A Book Tour of the UK
By Mary Karayel and Hayley Cadel
Summer is finally here! Therefore, for Issue 51, and as many will be taking holidays, the Trends team have decided to take you on a book tour of the UK. Since a common criticism of the industry is its London-centricity, we have chosen to take you outside of London to look at books being published across various areas of the UK. Beyond this, we discover that, once outside London, the industry itself sees smaller presses acting far more regionally.
First stop on our tour is Scotland, where an obvious place to start is with Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize win, Shuggie Bain. Shuggie Bain tells the story of the relationship between Shuggie and his siblings and Agnes, their mother. The rich characterisation in Shuggie Bain creates complex figures and has you sympathising with Agnes alongside feeling exasperated. However, in his second book, Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart has cemented himself into the Scottish canon. Moreover, we would also recommend Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes, especially for fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Scabby Queen begins with the suicide of the main character, Clio Campbell, followed by the narrative progressing through the accounts of various characters whom she knew throughout her life. Thematically rich, Scabby Queen deals with the theme of perception, as the book tries to uncover Clio’s exact character. Finally, moving out of the central belt and heading up north to the Shetland Islands, we find The Trials of Mary Johnsdaughter by Christine de Luca, published by Edinburgh-based Luath Press. This is a historical fiction novel which narrates the story of Mary, who navigates being pregnant and unmarried in an intensely Christian environment. A striking aspect of all three of these narratives is the use of dialogue and Scots dialect, with all three being similarly enriched by their local dialect.
Now onto Wales, where Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men, shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, takes place in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay. Set in 1952, Mahmood Mattan is accused of a crime he did not commit and, as the trial progresses, his sense of prevailing justice is tested. Additionally, published by the independent Cardigan-based publisher, Parthian Books, Queer Square Mile is an anthology of queer Welsh stories. Spanning genres, Queer Square Mile ranges from science fiction to surrealist modernism to showcase the tradition of queer storytelling from Wales. This anthology grapples with being Welsh and queer, as well as what this has meant at various points in history while shedding light on what has often been shrouded in secrecy. Many of the stories in this collection have previously only been available in Welsh, however, in new translations, this can now be enjoyed by English speakers also!
Northern Irish literature has had a huge resurgence in the last few years, evidenced by Anna Burns winning the Man Booker Prize in 2018 for her novel Milkman. The novel is set in rural Ardoyne in the 1970s, the height of the Troubles. Recent publications such as Alix O’Neill’s The Trouble’s with Us, Kerri ni Dochartaigh’s Thin Places and Olivia Fitzsimons’ The Quiet Whispers Never Stop prove that this is still a fruitful sub-genre of Northern Irish fiction and non-fiction. But Northern Irish writers extend their considerations beyond the Troubles: there is more to Northern Ireland than a history of violence and lots of new writers are making sure we, as readers, are aware of it. In June, Nimah Mulvey, a former commissioning editor from Kilenny published her debut short story collection entitled Hearts and Bones: Love Songs for Late Youth. The collection explores love in all forms, from romantic connections to familial love, and stories set throughout Ireland. Emilie Pine, famous for her 2018 essay collection Notes to Self has now released her first novel called Ruth & Pen. Published by Hamish Hamilton in May, the story is set in Dublin in 2019 and follows middle-aged Ruth and teenage Pen as they navigate all of life’s tribulations: “Ruth's marriage to Aidan is in crisis. Today she needs to make a choice - to stay or not to stay, to take the risk of reaching out, or to pull up the drawbridge. For teenage Pen, today is the day the words will flow, and she will speak her truth to Alice, to ask for what she so desperately wants.” These are two incredibly exciting texts which merely scratch the surface on what Northern Irish authors have to offer.
And that was our whistle stop tour around the UK through literature! We hope we have inspired you to consume some more regional fiction which is in abundance at the moment. With the rise of more publishing houses seeking to decentralise the industry, such as HarperNorth, we think that publishing will gain a lot of new diverse writers. Which region will you start to explore first?