Indie Fiction Picks 2019: Part 2

LAST WEEK WE KICKED OFF A 2019 sneak peak of what some of the UK’s finest small presses have to offer over the coming year, with selections from And Other Stories, Cassava Republic, Tramp Press, and Bluemoose. (If you didn’t catch it, just head here.) As we said then, 2018 was a triumphant year for the indies – and the trend only looks set to continue. Here’s Part 2, with the magnificent Fizcarraldo Editions, Peepal Tree Press, Influx Press, Comma, Dead Ink, and Salt Publishing joining the line-up.

FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS, Jacques Testard (director)

Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, translated by Frank Wynne (published 19 March 2019). Animalia retraces the history of a modest peasant family through the twentieth century as they develop their small plot of land into an intensive pig farm. In an environment dominated by the omnipresence of animals, five generations endure the cataclysm of war, economic disasters, and the emergence of a brutal industrialism reflecting an ancestral tendency to violence. Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, born in 1981, is one of France’s most exciting and ambitious young writers, and Animalia is one of the most impressive and stylish novels written in French in the last few years.

Ash before Oak by Jeremy Cooper (published April 2019). Ash before Oak, the winner of our inaugural Novel Prize, is written in the form of a journal written by a man living alone in a secluded farmhouse. Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, it is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, and of the narrator’s subsequent recovery through his reengagement with the world. It’s a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life which sits alongside other Fitzcarraldo Editions books like River by Esther Kinsky (tr. Iain Galbraith) and Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. 

PEEPAL TREE PRESS, Hannah Bannister (operations manager)

Where There Are Monsters by Breanne McIvor. Where There Are Monsters lifts the tropes and characters of Caribbean folklore and places them among the concrete and glass of a crime-ridden urban Trinidad. A young man, consumed by his inner monster – a loup garou – destroys the woman whose love sustains him. A mother confronts her daughter who is about to marry the kind of man who, she fears, will turn out to be a ‘monster’, like the girl’s father. These are not just modernised folktales, but contemporary stories that ask to what extent do we become victims of the violence we inflict on others.

Jamaica on My Mind by Hazel Campbell. Hazel Campbell’s Jamaica on My Mind is the, just posthumous, collected works of one of the Caribbean’s finest short story writers. The stories express a radical vision of Caribbean possibility combined with an awareness of how reality so often falls short. Sharply observant of the continuing inequalities of Jamaican society, her resolutely unsentimental writing finds the space between desire and outcomes for the deepest and most painful kind of comedy. Across their range, Jamaica emerges from colonialism to the present, years of struggle, violence but also of continuing hope in the people’s capacity for both endurance and re-invention.


INFLUX PRESS, Kit Caless (co-director)

Mothlight by Adam Scovell (published February 2019). A lepidopterist becomes fixated on his predecessor, and uncovers her secrets. Steeped in dusty melancholy and analogue shadows, this novel is an uncanny story of grief, memory and the price of obsession. Adam Scovell has been called ‘One of the most interesting and original young British writers’ by Robert MacFarlane.

Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto (published July 2019). Plastic Emotions is a novel based on the true life of Minnette de Silva, the first Asian woman architect to qualify for the AA. Following an affair with Le Corbusier, de Silva embarks on a struggling life as a female architect in the 1950s in Sri Lanka during the lead up to the civil war. It’s a beautifully told story of a forgotten feminist icon, re-introducing de Silva to the twenty-first century.


COMMA PRESS, Zoe Turner (publicity director)

Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun (published 2 May 2019). Thirteen Months of Sunrise is the first major translated collection by a female Sudanese writer. Rania Mamoun expertly blends the real and imagined to create an intimate portrait of life in Sudan today. From brief encounters to unusual friendships, this startling and evocative debut illuminates human experience and explores the alienation, isolation and estrangement of urban life. This book is translated from Arabic by Lissie Jaquette, who was awarded a PEN/Heim grant to bring Rania’s work into English. Rania has published two novels in Arabic and has previously worked as culture page editor of Al-Thaqafi magazine.

The Dressing-up Box by David Constantine (published 18 July 2019). David has amassed a hugely successful body of work, including novel The Life-Writer and the major film ‘45 Years’, which is adapted from Constantine’s story ‘In Another Country’. He is previous winner of the BBC National Short Story Award and the Frank O‘Connor International Short Story Award, and this is to be his much-anticipated fifth collection. The stories in The Dressing-up Box orbit around a moment of personal crisis, when the weight of the past or the present becomes unbearable. Many of the protagonists in these stories are children: loved, abused, in danger, they represent threatened hope for a better future.


DEAD INK, Nathan Connolly (director)

Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin (published May 2019). Karen Havelin’s Please Read This Leaflet Carefully is a life told in reverse and a subversion of what we expect from stories of illness. Having been diagnosed with endometriosis in her twenties, we follow Laura Fjellstad in her struggle to live a normal life across New York, Paris and Oslo, fuelled by her belief that to survive her painful and debilitating illness she must be self-reliant. Karen’s writing is sparse but lyrical, and captures the reality of living with chronic pain and a frequently ignored disease. Please Read This Leaflet Carefully is a masterful work of art from a debut author.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy (published July 2019). There’s something unbearably exciting about having an immensely readable and atmospheric title ready for the summer. Lucie McKnight Hardy’s debut novel, Water Shall Refuse Them, drips with sweat and hums with the claustrophobic heat of the summer heatwave of 1976. Sixteen-year-old Nif and her family retreat to a small village in the wake of her little sister’s death, but Nif brings with her the talismans of her own burgeoning witchcraft. Grief, guilt, and secrets ramp up the tension in this coming-of-age suspense that sits right at home between Andrew Michael Hurley and Shirley Jackson.


SALT PUBLISHING, Christopher Hamilton-Emery (director)

A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther (published 15 March 2019). A Perfect Explanation gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition. In a world of privilege, truth remains the same; there are no heroes and villains. Here, in the pages of this extraordinary book where the unspoken is conveyed with vivid simplicity, lies a story that will leave you reeling.

Your Fault by Andrew Cowan (published 15 May 2019). Beautifully crafted, unsettling and vivid, Your Fault perfectly highlights the subtleties and mysteries of everyday life, creating a world which seems ordinary even while something ominous bubbles just beneath the surface. The narrative balances between a kind of universality and an arresting specificity, exploring the relationship between memory and guilt, as it builds towards its electrifying ending.