The Debutantes Ball – Part 2

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.

You can read Part 1 here.

Sylvia Petter

“I was amazed how many people were on board to make my book as good as possible – the editor, the cover artist, the publicist, the publisher – all working in the background to make one whole enterprise. And that was just for the eBook.”

The fictional memoir of Katrina Klain.

How true are the family histories that tell us who we are and where we come from? Who knows how much all the beautiful liars have embargoed or embellished the truth?

During a long flight from Europe to Sydney to bury her mother, Australian expat Katrina Klain reviews the fading narrative of her family and her long quest to understand her true origins. This has already taken her to Vienna, where she met her Uncle Harald who embezzled the Austrian government out of millions, as well as Carl Sokorny, the godson of one of Hitler’s most notorious generals, and then on to Geneva and Madrid. Not only were her family caught up with the Nazis, they also turn out to have been involved with the Stasi in post-war East Germany.

It’s a lot to come to terms with, but there are more revelations in store. After the funeral, she finds letters that reveal a dramatic twist which means her own identity must take a radical shift. Will these discoveries enable her to complete the puzzle of her family’s past?

Inspired by her own life story, Sylvia Petter’s richly imaginative debut novel, set between the new world and the old, is a powerful tale about making peace with the past and finding closure for the future.

All the Beautiful Liars was published by Lightening Books on 16 March 2020.

James Goodhand

“Having a debut published when every bookshop in the country was closed was less than ideal. But one lovely thing to come of it was the incredible generosity of established authors. Waking up on publication day to Clare Mackintosh shouting about my book on Twitter was quite something, and she later went on to make Last Lesson book of the month on her online book club. To have had such support from an author I’ve long admired has made this year for me.”

Last year, Ollie Morcombe was a star pupil, popular and a gifted musician.

Then, after the accident, everything changed. Now he’s an outcast, a prime target of the school bullies who have made his life a living hell.

Today – the last day of the school year – he’s brought those bullies a gift. A homemade pipe bomb.

What has driven a model student to plan an unspeakable revenge? And with the clock ticking down to home time, what can anybody do to stop him?

Last Lesson was published by Penguin on 2 April 2020.

You can read a Q&A with James here.

Zoe Somerville

“One thing I’ve learned about being a debut author is that you have to learn a new language. There are so many codes to unpick. For example: ARCs, Amazon ratings, blog tours, pre-orders, the difference between publicity and marketing…All essential in navigating the debut experience.”

No-one could have foreseen the changes the summer of 1952 would bring. Cramming for her final exams on her family’s farm on the Norfolk coast, Verity Frost feels trapped between past and present: the devotion of her childhood friend Arthur, just returned from National Service, and her strange new desire to escape.

When Verity meets Jack, a charismatic American pilot, he seems to offer the glamour and adventure she so craves, and Arthur becomes determined to uncover the dirt beneath his rival’s glossy sheen.

As summer turns to winter, a devastating storm hits the coast, flooding the land and altering everything in its path. In this new, watery landscape, Verity’s tangled web of secrets, lies and passion will bring about a crime that will change all their lives forever.

The Night of the Flood was published by Head of Zeus on 3 September 2020.

You can read a Q&A with Zoe here.

Sophie Cousins

“I’d say the thing that has surprised me most about publishing is how important the supermarkets are for sales (of commercial fiction), and the fact that most books are only in the supermarkets for two weeks after release. It’s surprised me how much planning and preparation goes in to a book’s release. I’ve had such a lovely team at PRH help promote, publicise and sell my book. I’ve learnt it’s very much a team effort to get a book into reader’s hands.”

Quinn and Minnie are born on New Year’s Eve, in the same hospital, one minute apart.

Their lives may begin together, but their worlds couldn’t be more different.

Thirty years later they find themselves together again in the same place, at the same time.

What if fate is trying to bring them together?

Maybe it’s time to take a chance on love…

This Time Next Year was published by Arrow on 15 October 2020.

Nikki Marmery

“It took me seven years to write my debut novel, only for it to launch in March, just as every bookshop in the entire country closed indefinitely. I did eventually get to see On Wilder Seas in Waterstones – and it was amazing. But better than that – and the best thing about being published – is hearing from readers who loved it. I might be going about my day, hanging out the washing, walking the dog, and my phone will ping with a tweet from a complete stranger who connected with my book in some way. It’s absolutely priceless.” 

April 1579: When two ships meet off the Pacific coast of New Spain, an enslaved woman seizes the chance to escape. But Maria has unwittingly joined Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage as he sets sail on a secret detour into the far north. Sailing into the unknown on the Golden Hind, a lone woman among eighty men, Maria will be tested to the very limits of her endurance. It will take all her wits to survive – and courage to cut the ties that bind her to Drake to pursue her own journey. How far will Maria go to be truly free? Inspired by a true story, this is the tale of one woman’s uncharted voyage to freedom.

On Wilder Seas was published by Legend Press on 16 March 2020.

Sue Clark

“As a long-time scriptwriter, journalist, copywriter and general word wrangler, I thought I knew about the writing game. Turns out, when it comes to novels, I knew next to nothing! I quickly learned that writing a novel and getting it published, hard though that is, is only half the battle. Marketing is the other half. Because, unless you’re Marian Keyes or Richard Osman (in which case, why on earth are you reading this?), no-one is going to shout about your book if you don’t. Shrinking violets don’t sell books. I’m not a natural marketer but I’ve pushed myself to use every contact and every opportunity to bang on about my comic novel, Note to Boy, to anyone who’ll listen – journalists, reviewers, bookshops, libraries, reading groups, even a few amenable-seeming celebs. I’ve also learned to make social media my friend. If you genuinely try to engage and are kind and polite online, I’ve found it’s really not that scary a place. And I’ve learned most people in the book world are more generous and supportive than you might imagine.”

Eloise is an erratic, faded fashionista. Bradley is a glum but wily teenager. In need of help to write her racy 1960s memoirs, the former ‘shock frock’ fashion guru tolerates his common ways. Unable to remember his name, she calls him Boy. Desperate to escape a brutal home life, he puts up with her bossiness and confusing notes. Both guard secrets. How did she lose her fame and fortune? What is he scheming – beyond getting his hands on her bank card? And just what’s hidden in that mysterious locked room?

Note to Boy was published by Unbound on 23 July 2020.

Chris Macdonald

“The best thing about being published is meeting the people that I have. MW Craven to me is crime royalty, and his blurb is on the front of my book!”

Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.

The body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago.

DI Erika Piper, having only recently returned to work after suffering a near-fatal attack herself, finds she must once again prove her worth as the hunt for the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer’ intensifies.

But when another body is found and, this time, the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must put aside her demons to crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.

A Wash of Black was published by Red Dog Press on 4 February 2020.

Rebecca Roberts

“My debut novel, ‘Eat, Sleep, Rage, Repeat’ was released mid-April – at the worst possible time for a book release. All book shops and libraries were shut, my publisher’s marketing officer was on furlough and zoom book events had not yet taken off. We worked hard to think of alternative ways to market the book online, and kind friends helped me to spread the word. Sales have been slow. but the reviews have been extremely positive. It might not be a best-seller, but I am still very proud of ‘Eat.Sleep.Rage.Repeat'”

When Caitlin Bennet returns to her old school as a new teacher, she is determined to turn the lives of her students around. Disruptive classes – no problem. An unsupportive head teacher – fine. Then, she finds herself accused of a crime which could end her teaching career. She sets out to clear her name, but to do so she must revisit the hellish past she has tried so hard to escape.

Eat. Sleep. Rage. Repeat was published by Gomer Press on 1 May 2020.

A reading of Chapter 1 is available here:

Shahnaz Ahsan 

“The biggest surprise has been being shortlisted for the Guardian Not The Booker Prize. Hashim & Family came in the top ten of the public vote and was chosen for the shortlist by the indie bookstore Book-ish in Crickhowell. It was really affirming to see my book being enjoyed by readers and booksellers alike. Being able to take part in virtual bookclubs and festivals and speaking with readers has been the silver lining to publishing during Covid. Writing is such a solitary undertaking and sometimes you forget that at the end your book will be read by other people – it’s so rewarding to hear their reactions and how they’ve connected with my story. As a debut author the thing I’ve had to learn is how to manage reviews. I’ve come to recognise that getting reviewed at all – in newspapers, magazines, and blogs alike – is a privilege, but you can’t draw your sense of worth as an author from what a single reviewer might think. It’s important to keep in mind that whether it’s a rave review or more of a critique, it’s still just one person’s opinion. Far more important is how *you* feel about your work and whether you feel you can stand behind it.”

It is New Year’s Eve, 1960. Hashim has left behind his homeland and his bride, Munira, to seek his fortune in England. His cousin and only friend, Rofikul, introduces Hashim to life in Manchester – including Rofikul’s girlfriend, Helen. When Munira arrives, the group must learn what it is to be a family.

Over the next twenty years, they make their way in the new country – putting down roots and building a home. But when war breaks out in East Pakistan, the struggle for liberation and the emergence of Bangladesh raises questions about identity, belonging and loyalty.

Hashim & Family is a story of family ties, of migration and of a connection to home, and is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

Hashim & Family was published by John Murray on 2 April 2020.

Susie Bower

“Getting published is like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia, or stepping into the Tardis: suddenly you’re part of a vast new world with its own customs and seasons. The most surprising thing about it was that my writing – and myself – suddenly got visible, and felt wanted. Which was both wonderful and unnerving at the same time!”

Until she was 10, Flynn didn’t even know her real name. Her adoptive parents have always kept her past a secret, but one mysterious note transforms her world and sets her on a path to discover who she really is. How did she get the burn that covers most of her face? And could she really have a twin?

Packed off to a boarding school for misfits, Flynn tries to adjust to the unfair rules and stomach-churning soup while making friends with her unusual classmates. All the while, she receives more cryptic messages that slowly bring her closer to her true identity.

Bursting with magic, intrigue and humour, School for Nobodies is a delightful debut about the beauty of not fitting in.

School for Nobodies was published by Pushkin Children’s Books on 2 July 2020.

Julie Anderson

“How do I feel about my novel debut in 2020, given that novel is entitled Plague? Actually it’s been tremendous fun, lots of hard work publicising it, on-line and on social media rather than in bookshops and being inventive, like doing the Book Walk, though lots of explaining too that it was begun long before COVID.”

There are many ways to die. Plague is just one of them.

Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and, within it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, killed in the same way, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.

As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.

The Westminster connection enables Detective Inspector Andrew Rowlands, working alone on  a series of rapes and murders of vulnerable young people in central London, to finally persuade his superiors that there is a pattern. He is assigned to lead the case.  Cassandra Fortune, a disgraced civil servant, is given the uncomfortable task of investigating the investigation, while joining forces with Rowlands to find the killers before Parliament rises for recess.

Together they navigate the arcane world of the Palace of Westminster as the body count grows. But someone is leaking important details about the case to the press and the media ratchets up the pressure. Misinformation and malice online feeds distrust and panic and the Black Death begins to stalk the streets of London once again.

Meanwhile the commercial and political world focuses on the launch of a huge government Thames-side building programme worth billions. Powerful forces, in Parliament and the City, are competing for its spoils. How, if at all, does this link with the killings? Drawn into the melee, Cassandra Fortune finds herself the object of the attentions of one of the major players, wealthy City broker, Lawrence Delahaye. The attraction is mutual. Fortune and Rowlands discover a shadowy underground network of influence and power as they race against the clock to prevent the death of more innocents and the destruction of the Mother of Parliaments itself. Cassandra will be forced to make a terrible decision as she faces ruin. Time is running out and it’s not clear what, or who, is going to survive.

Plague was published by Claret Press on 15 September 2020.

Anca Antoci

“One thing I learned from publishing my first novel was that it’s not like brain surgery, you don’t need to get it right the first time. Sure, you have to polish it the best you can, but you don’t have to be afraid of the publish button. Your debut novel won’t be a masterpiece. Years from now, you’ll probably look back at it and cringe. That means you’ve grown as a writer and that’s what everyone should strive for. Hone your craft with every book you release and keep writing!”

When tragedy strikes, Rae makes a terrible choice and struggles with the aftermath. Lost in the wilderness of the Tongass rainforest, Rae discovers a secret race, the chimera who follow a strict code.
To survive, Rae must comply with Ari, her reluctant hero, and allow him to wipe away any memory of this realm. If this fails, the council will send hellhounds to finish the job.
Once she finds out that her nightmares are, in fact, snippets from the future and that magic runs in her blood, Rae can no longer accept her fate. To pull off her escape plan, she had to deceive the one who saved her.
Once her plan is set in motion, there is no going back, and her chances to pull through are slim to none. Knowledge is power, but is it worth dying for?

Forget Me Not was self published on 31 January 2020.

Tom Binnie

“What has surprised me being a new author is the reward you feel when your book is read by total strangers who involve themselves in the plot and characters and are keen to discus them with you. You have invented a world out of your own imagination and passed it on to others who enjoyed and found it rewarding to read. The numbers of readers do not matter as much as making contact with a few who have understood and appreciated the writing.”

Adventure, mystery, intrigue and love:
Live among the merchants of Edinburgh and the porcelain artists of Delft at the start of the 18th Century. Follow the lives of the three main characters as they struggle to balance duty and desire in an everchanging world of great social, political and economic upheaval; each one, strongly influenced by the lovers and friends they encounter on their life’s journey.
It is a story of love, loss, and betrayal. It is a story of redemption and the acceptance of change.

To the Cry of the Sand’ling was self published on 16 June 2020.

Nikki Smith

“I have learned many things during the process of publication, but one of the most valuable has been the importance of friendships with other writers. Writing can be a very lonely occupation, with many, many highs and lows along the path to publication and this journey continues even once your book is out in the world. Other authors understand this process better than anyone else and can be a source of great support. I have author friends who I didn’t even know a few years ago, but with whom I am now in regular contact, in some cases daily, and I am so grateful for their expertise and willingness to chat through any issues I have.”

Alison feels like she’s losing her mind. She is convinced that her ex-husband Jack is following her. She is certain she recognises the strange woman who keeps approaching her at work.

She knows she has a good reason to be afraid. But she can’t remember why.

Then the mention of one name brings a lifetime of memories – and the truth – crashing back…

All in Her Head was published by Orion on 2 April 2020.

Eleni Kyriacou

“My mother arrived in England from rural Cyprus in the 1950s, knowing nobody. Here she made friends, met my father and – eventually – had me and my sister. I’ve often wondered what would have happened had she fallen in with the wrong people? What if she’d taken a different turn? This is that story. I’ve never read a story set among the Cypriot community and felt I had to write it. There are people starting over in a new country every day –wondering if they’ve made the right decision, how they’ll get by and trying to hold onto themselves while fitting in. Writing She Came To Stay, I learned that you don’t really know what a book is about till you finish it (and rewrite it several times!). This is a story about home, identity and whether we can really ever leave our pasts behind. It’s also the story of hope and optimism in the face of daunting odds.”

London, 1952. Dina Demetriou has travelled from Cyprus for a better life. She’s certain that excitement, adventure and opportunity are out there, waiting – if only she knew where to look.

Her passion for clothes and flair for sewing land her a job repairing the glittering costumes at the notorious Pelican Revue. It’s here that she befriends the mysterious and beautiful Bebba.

With her bleached-blonde hair and an appetite for mischief, Bebba is like no Greek Dina has ever met before. She guides Dina around the fashionable shops, bars and clubs of Soho, and Dina finally feels life has begun.

But Bebba has a secret. And as thick smog brings the city to a standstill, the truth emerges with devastating results. Dina’s new life now hangs by a thread. What will be left when the fog finally clears? And will Dina be willing to risk everything to protect her future?

She Came to Stay was published by Hodder and Stoughton on 5 March 2020.

Cat Walker

“My debut novel, The Scoop, was published by RedDoor Press on 19th March 2020. It had taken me 13 years to get a book deal (and to get my manuscript publishing-ready) and then, of course, it was published right at the start of the COvid19 lockdown. It has been a real rollercoaster experience. Obviously no face-to-face events have been possible, and with RedDoor being a small indie press with very little marketing budget, everything has been down to me trying to jump on bandwagons and ride on coattails. I think it was a big surprise to me just how much marketing the author has to do themselves, especially during Covid – it has been like a full-time job trying to do the PR for The Scoop. Highlights have included appearing at online literary festivals (e.g. the Stay-at-Home Literary Festival organised by C.J.Cooke, author of The Nesting; and Isolation Fest organised by another author, Hannah Hodgson). Another highlight has been the camaraderie between authors, particularly debuts, including the amazing group “@Debuts2020” who come from all different genres and backgrounds and publishing houses, but who support each other so warmly and generously (and with a lot of much-needed humour in these dark times). The literary press and local bookshops have also been very supportive, which has been lovely. I’ve also had great support from my local shirt-shop (GFW Clothing), who have done a joint campaign with me – me wearing their shirts and them selling my book in their shop. That was a surprising one!”

Casey Jones’s life is a mess. Her job bores her, her parents confuse her, and she has repeated nightmares about her ex-girlfriend. In a moment of madness she packs in her job and plans an adventure with her schoolfriend, long-time lad Danny. What she didn’t plan for was an extra passenger, in the shape of Danny’s estranged twelve-year-old son, Ari, who has problems of his own.

The three of them are thrown together for an intense rollercoaster ride in Alice  a converted bright pink ice cream van  through some of the most beautiful and dangerous places in the world, from Tulse Hill to Tibet.

The Scoop was published by RedDoor Press on 19 March 2020.

Do you have a favourite debut novel from 2020 so far or have you read any of these featured novels? Do let me know.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Another great debut roundup, Janet. Won’t be reading Plague, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks. And yes, perhaps it’s a bit too soon for that one!


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