Each year, Waterstones pick their most promising fiction debuts of the next 12 months. The Waterstones 11 began in 2011, and has already accurately predicted success for the likes of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (longlisted for the Man Booker prize last year), and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, and one of my favourite reads of 2011). Announced in the Piccadilly branch on the 14th January, Managing Director James Daunt explained that “The Waterstones Eleven puts new writing at the forefront of the literary calendar and has quickly become a celebration our readers trust.”
But who have they picked this time?
Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta
The greatest buzz for 2013’s debuts was for the Principal Guest Artist for the Royal Ballet, now turned author, Carlos Acosta, and his novel Pig’s Foot. This is not Acosta’s first book – he wrote his autobiography No Way Home, published in 2007 – but his first fictional offering. Set in his native Cuba, Pig’s Foot is a story of family, love and revolution through three generations, told through the eyes of Oscar Kortico, the last descendant of his family. Due out from Bloomsbury in October, there are high expectations for Pig’s Foot. Preview the novel here.
Ballistics by D.W. Wilson
D.W. Wilson was the youngest ever winner of the BBC National Short Story award back in 2011. Ballistics is the story of fathers and sons and relationships gone wrong, all set in the awe-inspiring Canadian backdrop. Alan West, the centrepiece of the story, whose quest to find his father (at the behest of his grandfather), finds himself the recipient of the dark stories of the past, and caught up in an adventure that will answer all his questions and more. You can preview the novel here.
The Son by Michel Rostain
This is one of the first titles to be published by the new imprint from Headline – Tinder Press. Michel Rostain, French opera director and winner of the Prix Goncourt for Début Fiction in 2011 for this novel, tells the story of losing his son, beginning just 11 days after it happened. A blur between memoir and fiction, the journey through grief is told through the eyes of Lion, Rostain’s son who suddenly died of meningitis and left the family stunned. Preview the novel here.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
This novel has already been described as one of “the funniest, most heartbreaking novels you’ve ever read”. Meet Alex Woods – child of a clairvoyant mother and a phantom father – and held up at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana and the ashes of a Vietnam veteran, who was also his best friend. What ensues is the tale of young Alex Woods, and the jumble of events that brought him there. Perhaps an idea of his writing style, Extence’s bio on the Waterstones list talks about his illustrious (but ultimately doomed) career as a chess player… Preview the novel here.
The Fields by Kevin Maher
Briefly described as a story of “Irish adolescence“, The Fields is much more than that. Jim Finnegan is thirteen, living in Ireland, and enjoying the things that thirteen-year-olds normally enjoy. But, after a rendition of The Fields of Athenry at a party, Jim discovers that there are two kinds of attention: wanted and unwanted; and each of them have their own doses of trouble. Between Saidhbh Donohue and Father Luke O’Culigeen, Jim’s life is unravelled before his very eyes. Preview the novel here.
Idiopathy by Sam Byers
From love and narcissism to ailing cattle, this is described as “a savagely funny” debut novel from Sam Byers. Our three characters, Katherine, Nathan and Daniel, are inextricably linked, but also fatally flawed. Katherine attracts all the wrong kind of people, whilst Nathan can’t make up his mind about whether or not he loves his girlfriend (but says he does just to maintain the status quo), and Nathan has to contend with emerging from a psychiatric ward to discover his mother has become a Twitter sensation. “Scathing” and “bitterly humorous”, Idiopathy pokes fun at our self-centred generation. Preview the novel here.
Y by Marjorie Celona
With previous stories appearing in the Harvard Review, Celona has an established popularity as a writer, so there are high hopes for her debut novel. Y is the story of Shannon – abandoned on the steps of the YMCA as a newborn – and her desperate search for answers about her family. This is a story of the search for stability, and for belonging, that so many take for granted. With the tale of Shannon’s mother emerging – will it give her the answers she needs? Preview the novel here and read an interview with Marjorie Celona here.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Hannah Kent is co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings. She first visited Iceland as a teenager on a Rotary Exchange, and it was there that she first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdótti. Based on a true story, Burial Rites tells the tale of Agnes, who has been condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men, and sent to live out her final months on a farm. But, as the family she is staying with learn, all is not what it seems, and as Agnes begins her side of the story, this novel asks the question: what is the difference between the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told? Preview the novel here.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
Donal Ryan in fact started The Spinning Heart in 2010, so it’s been a novel a long time in coming. However, its subject is particularly relevant. Set in the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, it is told through the many voices of a rural village – each one straining to tell their side of the story in an increasingly tense arena, where violence simmers under the surface. It has already been likened to Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge in its technicality and its way of speaking for a generation. Preview the novel here.
Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera
Interestingly, this is the second author on the list to have already published a memoir – The Times columnist Sanghera is author of The Boy with the Topknot, published in 2005. Inspired by The Old Wives’ Tale, Marriage Material is the tale of 3 generations of a family, centred around a corner shop in Wolverhampton, and told through the eyes of Arjan Banga, who finds that family history has a stronger grip on him than he first thought. It has been described as “a unique and urgent survey of modern Britain”, spanning love, family and politics through the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries. Preview the novel here.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Taiye Selasi is on my list of The Most Awe-Inspiring Women in the World. A graduate of Yale and Oxford Universities, her essay Afropolitans was published in the cult magazine LiP in 2005 before going viral (and defining a new generation), and her story The Sex Lives of African Girls was published in Granta in 2011. Impressed? Now she has a novel. From West Africa to New England, London, New York and back again, Ghana Must Go follows a family through its separation, grief, anger and its reunion. And I don’t think I’ll say any more than that… Preview the novel here.
What do you think of the Waterstones 11?
Are you looking forward to any of the novels, and are you planning to read any of them?