Introducing the top ten emerging authors of 2024.
For each year starting in 2014, the writers and editors at Observer New Review have evaluated numerous upcoming first novels by authors based in the UK and Ireland in order to highlight the best ones. Our selection for 2024 is as follows. As always, our only criteria was the quality of the books in our possession. This year’s list includes titles that have been recommended by the industry and acquired by large publishers, as well as a clever choice from a smaller independent press. We also have a third book from an already acclaimed writer of short stories, and even a debut from one of our own Observer journalists. These are simply the books that we personally rated the highest – and we believe you will enjoy them as well.
In the past, we introduced you to three highly acclaimed books: Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and Sheena Patel’s I’m a Fan. Our selections from last year continue to receive recognition, with Tom Crewe’s The New Life winning the Orwell prize for fiction and Michael Magee (Close to Home) being awarded the Rooney prize for outstanding Irish writers under 40. Both authors are also finalists for this month’s Nero debut fiction prize, alongside Stephen Buoro, one of our picks for 2023.
We could go on – K Patrick became one of Granta’s best young British novelists, Jacqueline Crooks was up for the Women’s prize, Moses McKenzie (on our list in 2022) won the Hawthornden prize – but isn’t what matters most the books themselves? From Vivaldi’s Venice to the Georgian civil war; from an all-female commune to a Call of Duty group chat; from a two-year-old’s temper tantrum to the small talk of small-town crooks avenging a bungled drugs run, this year’s authors know no bounds. Whether you’re in search of laughter or terror, a gritty dispatch from 21st-century Britain or a ravishing voyage into the past – quite literally, in the case of one genre-melding page-turner about time travel – another year’s excellent reading begins here. Anthony Cummins
The release date for Whale Fall is April 25th and it is published by Picador.
I voluntarily took on the undesirable washing up shifts in order to be in the background, making notes.
Elizabeth O’Connor composed Whale Fall while in a cafe. However, she did not type away on a laptop or sip on a coffee like one might assume. Instead, she hastily wrote on receipts and food order slips while fulfilling kitchen duties. “I deliberately volunteered for the undesirable dishwashing shifts so I could be in the rear, jotting down ideas,” she explains.
If this makes it sound as though it was written in a hurry, nothing could be further from the truth. “It took four years to write, which sounds odd, since it is such a short book,” she says. “But I like to pare things down.”
In a remote island community near Wales, far from any coffee shops, during the time leading up to the second world war, there is a beautiful and thought-provoking tale of growing up in a society on the brink of major transformation. The arrival of two researchers from the mainland, studying the island’s traditions for a book, disrupts the lives of the residents and opens up possibilities for the main character, Manod, to dream of a different future.
The story was inspired by O’Connor’s grandparents, both of whom grew up in remote communities – her grandmother in an isolated village in north Wales and her grandfather off the west coast of Ireland on the Blasket Islands, which were abandoned in the 1950s. “They both came to the mainland and lost the languages they spoke, Welsh and Gaelic. I was really interested in their lives and what that passage meant, and what it was like for them to make that move,” she says.
O’Connor, 32, was born in Birmingham, and studied English at Durham and King’s College London before returning to her hometown to complete her PhD in 2019. She has worked at the University of Birmingham ever since. A couple of years ago, she started learning Welsh and she weaves the language through Whale Fall to hugely atmospheric effect, along with Welsh folksongs, traditions and ancient beliefs.
O’Connor credits Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These as a major influence for her own novel, which is only 207 pages long and contains no unnecessary words. She admires Keegan’s ability to write concisely and without excess.
Besides your grandparents, what is it about coastal landscapes that captivates you?
As a PhD researcher, I have dedicated a portion of my studies to this topic. I am fascinated by the ever-changing nature of the shoreline, where tides and shifting sands create a dynamic environment for both animals and flora to adapt and thrive. Similarly, the main character Manod is constantly navigating between two worlds and struggling to find her place in both. Beyond this personal connection, I also believe that the shoreline holds important implications for our present time. With the looming threat of climate change, the vulnerability of our shorelines becomes increasingly apparent. Additionally, the shoreline holds cultural significance as it plays a role in defining our national identity. This is evident in how far-right rhetoric surrounding Brexit and immigration often centers around our island status. In my novel, I explore these ideas in depth.
Are you heavily involved in Manod?
There is likely a reason for her strong desire to make something of her life and her persistent nature, which may have originated from me – the version of myself who was writing in the café and thinking, “I need to escape from here.”
Are you currently writing a second book?
Yes, and it’s back in the world of dog shows [O’Connor won the White Review prize in 2020 for a short story about a dog show]. I have always loved dogs and, growing up, with Crufts taking place in Birmingham, I used to go every year. Now I’m older, I’m really interested in the human part of that relationship and what it’s like for your world to revolve around an animal.
Conversation with Lisa O’Kelly during an interview.
Wild Houses (Jonathan Cape, 25 January)
There is aggression, but it revolves around manners – it’s reminiscent of a story by Jane Austen.
Colin Barrett, age 41, stands out among the names mentioned here. While Wild Houses, his first published novel, is actually his third written work, this did not make the writing process any less challenging. It is a darkly humorous tale about a kidnapping in rural Ireland involving gang members.
Over the course of three days and 200 pages, it took him eight years to complete. He describes it as feeling like a first-time effort. In an attempt to capture the richness and depth of the stories in his highly praised collections Young Skins (2014) and Homesickness (2022), which are also set in his hometown of Co Mayo, Barrett initially included every perspective of the large, interconnected cast of characters in his early draft. This included the Ferdias, notorious local tough guys, and Doll, a young delinquent who is kidnapped by them after his older brother fails at a job.
Barrett explains that despite longing for a deep connection to past generations, he did not want to be weighed down by it. To avoid a stuffy tone, he chose to rewrite the book from the perspectives of Doll’s mistreated girlfriend Nicky and the introverted Dev, who unexpectedly becomes Doll’s captor. Rather than being the driving force behind the book’s violence, the duo allows Barrett to tell the story indirectly and explore the moral gray areas that pique his interest. He states, “There is a societal expectation of how one should behave, but often our actions deviate from that; this is a topic that has always fascinated me.”
Wild Houses is both serious and humorous when it comes to addressing the complexity of violence, a trait that Barrett credits to the residents’ temperament in Mayo. No matter how intense the situation, there is always a sharp wit that can lighten the mood. Even the Ferdia brothers, who are portrayed as antagonists, have a comical side as they joke about forgetting to stop at the store before bringing a young boy along.
Barrett has had a desire to write since he was a teenager, but it wasn’t until ten years later that he realized he had the material right in front of him. During his youth, he was more drawn to American writers like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, and avoided Irish literature. Now, after seeing the success of other writers from his home county of Mayo, such as Eimear McBride, Mike McCormack, and Sally Rooney, Barrett is excited that his own writing might now hold the same appeal. He jokingly imagines someone in Philadelphia reading Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” and wishing they were in Mayo.
Is “Wild Houses” classified as a crime novel?
I am not opposed to classifying this as a crime, but the kidnapping scheme concocted by these boys was simply a means to place the characters in confined spaces to engage in dialogue. While there is violence present, it primarily focuses on social norms – similar to a Jane Austen novel. When I was 14, we did not use the term “frenemy.” It was more like: “Oh, they’re your friend! They may hit you occasionally, but they’re still your friend!” Exploring these ambiguous boundaries is what intrigues me.
What was your initial inspiration for writing?
Magazines in Ireland have a strong journal culture. While browsing the Stinging Fly at a bookstore, I realized that it was possible for me to complete a story and submit it to this publication, which features local writers. This seemed less intimidating than finding an agent or attempting to secure a publishing deal with a foreign company.
What is the reason for the presence of community in Irish literature?
It may seem strange, but we genuinely want each other to succeed. When I pursued my master’s degree at University College Dublin (UCD), I found that everyone was supportive and kind. There are often horror stories about the cut-throat competition in prestigious MAs and MFAs in the United States or England. In Brandon Taylor’s fantastic novel, The Late Americans, he opens with a depiction of an MFA program as an intense battle. Due to the high cost of education in those countries, there is a strong sense of competition. In contrast, in Ireland, higher education is heavily subsidized. I wrote my first book while receiving government assistance in a small room, and I also received some funding from the Arts Council. These resources helped alleviate financial pressures and allowed me to genuinely celebrate the success of others without any resentment.
Conversation with Anthony Cummins
Don’t forget, Don’t forget (HarperNorth, February 29)
At first, the book had a much darker tone, but I aimed for it to be a tale of resilience rather than trauma.
The captivating first book by Elle Machray was born in a unique manner. While lounging on the couch with their partner, they engaged in a game of hypotheticals and stumbled upon the idea of reimagining the gunpowder plot. With determination, they completed the initial draft in just three months. Then, unexpectedly, a friend suggested they enter a pitch competition on Twitter (now known as X) for Scottish writers. After submitting their pitch, it caught the attention of a few agents and HarperNorth. They subsequently sent in their first three chapters and were offered a publishing contract.
Born in Birmingham, Machray, 29, studied politics at Leeds University and graduated in 2017 before moving to Scotland with their partner. They work in cybersecurity for a supermarket, and only began writing fiction in May 2020. “I expected to be writing and trying and being rejected for a really long time before I got anywhere, and for it all to happen so quickly was just unbelievable.”
Taking place in London during 1770, Remember, Remember is a warning story that is based on true events. It follows Delphine, a determined woman who puts in immense effort to secure the freedom of her enslaved brother through the British legal system. The plot is inspired by the real-life Somerset v Stewart case in 1772, where it was decided that an enslaved black man in England could not be forcibly sent to Jamaica to be sold. When the legal system fails to deliver justice, Delphine devises a plan to bring down the entire empire.
What inspired you to choose Delphine?
Writing Delphine was a difficult task because she was heavily influenced by the strong matriarchal figures in my family. She embodies the characteristics of a healer and is always there to support and uplift others. I was also mindful of the societal pressure for black women to suppress their anger, even though it is often used against them. With Delphine, I aimed to create a fiercely compassionate character who deeply values human life and struggles with how far she can be pushed before resorting to violence.
How did you conduct the historical research?
The experience was challenging as we are not educated about the true events of the transatlantic slave trade. This history is often concealed. The documented accounts of people being bought, sold, and transported during this time were extremely distressing to read. Initially, the novel had a much darker tone, but I aimed to make it a tale of resilience rather than one of suffering.
What strategies do you use when writing as an individual with ADHD?
I have a tendency to become deeply absorbed in activities that interest me, but I struggle with sustained focus. Having ADHD can sometimes feel like a special ability and other times like a burden. It can be overwhelming to see all the necessary steps to complete a task, which can prevent me from taking any action. However, I find solace in writing because it allows me to work on one word at a time. Breaking it down into sentences and paragraphs makes it more manageable. While I am unable to write 1,000 words or five pages a day, being aware of my ADHD has allowed me to create systems and manipulate my brain into completing tasks more effectively.
What are a few debuts that you enjoy?
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi, Nathan Harris’s The Sweetness of Water, and Stacey Halls’s The Familiars.
What is your current project?
A retelling of Miss Havisham’s story. What if someone else was the cause of her heartbreak? And what if that person happened to be a woman?
Interview by Kadish Morris
The book “England Is Mine” will be released on April 11 by Serpent’s Tail.
The most intense feeling of belonging I have experienced was at a Libertines concert.
A politically engaged, urgently plotted coming-of-age thriller with a wicked satirical streak, England Is Mine – the debut novel by Essex-raised writer Nicolas Padamsee – digs into the grim world of online neo-nazism via the story of David, an Anglo-Iranian A-level student and music lover at odds with his right-on peers over his loyalty to a Morrissey-ish singer-songwriter, cancelled after a bigoted rant.
The book sends up Twitter-era controversies over free speech while keeping in sight the emotional stakes of a subject often dominated by bad-faith argument. David’s terrifying, heartbreaking descent – from seeking solace in first-person shooter game Call of Duty to wielding an actual gun – was, for Padamsee, a nightmarish thought experiment by which he pictured losing the hard-won sense of identity that music gave him as an unrooted teenager from a German-Indian household.
“I have experienced a strong sense of belonging while attending a Libertines concert, embracing strangers, and letting loose on the floor,” says Padamsee, 33. “For individuals in that situation, the consequences can be significant if society deems their choice of music unacceptable. While it may seem insignificant to David’s friends, for him it is a central part of his identity – if it is taken away, what will fill the void?”
The radicalization of a second-generation immigrant was a topic often explored by writers such as Hanif Kureishi, Guy Gunaratne, and Kamila Shamsie. However, Padamsee saw an opportunity to delve into the influence of the internet on extremism in the 21st century. His book was quickly picked up by publishers after his agent submitted it and was written over three years while he studied at the University of East Anglia. Padamsee hoped to not only impress his well-read supervisor with the book, but also appeal to his friends he had made while playing video games online. He drew inspiration from early Michel Houellebecq for his characters’ “ogreish” traits and Irvine Welsh’s skill in portraying his characters realistically.
In the back of his mind, Padamsee recalled a brief period during his teenage years when he was in the uncomfortable presence of Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. “I wanted there to be a sense of back-and-forth, with the reader and myself questioning our own thoughts,” he explained.
Have you ever had the desire to become a singer?
I would have enjoyed it. During my teenage years, I wrote many song lyrics, but unfortunately, I am unable to sing in tune. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that it was not meant to be.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing England Is Mine?
Rewording the text:
Creating an engaging video game experience for someone who is not actively focused on achieving high kill streaks. Achieving this required extensive editing and playing Call of Duty again.
After writing it, do you feel the need to constantly check the headlines?
I attempt to avoid dwelling on the matter at hand. It is possible to encounter a convergence when exploring dangerous concepts; for instance, Houellebecq’s Submission was released on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attacks. However, there is a significant obstacle presented by the rise of radicalization. In order to combat it, we must first comprehend it. Psychologists and sociologists have access to data and statistics, but delving into the mindset of a far-right extremist is beyond their capabilities. Novels have a responsibility to society, and in order to fulfill this role, they must take advantage of their unique platform. OBTAINING NEW
is a fantasy novel written by Spanish writer Rodolfo Martínez.
On May 14th, Sceptre published The Ministry of Time, a work of fantasy literature penned by Spanish author Rodolfo Martínez.
Rewriting it was often a struggle, comparable to attempting to tap dance using your ears.
Kaliane Bradley, who is 35 years old, pursued English literature in college and completed her degree to pursue a career in publishing. However, it was her attendance of Punchdrunk’s interactive play, The Drowned Man, that sparked her desire to become a writer. “The experience was so breathtaking that I thought to myself: What is the purpose if I am not able to create something as well?” she reminisces.
For ten years, she experienced some triumphs with her individual short stories, but her four completed novels did not gain much attention. However, while stuck indoors during Covid lockdowns, she came across a Wiki fan page for Ridley Scott’s TV show The Terror, which she had been watching. She became captivated by a minor character named Graham Gore, a doomed Victorian polar explorer. She describes him as the most intriguing, comforting, and charming character.
She wrote a set of skits for her online devotees to enjoy, imagining what Gore would think of modern-day features like Spotify. These pieces, which started as a pandemic pastime rather than a serious literary project, have now become The Ministry of Time. In this novel, Gore is sent to present-day London as part of a government time-travel experiment. To help him adjust, he is assigned a “bridge”, a civil servant who also serves as the narrator. This character is not given a name but shares similarities with the British-Cambodian author, Bradley. The novel features a unique love story and incorporates subtle reflections on the UK’s imperial history. It moves quickly and is highly entertaining, blending wit and wonder in a way that defies genre conventions. Plans for a major screen adaptation are already underway after the TV rights were bought in a highly competitive 21-way auction.
At what point did you come to the realization that you were writing a novel?
I thoroughly enjoyed the process, but halfway through writing the first draft, I realized it was more than just that. I then had to go back and create the world in which the story takes place, which made revising it a difficult task, akin to attempting to tap dance with your ears.
How has the bridge’s character changed over time?
While composing this, I also attempted to write a “serious novel” about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian diaspora. However, it is now an unfinished piece of writing. In this novel, there is a character who is of mixed-race and appears white, and she has a unique connection to the British government. This relationship explores themes of power and control. Ultimately, I repurposed this character from one novel to another.
Do you follow a specific schedule for writing?
I typically write in the evenings, three to four times a week, for about an hour or two. During these sessions, I am able to produce approximately 400 words. However, I don’t spend too much time reviewing them as it may hinder my ability to keep writing.
Do you have any tips to offer?
My agent advised me to treat my writing with importance. I have a tendency to make everything into a joke, but it’s also an opportunity to view myself as a serious writer, which may seem conceited but is truly beneficial.
Does being a publishing editor during the day aid or hinder your writing?
It provides solace to know that others share similar struggles and that I am part of a larger community, rather than a unique anomaly.
Who are some of your preferred writers?
I have a deep admiration for the works of Terry Pratchett and Graham Greene. Muriel Spark is someone I greatly admire, and China Miéville’s writing is of exceptional brilliance.
Have you identified yourself as a writer yet?
During the cab ride to my interview, which I was running extremely late for, the driver asked me what my profession was. For the first time, I responded that I am a writer. Immediately, I worried about jinxing my luck and, as expected, we encountered heavy traffic throughout the entire trip. I’m not sure if I will say those words again – perhaps after my work is published.
Interview by Hephzibah Anderson
“Located Next to a Vast Woodland” (Published by Bloomsbury on January 30th)
My goal has always been to evoke both tears and laughter from my readers simultaneously.
“Leo Vardiashvili notes that war takes precedence over most other things,” states the author in the beginning of his heart-wrenching and often humorously tragic novel about the impact of violence and turmoil on those who experience them firsthand. Vardiashvili himself sought refuge in London at the age of 12, escaping from Georgia with his family and settling in the neighborhood of Tottenham in north London. The story centers on Saba, a young man also from Georgia and currently residing in London, as he ventures back to his home country to uncover the fate of his missing father and brother who never returned.
Vardiashvili’s story focuses on the impact of war on families and how it disrupts their lives. He uses a surreal style to express this idea. Saba, the protagonist, has conversations with deceased loved ones who both criticize and advise him. He also has to navigate through a flood that has released animals from the Tbilisi zoo. Rhinos block the roads and wolves roam menacingly as he follows a series of cryptic clues from his relatives.
Hansel and Gretel played a significant role in inspiring the title of the book and Vardiashvili acknowledges fairytales as a major influence. His father was involved in playwriting and his mother was a teacher, so he was surrounded by books during his upbringing. His deep love for language and family is evident in a literal sense through his body, as he has a tattoo of his grandmother’s final letter on his arm. He explains that it is a sentimental story, as he was unable to see her again after leaving and wanted to honor her memory by getting the tattoo in her own handwriting. Their relationship was very close.
He currently resides in Birmingham with his soon-to-be wife, frequently visits Georgia (where his book has been translated into Georgian), and is currently writing his second novel while balancing his job as a tax advisor.
What was the reason for your family’s departure from Georgia?
The civil war that took place in 1991 resulted in complete disorder and devastating consequences. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a void of leadership and all sense of structure crumbled. The economy also suffered greatly, with Soviet currency losing its value rapidly (resulting in us having to use my grandmother’s savings for groceries). Basic necessities such as food, electricity, water, and gas were scarce and there seemed to be no hope for opportunities in education, employment, or any other aspect of life.
How was your experience arriving in Tottenham at the age of 12?
I had limited proficiency in English. I vividly recall rehearsing how to request a Coke before heading to the local store. However, I soon realized that in a UK corner shop, you could simply pick it up! I longed for my friends; I immediately started year 8 at a comprehensive school and it was challenging. The school was short-staffed and lacked resources – they were unsure how to integrate me. I would sit at the back of the class with my textbook and a dictionary.
Who are some of your favorite books and writers?
The fairytales were certainly incorporated into the novel. However, the most prominent inspiration, which I was unaware was a debut, was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This book evoked both tears and laughter from me, and I have always aimed to achieve that in my writing. I am also extremely enamored with Cormac McCarthy.
Did studying English literature at Queen Mary, University of London inspire your passion for writing?
I had a passion for writing long before that point. However, my university education taught me the skills to read effectively.
What lessons have you learned as a tax advisor?
Condensing complex tax information into a concise and polished document for clients is a valuable skill that can be applied to various situations. This experience has taught me how to carefully and critically examine my own lengthy draft, and then condense and refine it to its essential elements.
Interview by Ursula Kenny
Andrés N Ordorica
The Process of Naming Stars (Saraband, July 4th)
When I reached my fifth draft, I had no more room for error.
Andrés N Ordorica’s novel, How We Named the Stars, revamps the traditional campus novel for modern times. The protagonist, Daniel, is a scholarship recipient studying at Cayuga University in upstate New York. The majority of the book is written in second person, as Daniel addresses his first love and former roommate, Sam, who passed away in a tragic event. Ordorica, who is of Mexican descent, spent his childhood in the US before relocating to Edinburgh where he currently works at the university creating online courses. At 34 years old, he has previously published a collection of poetry titled At Least This I Know.
What inspired you to write the novel?
The process took a while. I collaborated with Daniel and Sam to write a novel and submitted it for consideration for several awards. I received guidance from exceptional educators and mentors and took into account all the feedback I received, but I could sense that something was missing. Then Caro [Clarke], my current agent, reached out to me after hearing about my poetry and my novel in progress. At that point, I was on my fifth draft. I had nothing to lose, so I worked closely with the agency to revise each chapter. It was reminiscent of Dickens, writing a serialized novel. Eventually, everything fell into place.
The book has received high praise in both the US and UK. How has the time leading up to its release been for you?
I am still processing this. Everything is happening quickly and it feels surreal. My mind is working at a faster pace than usual, but I am simply trying to savor the experience.
Did attending university in upstate New York greatly influence Daniel’s character?
I was drawing inspiration from my personal experience of being the first in my family to attend university. Similar to Daniel, my parents became parents at a young age and did not have the opportunity to go to university. I saw this as an opportunity to explore the challenges and conflicts faced by individuals from marginalized backgrounds. There seems to be a tension, especially in prestigious universities, between promoting diversity and providing support for marginalized students.
Were there any specific authors who motivated or influenced you?
While completing this book, I was fully immersed in reading works by Edmund White and Christopher Isherwood, as well as revisiting pieces by Alan Hollinghurst and James Baldwin. I do not like to consider myself a potential great writer with a lasting impact, but rather a gay male novelist contributing to the larger queer literary canon with this publication.
Has living in Scotland for six years influenced your writing style?
Can you clarify further? I have discovered a supportive community within the Scottish BPOC Writers Network, a fantastic organization dedicated to supporting black Scottish writers and writers of color residing in Scotland. From a young age, I’ve aspired to be a writer and have consistently put in effort towards honing my craft, but I believe the warm reception from the Scottish literary and publishing community gave me the necessary resources to complete this novel.
Have you begun working on your upcoming book? Is it a work of fiction or poetry?
Initially, I encourage relaxation for everyone. However, I have recently completed my second compilation of poems and just yesterday, I finalized the most recent revision of my second novel.
Conversation with Alex Preston:
The Instrumentalist (Bloomsbury, 15 August)
I would twirl and sway in the living room, coaxing the book into existence.
In 2019, Harriet Constable, a journalist and documentary-maker from London, came across a mention of young girls who had lost their parents and were trained in music by Antonio Vivaldi at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. As she delved further into the topic, she discovered Anna Maria, a talented violinist who was Vivaldi’s top student and potentially the soloist for several concertos, including The Four Seasons.
After conducting thorough research, Constable ultimately decided to recount Anna Maria’s story using the medium of historical fiction. Motivated to accurately portray the events, and being a novice in writing fiction, she created her own makeshift master’s program in creative writing. This involved studying resources like Stephen King’s On Writing and practicing with a shorter story, in order to make mistakes and learn from them in a more manageable project that she did not plan to publish. Once she felt prepared, she cleared her schedule and traveled to Venice for a month to begin her initial draft. She describes the experience as being similar to stepping onto a movie set.
The result is The Instrumentalist, an immersive, impassioned tale full of colour and sound that depicts Anna Maria as a driven prodigy whose talent will empower and imperil her. It won 34-year-old Constable a two-book, six-figure publishing deal and she’s now writing full-time, already at work on her second novel, which promises to bring to life another musical heroine lost to history.
How were you able to handle writing 2,000 words per day while working on your initial draft?
I would play The Four Seasons and either take a walk or dance in the living room, pretending to conduct like Vivaldi, in order to summon inspiration for my writing. Then I would sit down at my laptop and begin writing with vigor. I believed that my character, Anna Maria, was full of energy, so I wanted to approach my writing with the same level of enthusiasm.
Did Anna Maria come to life at any point for you?
During my research, I observed a woman walking down a dimly lit stone hallway away from me. She gradually increased her pace, as if rushing to a performance. About two months later, she turned and spoke in a silhouette, expressing her desire for me to experience the music as she did. I interpreted this as a reflection of her intense connection with music. For these women, music was the determining factor between success and failure.
Did you have any plans to learn the violin since you played piano and took flute lessons as a child?
I enlisted the help of a violin instructor for the purpose of conducting research. Initially, I wanted to receive violin lessons from her. However, we soon realized that this would be a time-consuming process. As a result, I simply requested for her to perform specific pieces for me while I observed like a transcendent being.
Which historical fiction books have you found the most motivating?
I was deeply impressed by the way Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet explores the potential of historical imagination. Patrick Süskind’s Perfume and Tracy Chevalier’s writing also stood out to me for their richness and simplicity. Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit also had a significant impact on me.
Can you offer any tips for aspiring writers of novels?
Allowing your emotions to guide you can be incredibly impactful, selecting narratives based on strong feelings of anger or excitement. This is the moment when you realize you have something valuable and must continue with determination – although it requires a great deal of effort, it’s best to acknowledge this and begin. HA
Reworded: Spoiled Creatures, published by Tinder Press on June 6th.
Do not hesitate to revise… you must be willing to let go of your favorite ideas.
As a child living in the Kent Downs, Amy Twigg developed a fondness for spooky stories. She recalls, “There was a rich history of witchcraft, and that has stayed with me.” The county serves as the backdrop for her beautifully written debut novel, Spoilt Creatures, inspired by a correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. This novel has recently won the 2021 BPA pitch prize. The main character, Iris, is intrigued by the enigmatic Hazel, and follows her to an all-women community. Initially, it seems like a sanctuary, but the facade of civility slowly crumbles.
Twig, a 33-year-old, currently resides in Guildford and works as a freelance copywriter. During the pandemic, she began writing after completing the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. Against a backdrop of hostility towards women – including the overturning of Roe v Wade and violence against transgender individuals – Twig delves into the concept of an all-female space and the potential for freedom from violence or the perpetration of it. The novel adeptly explores themes of internalized misogyny and the fascination with true crime, but ultimately focuses on the relationship between Iris and Hazel. As Twig wrote, her own understanding of her sexuality evolved, which is reflected in the dynamic between these two characters. Their connection is characterized by seduction and obsession, with an intentional ambiguity that leaves room for any possibility to unfold.
Have you always desired to pursue a career in writing?
I believe I have always had this knowledge. One of my earliest recollections is of my mother creating tales using the pictures of cottages on our bathroom tiles. Additionally, I have a strong sense that writing is one of my few strengths.
Did you establish a writing schedule?
In order to maintain my mental stability, I had to be strict with myself. When lockdown began and my work halted, I approached writing as if it were a typical nine-to-five job. I refused to leave my desk until I had reached a specific word count. Additionally, I keep a detailed list of chapters, characters, and ideas in a spreadsheet, which helps me to organize the plot. The thought of writing without structure is intimidating for me; I prefer to have a set plan and know what will happen next.
Do individuals have a tendency to presume that the book is derived from your personal experiences?
Many individuals have inquired if I have ever resided in a commune or been part of a cult. The truth is, I have not, but I conducted thorough investigation on the topic. Primarily, the book delves into the challenges faced by women living in a male-dominated society. While I do draw from my personal encounters, I prefer not to disclose which ones specifically.
What is your opinion on releasing in the year 2024?
The writing world is highly competitive, and authors often face low advances. It’s becoming rare for writers to make a living solely from their writing. I’m not sure if the publishing industry can continue in this way. However, I am pleased to see more novelists from working-class backgrounds gaining recognition. As someone from a working-class upbringing, I used to believe and was told that this industry was not accessible to me.
Which authors do you find most influential?
I am a fan of Shirley Jackson’s writing. I also enjoy the works of Daisy Johnson, particularly her book Sisters. Additionally, I am eager to read anything written by Sophie Mackintosh.
What suggestions would you offer to those who aspire to be writers?
It is important to dedicate time and effort, and not hesitate to revise and edit. After completing the initial draft, I recognized its flaws and decided to discard it. I then proceeded to write an additional 90,000 words, which showed improvement but still fell short. Once again, I deleted this version. It is necessary to be willing to let go of favorite parts in order to uncover the heart of the novel.
Conversation with Kathryn Bromwich
Heading back (Sceptre, 6 June)
I came to the realization that I did not have to write fictional stories with a profound social message.
Tom Lamont, a journalist for the Guardian and Observer, is known for his extensive articles covering a variety of topics such as fish and chip shops, vending machines, and Nazi hunters. However, in addition to his day job, he also writes fiction. His first novel, Going Home, is a heartwarming comedy that follows two childhood friends, Téo and Ben, as they approach their thirties. Téo works as a road safety instructor while Ben runs a casino and is known for his excessive pill use and obsession with his muscles. When Téo’s father falls ill, he returns to his childhood home and is shocked by the sudden death of a former classmate that both he and Ben had feelings for. To make matters more complicated, Téo is left in charge of her two-year-old son.
At the age of 41, Lamont completed writing his book within a year, starting in the fall of 2021 after facing rejection for two previous manuscripts. Despite the discouraging experience, it ultimately helped him realize that his storytelling was most effective when it deviated from his reporting style. He no longer felt the pressure to include a profound social message in his fiction and instead focused on writing from his own experiences.
Lamont had to come to terms with the recent loss of his father and the fact that he was now a father of two, all while feeling like he was still a young adult. This also led him to find the bravery to write a novel set in the Jewish community of his childhood in suburban north London. The book prominently features religion through the perspective of Sibyl, a female rabbi who challenges traditional beliefs within her synagogue.
Although the book’s core story of male bonding is sure to elicit laughter, its abundant humor is not derived from jokes. Instead, the tone of the book delicately handles serious topics such as degenerative disease and the lingering effects of the Holocaust. Additionally, the book’s captivating premise, which follows unprepared men thrust into the role of parenthood, adds to its appeal. Author Lamont was drawn to the idea of writing about childcare from a male perspective, and seeing the draft description for the US edition made him realize that he had essentially written a modern version of “Three Men and a Baby.”
What led you to write about faith?
I had my bar mitzvah and attended Hebrew classes. As I grew older, my family became less devoted, but I gained an appreciation for humor, food, and love through my Jewish identity. When I meet another Jew from north London, we instantly click and share our knowledge of desserts and jokes. It’s enjoyable – it’s not solely about God and politics. Religion can be a part of your life without consuming your every thought.
What are your thoughts on your kids reading Going Home in the future?
James Salter wrote books about the Korean War to possess it, and I feel the same way about being a parent. I wanted to capture my child at that special age, transitioning out of diapers and not quite speaking fully. Someday, I hope my child will enjoy reading this recorded version of their childhood, but I am also anxious as it feels quite vulnerable. My father had a dry sense of humor and I believe he wouldn’t mind me mentioning that there is a positive aspect to losing a loved one – you can no longer hurt them.
What are your thoughts on Karl Ove Knausgård’s books about being a father?
This is not to my liking. I prefer the form and style of writers like Penelope Fitzgerald, Hilary Mantel, and Marilynne Robinson, who thoroughly revise their initial drafts. Despite being thin on my bookshelf, Fitzgerald’s books contain vast worlds within them. She also excels at writing about children, although they are often portrayed as exceptionally intelligent. I have never encountered a child like that and thought there was an opportunity to write about a regular child. AC