A flurry of debut novels are always heavily pushed by publicists during this time of year, but only a handful will make the bestseller list.
In 2022, one of those names was Tessy Gunty, whose debut The Rabbit Hutch (Oneworld) won both the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize and the National Book Award for fiction in the US.
Looking ahead to 2023, these are the debuts Bea Carvalho, head fiction buyer at Waterstones, suggests are the ones to watch…
1. Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey (Fourth Estate, Jan 17)
This debut novel from the screenwriter of Schitt’s Creek and Everything I Know About Love is a funny, satirical and, at times, profound story about a young woman trying to navigate her way through life following a divorce after a short-lived marriage.
“This one is hotly anticipated and inspired by the author’s own experience of getting married and divorced in her 20s, ideal for readers of Dolly Alderton,” says Carvalho.
2. The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus, Jan 12)
This novel is inspired by the story of two men in the 19th century, who wrote the first book about homosexuality at the time of Oscar Wilde’s trial.
“The author has really researched their lives and written this novel about them meeting and writing the book, in the historical context of that time,” Carvalho explains.
3. Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Harvill Secker, Jul 6)
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah had a collection of short stories a few years back (called Friday Black), but this first novel is a dystopian imagination of where the American prison system could end up going. It’s about a sports league which pitches prisoners against each other for entertainment.
“It’s beautiful and brutal, with a really furious social commentary underpinning it,” says Carvalho.
4. Bellies by Nicola Dinan (Doubleday, July 6)
“This begins as a boy-meets-boy love story, but when the couple leaves university to go to London, one goes through the process of transitioning and the story is about what happens to their relationship from that. It’s a really beautiful, underrepresented love story in fiction,” says Carvalho.
5. In Memoriam by Alice Winn (Viking, Mar 7)
This is a story of forbidden love between two soldiers in the trenches of the First World War, where among the death and devastation they find fleeting moments of solace in one another.
6. Lady MacBethad by Isabelle Schuler (Raven Books, Mar 2)
This action-packed historical tale is a reimagining of the life of the Scottish queen who inspired the story of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.
7. Maame by Jessica George (Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 14)
This coming-of-age debut follows Maddie Wright, a 20-something British Ghanaian, as she navigates identity, love, loss and becoming the woman she wants to be, while caring for her father who has Parkinson’s. One for fans of Queenie.
8. Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (Fourth Estate, Mar 2)
“This is a heartbreaking, beautiful novel about three young kids who migrate from Vietnam to London in the 1980s, and have to find their way in Thatcher’s Britain having left their family behind in very tragic circumstances. It’s a real tearjerker and it’s going to be huge,” Carvalho predicts.
Other novels publishers have high hopes for include…
9. The Theory Of (Not Quite) Everything by Kara Gnodde (Mantle, Mar 16)
From this debut writer comes a warmhearted tale about two siblings who, bound by the death of their parents, find themselves living together as adults – even though they have different outlooks on life.
Mimi feels constrained by her genius brother Art, who devises a mathematical algorithm to help her find love. For fans of Lessons In Chemistry and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
10. The Things We Do To Our Friends by Heather Darwent (Viking, Jan 12)
A dark and gripping novel set in Edinburgh, it tells a compulsive tale of feminist revenge, toxic friendships and deadly secrets. A lead fiction debut for Viking in 2023, it’s already received brilliant early praise from the likes of Emma Flint, Nikki Smith and Julia Heaberlin.
11. Arthur And Teddy Are Coming Out by Ryan Love (HQ, Apr 13)
Described by the publishers as the ‘feelgood read of 2023’, this novel is a dual-narrative coming out story of Arthur, a 79-year-old who has spent his life in the closet, and his 21-year-old grandson Teddy, who is trying to find the right moment to come out to his family. It follows the characters as they navigate first loves, heartbreak, and finding their place in their community.
12. Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs (Century, Jul 6)
This edge-of-your-seat fantasy thriller sees two estranged sisters tasked with guarding their family’s collection of rare and dangerous magical books. To survive, they have to unravel the secrets their parents kept hidden from them.
13. Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks (Jonathan Cape, Mar 2)
An explosive debut about dub reggae, love and freedom set in late Seventies and early Eighties across London, Bristol and Jamaica.
14. One Small Voice by Santanu Bhattacharya (Fig Tree, Feb 23)
Lauded by the likes of Max Porter and Nikesh Shukla, this debut novel begins in India in 1992, when the country is ablaze with riots. 10-year-old Shubhankar witnesses a terrible act of mob violence, in which his family are complicit.
In the two decades that follow, he has to wrestle with his past, family pressures and the shifts taking place around him, in this story of modern India and a young man coming of age during a turbulent time.
15. Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose (Viking, Mar 30)
There’s a lot of buzz around this debut about three mothers who, behind the perfectly managed routines of their lives, are not the women you’d expect. It’s a deliciously scandalous story about the dark side of suburbia, bristling with lies, desire and the secrets that can make or break a marriage.
Non-fiction titles recommended by Caroline Sanderson, associate editor of trade publication The Bookseller, include…
16. You Are Not Alone by Cariad Lloyd (Bloomsbury Tonic, Jan 19)
A moving account of how we deal with grief by the comedian, actor and the brains behind popular podcast Griefcast. When Lloyd lost her father to cancer at 15, people didn’t talk about death or grief. She didn’t know how to process it, and didn’t talk to a therapist for 15 years.
In this book, she reflects on her own grief, and the grief of others she has spoken to over the years – including Stephen Mangan, Philippa Perry, Reverend Richard Coles, Adam Buxton and Sara Pascoe.
“It’s a brilliant book about what it is to carry grief over time,” says Sanderson.
17. Killjoy: The True Story Of The No More Page 3 Campaign by Jo Cheetham (Picador, Feb 23)
A heroic and humorous account of the woman who found herself at the head of the No More Page 3 campaign, in a group of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
18. Red Memory by Tania Branigan (Faber, Feb 2)
Former China correspondent for The Guardian Tania Branigan writes about China’s influence in the world, and the need to understand what happened during the Cultural Revolution. Drawing on interviews and written testimonies, she charts rarely heard stories of those who lived through this savage period.
19. Me Vs Brain: An Overthinker’s Guide To Life by Hayley Morris (Century, Feb 16)
The comedian Hayley Morris, who has 4 million followers on TikTok and 1.8 million on Instagram, writes about overthinking everything, from dating, to mental health and menstrual cups.