Indie Fiction Picks 2019: Part 1
2018 WAS ANOTHER TRIUMPHANT YEAR FOR SMALL PRESSES. Our friends and allies in the independent publishing world have continued to punch well above their weight – and produce variously wonderful, challenging, surprising, hilarious and furious books. To list just a few achievements over the past year, Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, published by Tramp Press, won the International DUBLIN Literary Award (NB: 100,000 euros!!!); The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers, published by Bluemoose, took the Walter Scott Prize; Flights by Olga Torarczuk, published by Fitzcarraldo, won the International Man Booker Prize; and our very own Preti Taneja scooped the Desmond Elliott First Novel Prize for We that are young. Meanwhile, the Republic Of Consciousness Prize for independent presses has – after just two years – become possibly one of the most important and interesting literary prizes in the UK. … Which is all fantastic. (It’s also worth saying that event though these prizes are wonderful and make a huge difference to our part of the industry, they aren’t everything. There were plenty more superb novels released by independent publishers that didn’t take prizes, but which may well go on to be remembered FOREVER…)
Anyway, all of that is a long way of saying that indies did good work last year. And we’re hoping that 2019 will prove even more successful and rewarding. With that in mind, we’ve asked a number of small presses to list two books to look out for – and, oh boy, there are good things to come. We’ll kick off here with our own nominations, and then list upcoming books from Tramp Press, Cassava Republic, Bluemoose, and And Other Stories… But that’s not the end of it. Over the coming week Parts 2 and 3 will cover even more ground, with selections from Influx, Fitzcarraldo, Comma Press and more… So keep watching this space. In the meantime, I hope you find plenty here to make you feel excited and optimistic about this year’s releases – and even better, to make you want to read them.
(P.S. Where titles are available for pre-order, we’ve added a link. And, you know, there’s no better way to support an indie press, and their writers, than by actually buying a book from them…)
GALLEY BEGGAR PRESS, Sam Jordison (co-director)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (published 4 July 2019). Lucy Ellmann’s Duck, Newburyport is a glorious monster – and for me, it feels like the Great American Novel we’ve all been waiting for. All of the USA is in it: right and wrong, better and worse – and with frequent detours into the wild insanity of Donald Trump’s Whitehouse… It’s also America seen through female eyes. The narrative (mainly told in one epic, astonishing sentence) plunges the reader inside the head of a stay-at-home mother who is struggling to pay her medical bills, communicate with her teenage daughter, put food on the table, keep her home safe. It’s brilliant, fiery, furious. It’s also fantastically funny.
Patience by Toby Litt (published August 2019). Patience tells the story of Elliott. Elliott is a kind of genius – but he is also a boy who lives in a children’s home run by Catholic nuns in 1979, and who is unable to speak or walk. Maybe the easiest way of talking about Patience is to say it’s almost two novels in one: the first, a beautiful, bittersweet meditation on the frailties of language and communication, and how Elliott (or any one of us) interacts; the second, a glorious celebration of childhood, friendship, and – honestly – the sheer pleasure of reaping havoc. The plot revolves around a break-out attempt on the part of the children – it’s a bit like Samuel Beckett got drunk, decided to have a bit of fun, and wrote The Great Escape.
TRAMP PRESS, Sarah Davis-Goff (co-director)
The Red Word by Sarah Henstra (published 21 March 2019). The Red Word is a darkly comic, thriller-like work of literary fiction about rape culture in a US university where a sorority is pitched against a neighbouring fraternity. It’s difficult to talk about this kind of smart campus novel without referencing Donna Tartt, and it’s compelling in a similar way, but Sarah Henstra is going directly for the patriarchy. The Red Word just won the Governor-General’s Literary Award in Canada, so we feel especially smart for having bought rights! It's a great read, and we can’t wait to get it out there.
Minor Monuments by Ian Maleney (published 28 March 2019). Only our second non-fiction publication (and following on the heels of huge Irish success Notes to Self by Emilie Pine), Minor Monuments is a cerebral and moving collection of essays. Forming a half-memoir, half-Odyssey, Ian is concerned with the history of a family in a changing rural place, and the possibilities and responsibilities for the author as an artist. Minor Monuments at once gentle, sensitive, rigorous, and hugely ambitious. Ian Maleney is going to be a hit; he’s a new Irish writer to watch.
CASSAVA REPUBLIC, Emma Shercliff (sales and rights director)
A Small Silence by Jumoke Verissimo (published July 2019). Prof, a Nigerian activist and retired academic, resolves to live in darkness after his release from ten years in prison. He secretes himself away in his apartment, until a knock at the door shakes his new existence. His visitor is Desire, an orphan and final year student, who grew up idolising Prof, following a fateful encounter in her hometown of Maroko as a child. Tentatively, the two form a bond, as she returns every night to see him. This debut novel from award-winning poet Verissimo is a layered, moving exploration of trauma and its aftermath, by a rising literary star.
On Ajayi Crowther Street by Elnathan John and Alaba Onajin (published November 2019). On a noisy street in Lagos, neighbours gather to gossip, discuss noise complaints, and faithfully head to church each Sunday. But beneath the surface lies a world of clandestine love affairs, hidden pregnancy, spiritual quackery and hypocrisy. On Ajayi Crowther Street peels back the curtains on the lives of Reverend Akpoborie and his family, to reveal a tumultuous world full of secrets and lies. Written by Man International Booker judge Elnathan John and illustrated by Alaba Onajin, this is an important addition to the realist graphic novel canon, in which African artists and authors are still severely under-represented.
BLUEMOOSE BOOKS, Kevin Duffy (publisher)
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (published 14 March 2019). Leonard and Hungry Paul see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the twenty-first century. ‘The figure in Munch’s painting isn’t actually screaming!’ ‘Really, are you sure?’ ‘Absolutely. That’s the whole thing. The figure is actually closing his ears to block out a scream. Isn’t that amazing? A painting can be so misunderstood and still become so famous.’ It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of what is overlooked in life.
The Moss House by Angela Clare (published July 2019). The Moss House is the fictionalised account of Ann Listers’ lesbian love affair and marriage to Ann Walker. Set in Georgian England, the novel draws on the secret diaries kept by Ann Lister and follows her thoughts and desires as she pursues the younger woman, marrying her in York in 1832. As the nascent industrial revolution destroys the old agrarian order, two women defy societal mores and embark on changing their own lives and those around who wish to destroy them.
AND OTHER STORIES, Stefan Tobler (director)
The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff (published 2 May 2019). We have a new novel, The Polyglot Lovers, coming from our Swedish author Lina Wolff. Everyone will love it! When we published her debut novel, Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, we were her only foreign publisher. This second novel won the Swedish Booker equivalent, the August Prize, and now she has seventeen foreign publishers. Smart, surprising and funny, and always circling around #metoo concerns, its characters include a working-class Swedish woman from a small town far from Stockholm, a metropolitan literary critic who she meets on a date, an impoverished Italian aristocrat and a manuscript, also called The Polyglot Lovers, which leaves no one unaffected.
Berg by Ann Quin (published 7 March 2019). It was great this year to see The Unmapped Country, our collection of Ann Quin’s unpublished stories and final, unfinished novel (all edited by indefatigable Quin detective Jennifer Hodgson), be received so ecstatically (#quinmania). We’re following up with a re-issue of her first novel. Berg is madcap and macabre. Berg, who is calling himself Greb, has tracked down his father, who left home when he was little and is now a washed-up music hall performer. Berg/Greb plans to kill his father, but is comically unable to. It’s set in a seedy, sixties Brighton and is a real delight.