2019 has been a good year for me. These were the key positive events:
- In January, I signed with a literary agent, Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates, and am currently revising my time-travel novel, A Minute’s Grace. I hope that we will be able to submit this to publishers in 2020!
- In June, I got a new job, as a NUAcT Fellow in History at Newcastle University, and will be transferring my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship there as well. My job officially starts on January 1st, but nothing much will change for me as I am already living in Newcastle and doing my research.
- In September, I gave a Science Award Lecture at the British Science Festival, on ‘When children became evil’, which covered the sudden rise of ‘extraordinary children’ in horror and science fiction films in post-war Britain and the United States, and linked these depictions to changing concepts of childhood. I reprised versions of this talk at Oxford IF and at Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People at the Lowry in Manchester. You can read a summary of the talk here.
- In October, my first academic monograph, A Progressive Education? How Childhood Changed In Mid-Twentieth-Century English and Welsh Schools, was published by Manchester University Press. In about two years’ time (given the speed of academic book reviews) I should be able to find out what other historians think of it!
I also travelled to Japan and Australia, started doing research with adolescents in a Northampton secondary school, welcomed my first cousin once removed (baby Hudson) to the world, went to my first football match (Newcastle United vs. Arsenal), passed the Newcastle Roller Girls roller derby intake (even if I am retaking it in 2020) and put together two pieces of flatpack furniture by myself!
Right, onto the books…
I’ve picked twelve 2020 releases that I am particularly looking forward to – almost all from the first half of the year, for obvious reasons – then, as always, added a further eighteen books that I want to read in 2020, whether or not they are new this year or not.
Miriam Cohen, Adults and Other Children (January 2020). I’m intrigued by this debut collection of short stories, which promises to explore girlhood and motherhood from a range of angles, including a little girl convinced that her baby sister is a changeling, a woman who makes up an imagined child, and a college student who becomes a surrogate for her professor. And, given my own research, I couldn’t resist the title.
Meng Jin, Little Gods (January 2020). I have to join the bandwagon for this debut novel about brilliant physicist Su Lan and her daughter Lina’s search for answers about her mother’s life. I love novels that engage with theoretical physics, and I have been slightly suckered in by this tagline: ‘combining the emotional resonance of Home Fire with the ambition and innovation of Asymmetry‘. I mean, YES.
Aravind Adiga, Amnesty (February 2020). While I admire Adiga as a writer, I didn’t find either of the novels I’ve read by him – The White Tiger and Last Man In Tower – especially memorable. However, his latest book, which focuses on a young undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka – now living in Sydney – who must decide whether or not to report crucial information about a murder sounds potentially riveting. It also sounds like it might have a lot in common with Nikita Lalwani’s latest (see below!).
Natasha Pulley, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (March 2020). Natasha Pulley was one of thetwo new favourite authors I discovered in 2019, so OF COURSE I’m anticipating her third novel with great excitement. This sequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (which is also loosely linked to The Bedlam Stacks) is set in a ghost-ridden Japan in 1888, where a British translator and his Japanese watchmaker friend are investigating supernatural occurrences. Pulley consistently turns the potentially twee into the electrifying, and the possibly colonialist into the challenging, so I can’t wait to see what she does with this premise. Also, octopuses.
Kevin Nyugen, New Waves (March 2020). I’m intrigued by this debut novel where a black woman and an Asian man team up to steal their New York tech start-up’s user database after being ignored and underpaid by the company for too long.
Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet (March 2020). Like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD, I’m eagerly anticipating O’Farrell’s next novel – I thought her two most recent books, the memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and the novel This Must Be The Place, were utterly fantastic. This signals a bit of a change in direction; set in the 1580s, it explores the hidden story of Shakespeare’s son, who died at the age of eleven.
Nikita Lalwani, You People (April 2020). I liked Lalwani’s debut, Gifted, and loved her second novel, The Village, so this long-awaited third novel is a must-read for me. It’s set in an Italian restaurant in London run by undocumented Sri Lankan immigrants, and promises the kind of difficult moral choices that Lalwani delivered so effectively in The Village.
Souvankham Thammavongsa, How To Pronounce Knife (April 2020). This debut collection of short stories comes recommended by Mary Gaitskill, and promises vignettes of the day-to-day life of immigrants and refugees in a nameless city.
Elisabeth Thomas, Catherine House (May 2020). We’ve had an abundance of creepy or speculative fiction set in educational establishments recently, a trope I absolutely adore, but nothing has quite hit the nail on the head for me yet. I’m hoping that Thomas’s debut, set at a liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania where students have to isolate themselves from the outside world for three years, will be the one where everything comes together. Like Little Gods, it also has some irresistible if unlikely comps: ‘combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go’.
Sophie Mackintosh, Blue Ticket (May 2020). I was put off Mackintosh’s Booker-longlisted debut, The Water Cure, by the lukewarm reviews and an opening page where the writing sounded decidedly wavery, but I’m keen to give this one a go because I love the premise; it’s set in a world where motherhood is decided by lottery, and women have to live with the decision that is made for them – no children if they draw a blue ticket, motherhood if they draw a white one.
Sarah Moss, Summerwater (Autumn 2020, no cover yet). Sarah Moss is a somewhat ambivalent author for me. I’ve read everything she’s written, and am consistently impressed by her intelligence and originality, but no single one of her books has ever totally bowled me over (the two that came closest were The Tidal Zone and Night Waking). Perhaps Summerwater, set in a rainy Scottish holiday park, will be the one I unreservedly adore. Interestingly, it also marks her switch from smaller literary publisher Granta to big-hitter Picador.
The Rest of the List
Ken Liu ed., Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Bruce Holsinger, The Gifted School
Zawe Ashton, Character Breakdown
Kit de Waal ed., Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers
Emily St John Mandel, The Glass Hotel
Edmund de Waal, The White Road
Nicola Griffith, So Lucky
Paulina Flores, Humiliation
Alia Trabucco Zerán, The Remainder
Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt (January 2020)
Sandeep Jauhar, Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation
Helen Mort, Black Car Burning
Xuan Juliana Wang, Home Remedies
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe
Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
Caite Dolan-Leach, We Went To The Woods
Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Stubborn Archivist