The fashion writer inspired by her local lido, the museum attendant who told herself tales about the artefacts to while away quiet afternoons… there are some great stories behind our choice of the UK’s debut novelists this year
New voices are the life-blood of the world of books, especially when it comes to fiction. As the old, established novelists slow down and – whisper it – show signs of becoming stale, how refreshing, how rejuvenating, it is to welcome fresh faces to the table. Not surprisingly, spring, the time for new beginnings, is the season when publishers large and small choose to unveil their new talent and the class of 2018 looks particularly promising. For the fifth year running, the Observer New Review has chosen six debut novelists we believe will make a splash, among them two teachers, a former fashion journalist, a one-time literary agent and a gallery attendant at the British Museum. The subjects they take on range from mermaids, child abuse and outdoor swimming to old age and the “comfort” women of Japanese colonial rule in South Korea.
What makes us so sure these new writers will stand out from the crowd? It can never be more than a hunch but our track record in picking the cream of the crop speaks for itself. Previous New Review debutantes have included prize-winners and bestsellers such as Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist), Emma Healey (Elizabeth Is Missing), Laura Barnett (The Versions of Us), Sally Rooney (Conversations With Friends) and Gail Honeyman, whose Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has just won the Costa debut novel award for 2017. It is heartening to see more black and ethnic minority authors among 2018’s first-time novelists, a sign that publaishers may be starting to address the imbalance that means writers named David are famously more likely to get into the bestseller charts than BAME authors. Could they do more? Evidently. Let’s see what 2019 brings. Lisa O’Kelly, associate editor (books)