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Dazzling Debuts & Incredible Indies: The Unsung Heroes of 2020

2020 has been a year to remember. We have seen some incredible debut novels, as well as indie publishers, flourishing amidst unpredictable times. Traversing the world of publishing when marketing has been scarce hasn’t been easy, so we are shining a spotlight on the books and publishers that have prospered in this harsh environment.

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray Press)

Shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize, Michelle Gallen has stormed onto the scene with this darkly comic and unforgettable novel. It grapples with tricky themes while remaining a funny and beautiful insight into life in a small town. Fair warning: you’ll definitely be craving fish and chips after reading!

Majella is considered odd by the other people in her small town. She leads a self-contained life that revolves around routine. Her safe and predictable existence is thrown into disarray at the loss of her grandmother. She must navigate her changing life and face the realities of moving forward. Despite the difficulties this creates, it may just be her one chance at escape.

Exit Management by Naomi Booth (Dead Ink Books)

When looking at September’s line-up, Naomi Booth’s Exit Management cannot be missed, being published by Liverpool-based Dead Ink Books on the tenth. Exit Management explores contemporary Britain and modern life through the characters Callum, Lauren and Joszef, as their lives merge in darkly enlightening ways.

Callum is drifting, living with his parents, and working a strange job looking after rich people’s houses. One in particular: a beautiful red building inhabited by a man named Joszef. An unlikely friendship blossoms between the two and when Joszef’s health deteriorates, he turns to Callum for help. But Callum meets Lauren, a calculated and ambitious woman running away from her past. She has reinvented herself once before and will do anything to gain the perfect life.

Whirligig by Andrew James Greig (Fledgling Press)

Edinburgh’s Fledgling Press is an independent publisher excelling across the board – with Historical fiction, YA and a roster full of award winners. Greig’s Whirligig is a fierce new addition to the established ‘tartan noir’ genre – a Scottish Crime novel, shortlisted for both 2020’s CWA New Blood Dagger and McIlvanney Prizes in literature. Keying in on a secretive highland community, Whirligig introduces a host of new characters that have been acclaimed by readers and critics alike. With an atmospheric tone akin to that of authors such as Benjamin Myers, this addition to Fledgling’s catalogue is not to be missed.

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark (Influx Press)

Not to be deterred by a global pandemic, this outstanding debut was released in July, taking the book world by storm. Omnipresent in the book’s marketing, Clark has stamped her wit and talent on society and is a driving force for Northern voices. Boy Parts is dark but humorous, juxtaposes strength and vulnerability and is a must-have for any bookshelf this year.

Set in Newcastle, Irina is a fetish photographer who seeks out her projects in unusual places around her hometown. Irina is due to showcase her talent in a trendy London Gallery, but rather than being her saviour, her already erratic behaviour spirals further out of control, treating readers to an enticing exploration of gender, class and sexuality which challenges expectation.

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (Wednesday Books)

Where Dreams Descend is a must-read book by debut author Janella Angeles. Offering the ideal mix of a high-stakes magical competition and a headstrong female protagonist, this YA fantasy novel is perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern. Plus, it is the first in a duology that will leave readers excited for more of the dynamic trio of characters leading the story.

Kallia is a powerful magician who wants nothing more than to perform. However, her true shine is hidden away in an isolated club run by its master Jack. When she finds herself in the midst of a dangerous competition that she never would have dreamed of starring in, she discovers reluctant support in Demarco, a former magician who retired his magic for reasons he must keep hidden.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (Orion)

Debut novelist Naoise Dolan breathes fresh life into one of fiction’s popular tropes: the love triangle. Exciting Times, the hot item in a seven-way fictional auction, tells the story of twenty-two-year-old Ava who has just moved from Ireland to Hong Kong. Navigating boundaries, ethics and Irish identity, Dolan offers a witty and dry voice to an intriguing story of motivation.

When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves teaching English grammar to rich children, a certain boy called Julian, a friend called Edith who listens to her when she talks and all things money, love, cynicism and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.


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