ABIA Shortlist 2019: Stellar Debuts

ABIA Shortlist 2019: Stellar Debuts

Once upon a time in Australian publishing, to make it as a writer you had to already have a profile. Writers had to work hard to establish a following, often having to publish five or more novels before reaping any rewards or gaining any acknowledgment. Books were very much judged by the name of the person behind the pen, but this isn’t so much the case today.

The Australian literary scene has changed a great deal in the past few years, with new (and welcome) trends emerging. We’ve seen female authors and characters thrive, fewer male gatekeepers in the industry, and novels that are much more diverse and experimental. However, there’s another phenomenon that we are truly excited about – the success of the debut. We are talking about previously unheard-of authors who are emerging from seemingly nowhere to produce amazing pieces of writing – and we, the readers, are absolutely lapping it up.

This has never been more evident than on the 2019 ABIA shortlist. There among the established heavyweights of the book world are some extraordinary debut authors. It’s a testament to how astute the Better Reading community is – you embraced these titles. Many of these books have been so popular that they made it into the Better Reading Top 100.

All five titles shortlisted for the General Fiction Book of the Year category are also on the Better Reading Top 100, and are written by first-time authors. Some ABIA shortlisted titles, such as Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, are already considered classics – an extraordinary achievement for a debut author.

What has prompted this trend? The willingness of publishers to take on new and potentially risky titles has certainly contributed. A book however, is only as successful as its readership deems it to be – and readers have certainly helped to make these debuts successful. It seems that avid readers are judging books more on the merit of their story and writing, as opposed to the writer’s reputation or national profile. Whilst writers (and publishers) are boldly branching out and trying new things, readers are taking risks as well by experimenting with new genres and forms that they previously would never have read.

It’s a great time to be a writer and a reader in Australia. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for our already-too-full bookshelves.

Here are some of the ABIA shortlisted titles by debut authors.

Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton (HarperCollins)

An astonishing story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

Read more here

Eggshell Skull, Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)

Bri Lee’s fierce and eloquent memoir addresses both her own reckoning with the past to speak the truth, as well as the stories around her. It’s a fiercely intelligent, heartbreakingly honest memoir and feminist call to arms.

Read more here

Scrublands, Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin)

Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.

Read more here

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland (HarperCollins Publishers)

After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. An enchanting and captivating story about how our untold stories haunt us.

Read more here

The Nowhere Child, Christian White (Affirm Press)

On a break between teaching photography classes, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes Kim is that girl. The Nowhere Child is a combustible tale of trauma, cult, conspiracy and memory.

Read more here

The Rúin, Dervla McTiernan (HarperCollins Publishers)

Cormac Reilly is about to reopen the case that took him twenty years to forget… This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can’t – or won’t.

Read more here

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris (Echo Publishing)

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a beautiful, haunting novel, based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, prisoner 34902. Sokolov was a Slovakian Jew, held prisoner during World War 2 in the now infamous Auschwitz prison camp.

Read more here

Have you read any of the debut books? Have you read them all? Is there another debut book you feel should’ve made the cut? Tell us what you think.

The 2019 ABIA winners will be announced on 2 May. Find out more about the ABIAs here.

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                      Chris Hammer
                      About the author

                      Chris Hammer

                      Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. For many years he was a roving foreign correspondent for SBS TV's flagship current affairs program Dateline. He has reported from more than thirty countries on six continents. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, current affairs correspondent for SBS TV and a senior political journalist for The Age. His first book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Walkley Book Award and the Manning Clark House National Cultural Award. Scrublands, his first novel, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards, shortlisted for Best General Fiction at the Australian Book Industry Awards, shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards and won the UK Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Debut Dagger Award. His second novel, Silver, was published in 2019 and was shortlisted for Best General Fiction at the Australian Book Industry Awards, shortlisted for the 2020 ABA Booksellers' Choice Book of the Year Award, and longlisted for the UK Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award. Chris has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master's degree in international relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Dr Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.

                      Books by Chris Hammer

                      Bri Lee
                      About the author

                      Bri Lee

                      Bri Lee is a Brisbane-based writer currently specialising in memoir, narrative non-fiction, and journalism. She is also the Founding Editor of the feminist magazine Hot Chicks with Big Brains and runs regular events associated with the magazine in Brisbane. After graduating from law at the University of Queensland she worked as a Judge's Associate in the Queensland District Court. In 2016 Bri left the legal industry to write full-time after receiving the inaugural Kat Muscat Fellowship. She currently freelances, manages Hot Chicks with Big Brains.Eggshell Skull is her first book.

                      Books by Bri Lee

                      Trent Dalton
                      About the author

                      Trent Dalton

                      Trent Dalton is the author of Boy Swallows Universe (HarperCollins, 2018), a critically acclaimed national bestseller and winner of the 2019 Indie Book of the Year Award, the MUD Literary Prize, and the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and the People's Choice Award at the 2019 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. At the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards, the book won a record four awards, including the prestigious Book of the Year Award. Boy Swallows Universe has been published across thirty-four English language and translation territories. His second novel, All Our Shimmering Skies, was published by HarperCollins in October 2020 and has also become a national bestseller. He's also a two-time winner of a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism, a four-time winner of a Kennedy Award for Excellence in NSW Journalism and a four-time winner of the national News Awards Features Journalist of the Year.

                      Books by Trent Dalton

                      Christian White
                      About the author

                      Christian White

                      Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter whose projects include feature film RelicThe Nowhere Child is his first book and one of Australia’s bestselling debut novels ever. An early draft of this novel won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Since publication The Nowhere Child has been shortlisted for major awards including the Australian Book Industry Awards’ General Fiction Book of the Year and Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, and the Indie Book Awards’ Debut Fiction Book of the Year. Rights to The Nowhere Child have been sold in 17 international territories, and has been acquired for a major screen deal. Clickbait, a television series Christian co-created with Tony Ayres (The Slap) is currently in production for Netflix. Christian’s keenly awaited second book, The Wife and the Widow, was published by Affirm Press in 2019 and became an instant bestseller. Christian lives in Melbourne with his wife, filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy.

                      Books by Christian White

                      Holly Ringland
                      About the author

                      Holly Ringland

                      Holly Ringland is the author of the international bestseller, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart which has been translated into 31 languages and is being adapted into a seven-part-TV series starring Sigourney Weaver, and produced by Amazon Prime and Bruna Papandrea's Made Up Stories. It will screen in 240+ countries in 2023. In 2019, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart won The Australian Book Industry Award General Fiction Book of the Year. In 2021, Holly co-hosted an 8-episode ABC TV series, Back to Nature, alongside Aaron Pedersen. After living between Australia and the UK for ten years, Holly has been based in the hinterland of Queensland since 2020, where she wrote The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding in her 'office', a vintage caravan named Frenchie.

                      Books by Holly Ringland

                      Heather Morris
                      About the author

                      Heather Morris

                      Born in New Zealand, Heather Morris is an international number one bestselling author, who is passionate about stories of survival, resilience and hope. In 2003, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who 'might just have a story worth telling'. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives. Heather used Lale's story as the basis for The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which has sold six million copies. Her follow-up novel, Cilka's Journey, has sold more than a million copies worldwide.

                      Books by Heather Morris

                      Dervla McTiernan
                      About the author

                      Dervla McTiernan

                      Dervla McTiernan's debut novel, The Ruin, was a critically acclaimed international bestseller published around the world. The Ruin won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, the Davitt Award for Best Adult Fiction and the Barry Award for Best Original Paperback, and was shortlisted for numerous other awards. It was on the Amazon US Best Book of the Year list in 2018 and screen rights were snapped up by Hopscotch Features. Dervla's second book, The Scholar, debuted into the Nielsen Bookscan Top 5 on release in 2019, and her third, The Good Turn, went straight to no.1, confirming her place as one of Australia's best crime writers. Born in County Cork, Ireland, to a family of seven, Dervla practised as a corporate lawyer for twelve years. Following the global financial crisis, she moved with her family to Western Australia, where she now lives with her husband and two children. An avid fan of crime and detective novels from childhood, Dervla now writes full time.

                      Books by Dervla McTiernan

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