Small, independent literary publishers are the champions of this fall’s crop of debut fiction writers. Coffee House Press brings us A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, which recently took home the Baileys Prize. Counterpoint introduces Casey Walker with a political thriller, The Last Days in Shanghai, set in present-day China. Dorothy, a Publishing Project, transforms Nell Zink (The Wallcreeper), an unknown writer, into a potential breakout. From Soho Press comes The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, a murder mystery enmeshed in the Mormon Church. And Archipelago Books has Our Lady of the Nile, the saga of girls at a boarding school on the Nile in the years preceding the Rwandan genocide, by Scholastique Mukasonga. Clearly we’re living in a golden age of indies, but the Big Five haven’t been completely left in the dust: from HarperCollins comes Gutenberg’s Apprentice, a meticulously researched historical novel set in 15th-century Germany, by Alix Christie.
Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (Sept.), written in a distinctive, fragmented prose style, has become a cult literary sensation since taking home the Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize)—beating out Pulitzer winner Donna Tartt and Margaret Atwood.
Alix Christie was 10 years old when she wrote her first novel. It was about horses. She went on to hone a teenage interest in letterpress printing, which would later provide the inspiration for her debut novel, Gutenberg’s Apprentice (Sept.).
Nell Zink describes herself as a secret writer, too shy to pen even a coherent query letter, and she says that after finishing The Wallcreeper (Oct.) in about a year, she “forgot all about it, because I was doing other stuff.”
Casey Walker started The Last Days in Shanghai (Dec.) in 2007, after a trip to China.
Archipelago has published writers from more than 35 countries, and aside from her copious reading, publisher Jill Schoolman discovers a large number of future authors at international book fairs like Frankfurt, which is where she first became aware of Scholastique Mukasonga’s work.
Most murder mysteries are carefully plotted, but Mette Ivie Harrison didn’t know who the murderer was when she started writing her first adult novel.
Julie Buntin is a freelance writer and the programs director at the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.