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 30 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.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 Beating the Odds which made the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing 2015 shortlist. His most recent book is entitled Boy Swallows Universe (June 2018)

                      Books by Trent Dalton

                      Christian White
                      About the author

                      Christian White

                      Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He co-created the television series Carnivores, currently in development with Matchbox Pictures and Heyday TV, and co-wrote Relic, a psychological horror feature film to be produced by Carver Films (The Snowtown Murders, Partisan).Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write full-time, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from his home in Melbourne where he lives with his wife, the filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot. The Nowhere Child is his first book. Christian’s currently working on his second novel, due for publication by Affirm Press in 2019.

                      Books by Christian White

                      Holly Ringland
                      About the author

                      Holly Ringland

                      Holly Ringland grew up wild and barefoot in her mother's tropical garden in Northern Australia. When she was nine years old, her family lived in a camper van for two years in North America,travelling from one national park to another, an experience that sparked Holly's lifelong interest in cultures and stories. In her twenties, Holly worked for four years in a remote Indigenous community in the central Australian desert. She moved to England in 2009 and obtained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester in 2011. She now lives between the UK and Australia. Holly's essays and short fiction have been published in various anthologies and literary journals. In 2015, the first chapter of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart won Griffith Review's annual writer award, which included a week-long fellowship at Varuna House, Australia's top national writing residency.

                      Books by Holly Ringland

                      Heather Morris
                      About the author

                      Heather Morris

                      Heather Morris is an Australian writer and social work administrator. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was auctioned by an Academy-Award winning screenwriter in the US. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is her debut novel.

                      Books by Heather Morris

                      Dervla McTiernan
                      About the author

                      Dervla McTiernan

                      Dervla McTiernan was born in County Cork, Ireland to a family of seven. She studied corporate law at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the Law Society of Ireland, and practiced as a lawyer for twelve years. Following the global financial crisis she moved with her family to Western Australia, where she now works for the Mental Health Commission. In 2015 she submitted a story for the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto competition and was shortlisted. This inspired her to complete the novel that would become The Ruin. She lives in Perth with her husband and two children.

                      Books by Dervla McTiernan

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