley
A novel about a former folk singer who disdained monogamy, having three kids with three men, until in her 60s she falls for a man who wants to marry her.
Happy New Year all!