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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.