Having your debut novel published is one of the greatest moments of a writer’s career. Seeing the words that were originally a fleeting idea in your head, there on a page or screen for people to read. There may be book launches and book tours, signings and events and of course the ultimate – seeing your book for sale in a shop. But what happens when you launch your debut during a pandemic? I asked some 2020 debut authors to tell me how they had experienced writing and being published and launching during lockdown.
“My debut flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Books), was published in March just before the national lockdown started. My launch was cancelled and I thought my book would disappear without a trace. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thankfully, due to a surge in reading and support for independent publishing, more people read my book than I expected. Best of all, I’ve made some really great connections with people who’ve got in touch after reading it.”
A first time mum struggles with her newborn baby. An alien examines the lives of Earth Mothers. A baby sleeps through the night at long last.
Written with raw honesty, Laura Besley’s debut flash collection, The Almost Mothers, exposes what it really means to be a mother.
The Almost Mothers was published by Dahlia Books on 20 March 2020.
“My debut came out in April, when the first wave of the pandemic was at its height. The strangest of times – days before the launch, my editor was furloughed, the blog tour & publicity events were cancelled & the daily news was grim. This was a long dreamed-of personal landmark but it felt in bad taste to promote a book when so many families were grieving. I admit I shed a few tears at the gap between how I’d imagined this moment & the stark reality. As the months have passed, it’s been lovely to read reviews as readers have connected with my main character Sarah, who has prosopagnosia (face blindness) & suffers from social anxiety & leads a “lockdown” kind of life . I think that’s been one of the most surprising & enjoyable aspects of getting published, to talk to readers who take the words you put on a page, connect with these imaginary characters & add a whole new dimension & insight to your work. It’s been really uplifting & I am so full of awe & gratitude for the wonderful world of readers, bloggers & all-round book enthusiasts who truly make the world a better place.”
Last night my sister was murdered. The police think I killed her.
I was there. I watched the knife go in. I saw the man who did it.
He’s someone I know. But he won’t be caught.
Because he knows I have prosopagnosia – I can’t recognise faces.
But if I don’t find him, I’ll be found guilty of murder.
Remember Me was published by Orion on 16 April 2020.
“This may sound nauseating, but one of the most surprising things about being published is that the writing community is so lovely and supportive. Debut2020 is a group of authors who have debuted this year, which is possibly the worst year ever to be a debut! We support each other and genuinely root for each other’s success while openly being proud of our own. And I’m not sure you would find that in many industries.”
My name is Constance Little.
This is my love story.
But this isn’t the way it was supposed to end.
After fleeing Manchester for London, Constance attempts to put past tragedies behind her and make a fresh start. When she embarks on a relationship with the new doctor at the medical practice where she works, she’s convinced she’s finally found the love and security she craves.
Then he ends it.
But if life has taught her anything, it’s that if you love someone, you should never let them go.
That’s why for Constance Little, her obsession is only just beginning . . .
If I Can’t Have You was published by Mantle on 9 July 2020.
“What I’ve loved most about getting published is interacting with readers. An author spends years writing, editing, trying to get an agent, and a book deal, and it’s an extremely lonely process. Shortly after The Perfect Marriage was published, readers started reaching out to me via email and social media. They invited me to their virtual book clubs, talked plot twists, expressed their love for the book, and asked questions. Seeing people react to the words I had written in such a positive way made all the hard work worth it, and it’s been the most rewarding experience.”
Would you defend your husband if he was accused of killing his mistress?
Sarah Morgan is a successful and powerful defense attorney in Washington D.C. At 33 years old, she is a named partner at her firm and life is going exactly how she planned.
The same cannot be said for her husband, Adam. He is a struggling writer who has had little success in his career. He begins to tire of his and Sarah’s relationship as she is constantly working.
Out in the secluded woods, at Adam and Sarah’s second home, Adam engages in a passionate affair with Kelly Summers.
Then, one morning everything changes. Adam is arrested for Kelly’s murder. She had been found stabbed to death in Adam and Sarah’s second home.
Sarah soon finds herself playing the defender for her own husband, a man accused of murdering his mistress.
But is Adam guilty or is he innocent?
The Perfect Marriage was published by Bloodhound Books on 3 July 2020.
“We Are Animals came out at the beginning of lockdown. It felt weird trying to promote a book as everyone was going through something different and it felt insensitive. When the reviews started coming in though, I realised that people were using it for escapism. It’s a comic novel and I used to be a comedian, so I decided to play to my talents* I started nightly Twitter readings, each one in the style of someone different. I took requests, leading the publisher to kindly collate them in an article: bit.ly/2G4nSBM *Being an idiot online.”
A cow looks out to sea, dreaming of a life that involves grass.
Jan is also looking out to sea. He’s in Goa, dreaming of the passport-thief who stole his heart (and his passport) forty-six years ago. Back then, fate kept bringing them together, but lately it seems to have given up.
Jan has not. In his long search he has accidentally held a whole town at imaginary gunpoint in Soviet Russia, stalked the proprietors of an international illegal lamp-trafficking scam and done his very best to avoid any kind of work involving the packing of fish. Now he thinks if he just waits, if he just does nothing at all, maybe fate will find it easier to reunite them.
His story spans fifty-four years, ten countries, two imperfect criminals (and one rather perfect one), twenty-two different animals and an annoying teenager who just…
But maybe an annoying teenager is exactly what Jan needs to help him find the missing thief?
Featuring a menagerie of creatures, each with its own story to tell, We Are Animals is a quirky, heart-warming tale of lost love, unlikely friendships and the certainty of fate (or lack thereof).
For the first time in her life the cow noticed the sun setting, and it was glorious.
We Are Animals was published by Lightening Books on 2 March 2020.
“I expected it to be all about rankings and reviews but the thing that has brought me most pleasure is hearing from readers all around the world – from the Hollywood actress (I know!!) to the mum in Scotland whose son had just been diagnosed as on the spectrum. There’s nothing more wonderful than hearing firsthand than hearing how your book has inspired, entertained or informed.”
What if Emma isn’t the person she thought she was?
Her younger son has just been diagnosed with autism.
She’s accidentally quit her job.
The marriage she was dedicated to suddenly seems like a sham.
She’s pretty sure that she is going to have an affair with a hot new dad at the school.
The only thing that stays the same is everyone else. Emma realises it’s not them – it’s her. But if she’s not who she thought she was, can her old life fit in with the new Emma?
Another Us was published by Canelo on 20 August 2020.
Susan A King
“Having patiently stood in line, on the eve of publication I purchased my ticket and hopped on board the debut novelist rollercoaster. It was an unexpected ride which included, but was not limited to, the heights of jovially informing my nearest and dearest it wasn’t mandatory to address me as ‘published author’ but it would be appreciated, to the troughs of chronic self-doubt. Happily my fears were unfounded and I have since learnt that a number of fellow authors have themselves been strapped into that very same fun fair ride.”
Some people would describe Beattie Bramshaw as a pillar of the community. Many would applaud her numerous successes in the bakery competition at the annual village show. A small number might say, if pushed, that they find her a little on the bossy side. And one or two might just whisper the words ‘interfering’ and ‘busybody’ behind her back.
But no-one would have her down as a murderer.
So why is she being questioned in Dreighton police station after being found in the local allotments, at the dead of night, wielding a kitchen knife just yards away from where local lottery winner, Yvonne Richards, was found stabbed to death? And what does all of this have to do with Doug Sparrow’s prize marrows?
Marrow Jam was published by Lightening Books on 27 April 2020.
“I’ve had some wonderful responses to my book and some of the delightfully unexpected- a letter from a local historian pleased with the historical detail, photos from people who have walked Marcle Ridge and the Wonder in my heroine, Martha’s footsteps- and best of all a message from the grownup daughter of a school classmate saying she was partly named after me.”
Martha is a feisty and articulate young woman, the daughter of a wheelwright, living in a Herefordshire village in Elizabethan England. With no mother Martha’s life is spent running her father’s meagre household and helping out at the local school whilst longing to escape the confines and small-mindedness of a community driven by religious bigotry and poverty.
As she is able to read and is well-versed in herbal remedies she is suspected of being a witch. When a landslip occurs – opening up a huge chasm in the centre of the village – she is blamed for it and pursued remorselessly by the villagers.
The Wheelwright’s Daughter was published by Boldwood Books on 21 April 2020.
“I’ve been surprised by how kind and supportive other authors, at all stages of their careers, have been. That’s not because I don’t expect people to be kind generally – but agreeing to read a book by someone you’ve never heard of, committing several hours of your life to it when you get loads of requests and the author in question has no way of returning the favour – it’s such a generous, good hearted thing to do, and it means the world when you’re new and trying to find our audience. I only hope the day comes when I can pay that forward.”
The book club was her idea, of course.
It was her way into our group. A chance to get close.
I knew from the day she arrived that she couldn’t be trusted.
And I was right.
Alice didn’t come to the village for peace and quiet.
She came for revenge.
The Book Club was published by Constable on 1 October 2020.
“I always hoped young women, lesbians, and activists would relate to the book, as well as Greenham women themselves – and I’m so glad that has been true. What has surprised me are the fathers who have reached out to say how the book is helping them as they try to parent their daughters well – and the male readers who’ve said they had no idea what young women went through until they read the book. That was truly unexpected.”
Till now, Stephanie has done her best to play by the rules—which seem to be stacked against girls like her. It doesn’t help that she wants to play football, dress like a boy, and fight apartheid in South Africa—despite living in rural middle England—as she struggles to find her voice in a world where everything is different for girls.
Then she hears them on the radio. Greenham women—an irreverent group of lesbians, punk rockers, mothers, and activists who have set up camp outside a US military base to protest nuclear war—are calling for backups in the face of imminent eviction from their muddy tents. She heads there immediately, where a series of adventures—from a break-in to a nuclear research center to a doomed love affair with a punk rock singer in a girl band—changes the course of her life forever. But the sense of community she has found is challenged when she faces tragedy at home.
Other Girls Like Me was published by Bedazzled Ink on 31 July 2020.
You can read an extract from Other Girls Like Me here.
“What surprised me the most about the publishing process was the number of times I ended up needing to read versions of my manuscript from start to finish. Sending changes back and forth between copyeditors, editors, proofreaders, and typesetters, the last thing you want to do, especially as a debut author who’s antsy to get your book out there, is to re-read every single word you wrote for the umpteenth time. Unfortunately, it’s still the best way to ensure there are little-to-no typos, grammatical, or factual errors in the finished product. C’est la vie!”
Katherine Itacy was born deformed and, by the age of four, had developed both a dangerous spinal disorder and an incurable disease. Yet, thirteen years later, she’d amassed five state and eight national high school championship titles in track and field.
She went on to compete in the Division I NCAA Championships and, later, to graduate fourth in her law school class. By twenty-five, she was operating her own law firm and by twenty-nine, was serving on three boards of directors for civil rights and criminal justice non-profit organizations.
Persevering through hate mail, public ridicule, a death threat, two sexual assaults, and diabulimia, Katherine believed sheer will could get her through anything. Until her medical conditions proved that, sometimes, mind over matter just won’t cut it.
In her self-help memoir, Katherine writes from the heart about the lessons she’s learned from living with a diseased body– from denial to resistance to, finally, acceptance, understanding, and the desire to help others.
Relentless was published by WiDo Publishing on 10 July 2020.
S. V. Bekvalac
“I’d been dreaming of getting published since the nineties. Bit ambitious really, as at that time I was still learning to read in English. When the book finally came out, it was the end of March 2020, and the first few days of lockdown. Ironically, I don’t remember much about it. But I do remember it involved Twitter a lot. And self-loathing at releasing a dystopian future into a dystopian present. Twitter probably surprised me the most about the whole process. I didn’t really do social media before I got published, and felt quite resentful about being pushed into a world I thought would be full of trolls, opinions and inane pictures of cats. And most frighteningly of all perhaps, the possibility of bad twitter reviews. Or dodgy DMs. It was a world I’d lampooned in ‘iRemember’. And now here I was having to use it to market ‘iRemember’. I couldn’t have been more wrong about Twitter. The sheer joyous, supportive kindness of the Twitter writing and bookish communities was a wonderful surprise and a special part of my personal publishing journey. So many people (and not just my lovely indie publisher Lightning Books) were so willing to support and follow new writers, make marketing videos for debuts of people they’d never met, and generally get behind each other with kindness and advice. It was life affirming.”
The city of iRemember shimmers in the desert haze, watched over by the Bureau, a government agency that maintains control through memory surveillance and little pink pills made from the narcotic plant Tranquelle.
It looks like an oasis under its geodesic dome, but the city is under siege. ‘Off-Gridder’ insurgents are fighting to be forgotten.
Bureau Inspector Icara Swansong is on a mission to neutralise the threat. Her investigation leads her into iRemember’s secret underbelly, where she finds herself a fugitive from the very system she had vowed to protect. She has to learn new rules: trust no one. Behind every purple Tranquelle stalk lurk double-agents.
A sci-fi noir with a psychedelic twist, iRemember explores the power the past holds over us and the fragility of everything: what is, what once was, and what will be.
iRemember was published by Lightening Books on 30 March 2020.
“The thing that has been most pleasing about being published during the pandemic is how bloggers have helped to fill the gap created by all the bookshops closing. I really feared the worse when my book came out in March but I’ve had fantastic support from bloggers like @RousselMeggy and @ravencrime, sales and reviews have been good enough to secure another book deal and I’ve ended up with a CWA Dagger shortlisting for the Man on the Street. The other joy has been being one of the original members of the Debut20 group, over 70 debut writers from all genres, who found each other on Facebook and been incredibly supportive, hosting several virtual panels, holding a weekly get together to offer encouragement and advice and generally promoting each others’ work. Hope some of that is useful and regardless of whether you use it thanks for supporting the debuts, we need all the help we can get!”
It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight.
Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story.
The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new.
But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
The Man on the Street was published by Quercus on 19 March 2020.
“I think, what I have learned from the whole process is that, at first, there is going to be a lot that you don’t know. That can be frightening; you’re entering a whole new industry with unfamiliar terminology, timelines and priorities. But what I would urge every new writer to do is ASK! If there is something you are unclear on, ask your editor or agent. They won’t mind, in fact, they will be happy to help you out. You all have the same goal: producing the best book possible. And, perhaps most important, remember to enjoy the lovely moments!”
Don’t close your eyes. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t let them in.
Thea is an insomniac; she hasn’t slept more than three hours a night for years.
So when an ad for a sleep trial that promises to change her life pops up on her phone, Thea knows this is her last chance at finding any kind of normal life.
Soon Thea’s sleeping for longer than she has in a decade, and awakes feeling transformed. So much so that at first she’s willing to overlook the oddities of the trial – the lack of any phone signal; the way she can’t leave her bedroom without permission; the fact that all her personal possessions are locked away, even her shoes.
But it soon becomes clear that the trial doesn’t just want to help Thea sleep. It wants to control her sleep…
Sleepless is published by HQ on 10 December 2020.
“I’d been writing short stories for years, but I’d always shied away from writing a novel. To me, short stories were quick, achievable sprints. Writing a novel seemed more like a full-length marathon; an unattainable dream requiring commitment and stamina. I was intimidated by the whole process. “It was only when I learned to ignore those fears that I found the determination I needed to write my book. I took a leap of faith and told myself I could do it. “Having my debut crime novel published by HQ Harper Collins has been a tremendous experience. It’s taught me that it’s never too late to achieve your dream.”
No secret can stay buried forever…
As the Whitworth family begin renovations on their new home, their plans are brought to an abrupt end when they discover a body buried in the back garden.
DI Isabel Blood and her team are called to investigate, but as she approaches Ecclesdale Drive, a feeling of unease settles in her gut.
The property cordoned off is number 23. The house she used to live in as a child…
The forensic team estimate that the body has been in the ground for up to forty years – coinciding with the time Isabel’s family lived in the house.
Isabel’s father vanished without a trace when she was fourteen years old. And with her mother remaining tight-lipped about her father’s disappearance, Isabel can’t escape the unnerving sense of dread that it’s his body, buried in the garden.
In Cold Blood was published by HQ on 12 November 2020.
Dr Hayleigh Barclay
“The most surreal part of the book finally being out there is that people will actually take the time to read to it. Finally people will find out the utter chaos that goes on inside my head! I hope my take on the vampire myth offers something new and fresh. It was high time for vampire girls to kick ass and that’s exactly what mine do.”
Scotland 1897. Three hundred and fifty years ago the Inservium overthrew the government of a remote town in northern Scotland and for over three centuries the Phoenix vampires have faced persecution. Eighteen-year-old Elise de Velonte is now caught in a war which threatens to wipe out her entire bloodline. Between hunting and killing the corrupt Councillors of the Inservium, and fighting against an ancient curse which is tearing apart the families of her coven, she blurs the lines of love and hate to become a warrior and survivor. Girl of the Ashes has the YA fantasy appeal of Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) and Richelle Mead (Bloodlines, Vampire Academy). Like these books, Girl of the Ashes mixes the magical world with our own and focuses on a female lead trying to negotiate growing up with the burden of saving those she loves.
Girl of the Ashes was published by Garmoran Publishing on 19 October 2020.
I shall be featuring some more debut authors soon. Do let me know if you’ve read any of these featured novels. Do you have a favourite debut novel from 2020 so far?