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Eight Author Discoveries of 2020

Throughout this strange year, I have tried, on and off, to read books by authors I hadn’t picked up before.  Sometimes these authors were on my radar but I had been unable to find their books through my usual channels; at other times, I chose to pick up one of their books on a whim, whilst browsing in the library or on Netgalley.  I have undoubtedly read work by more than eight new-to-me authors throughout this year, but this post is comprised of those who have really stood out to me for one reason or another.

 

1. Elly Griffiths 2541526
I had seen quite a few people reading Griffiths’ books on Netgalley, but I tend to be put off by enormous series, which stretch to over ten or so books.  I have started different series in the past, but have rarely continued to the end; normally I lose patience with the characters, become disinterested in their stories, or just notice how many similarities there are from one book to another.  Of course, this is almost inevitable in a character-based series, and with a couple of notable exceptions – Miss Marple and Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series – I tend to stop reading series after the first two or three books.

I have got through three of Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels to date, all of which I listened to on audio through my library’s app.  I was initially drawn to the premise – that of a Norfolk-based forensic archaeologist aiding the police whenever they discover a new body – and found the first two books rather engaging.  However, I made a mistake by listening to the third book directly after the second.  I would ordinarily have left myself a few weeks between books, but my library reserve came in, and I only had a limited amount of time to finish it.  Whilst the Ruth Galloway series may not be one which I finish – there are a lot of similarities between the second and third books, and the characters do not become any better developed, I felt – I really do enjoy Griffiths’ writing.  I am going to be hunting out her standalone novels next.

 

elizabeth_berridge_1547558f2. Elizabeth Berridge
I could hardly create such a list without including Elizabeth Berridge.  She has been on my radar for a number of years now, but I have never been able to find copies of her books when I have searched for them.  Thankfully, a couple of publishers are beginning to reprint her work, and I was able to find three further copies of her novels on the wonderful AbeBooks after reading, and loving, Across the Common, which I received for my birthday.

Berridge has been a wonderful discovery this year, and I am pleased to see that she is gaining a lot of recognition on other blogs too.  She writes wonderfully, and has such an understanding of her protagonists, many of whom are women verging on middle age, who have something to overcome before they can move forward.  Her books are always a treat, and I am going to try my best to pick up the rest of her oeuvre next year if I can manage it.

 

3. Jean Sprackland sprackland
Sprackland is a non-fiction author and poet, whose topics of choice really interest me.  I have only read These Silent Mansions to date, a musing on the English graveyards which have, in a way, shaped Sprackland’s life.  I will have a review of this up next year.  Her other non-fiction book, Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach is high on my wishlist, obsessed as I am with the seaside.

I am also really interested in trying Sprackland’s poetry books in the near future.  Her prose in These Silent Mansions is gorgeous, and you can tell from the outset that she takes such care about her vocabulary, and the imagery which it shapes.

 

77793744. Robbie Arnott
Australian author Robbie Arnott is a real gem.  I had wanted to read his work for a year or so before I found a gorgeous hardback copy of Flames in my local library; it was every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  He uses magical realism to great effect, and his writing and characters feel so original.  I am so looking forward to picking up more of Arnott’s work in the near future, and hope that his other novel – The Rain Heron – and his short story collection will be published in the UK very soon.

 

5. Shirley Barrett 1024
Barrett is another Australian author, whose work I found out about on Savidge Reads’ YouTube channel.  Her work is strange and fantastical, but I was hooked throughout both The Bus on Thursday and Rush-Oh!, which I reviewed back in October.  The novels could not be more different on the face of it – the former is a contemporary novel which charts the journey of a schoolteacher to a remote part of Australia, and the latter is historical fiction which focuses on whale hunting – but both are so exciting.  I could not put either novel down, and can only hope that more of her work will be made easily available to me soon.

 

duncan20barrett20author20photo6. Duncan Barrett
Barrett is a non-fiction author, whose book, When the Germans Came, I found masterful.  I have always been so interested in the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War, and this is by far the best book which I have ever read on the topic.  Barrett follows many different residents of the island throughout, revealing their hopes and dreams and, quite often, their bravery.  His prose is engaging, and never does the book feel too crowded with different people; rather, it is accessible, and really does the subject justice.

Thankfully, Barrett is rather a prolific author.  Whilst I probably won’t be picking up his ‘GI Brides’ series of novels any time soon (or ever…), he has written a few more non-fiction books which look fascinating, ranging from the post office workers throughout the Second World War, to true stories of the women who really made a difference during this period.

 

7. Jo Baker 3796
Baker is a writer of historical fiction and, being one of my favourite genres, I have always meant to pick up her books.  I requested her newest book, The Body Lies, from Netgalley, and settled down to read it in January.  Whilst it does not fit the genre of historical fiction, and is more of a contemporary literary thriller, I was invested in the main character from beginning to end.

Baker writes beautifully, particularly with regard to the landscape and physical settings, and she handled every element of the story in The Body Lies with grace and deftness.  I have my eye on her historical fiction next; of particular interest to me are A Country Road, A Tree which is set during the Second World War, and family saga The Undertow.

 

pamela_hansford_johnson_as_a_young_woman8. Pamela Hansford Johnson
Last but not least, Hansford Johnson has been a wonderful discovery this year.  I have settled down with a couple of her novels – An Impossible Marriage (1954) and The Holiday Friend (1972) – and posted full reviews for them both.  Hansford Johnson wrote wonderful literary thrillers, which are enthralling from beginning to end.  She has such insight, and her characters feel so realistic.  Both of these novels could be termed domestic noir, and I cannot wait to dive into the remainder of her oeuvre, which is thankfully quite extensive.

 

Which are your favourite new author discoveries of 2020?

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‘Rush Oh!’ by Shirley Barrett ****

I so enjoyed Australian author Shirley Barrett’s The Bus on Thursday that I immediately borrowed her debut novel, Rush Oh!, on my next visit to the library.  The stories could not, arguably, be more different, but whilst reading both I could relax, knowing that I was in the capable hands of a great author.

I love historical fiction, and have read some wonderful tomes set in Australasia over the years.  I was a little wary of reading a book about whaling, which I find an abhorrent practice, but the historical element, and the strength which I was already aware of in Barrett’s writing, swayed me.  Rush Oh! takes place in a small seaside village named Eden in New South Wales.  This is still, incidentally, one of the best places to watch whales in the entirety of Australia. Historically, ‘Rush oh!’ is the exclamation called when a whale has been spotted in the bay, alerting the whalers all across the village.

Mary Davidson is the eldest daughter of a prominent whaling family, who ‘sets out to chronicle the particularly difficult season of 1908’.  The story which she tells is described as ‘poignant and hilarious, filled with drama and misadventure.’ Rush Oh! takes as its focus ‘a celebration of an extraordinary episode in Australian history when a family of whalers formed a fond, unique alliance with a pod of frisky orcas.’ 25861094-1

At the outset of the novel, Mary is stunned by the arrival of a man named John Beck, who comes to work on the whaling boat which her father owns.  Beck is an ‘itinerant whaleman with a murky past, on whom Mary promptly develops an all-consuming crush.’  Mary is such a clear, striking protagonist, who has a great deal of character.  Her narrative voice carries us through her story with humour and wit.  Weeks after finishing the novel, I can still conjure her up in my mind’s eye.

Barrett opens her novel with a rather wonderful and incredibly vivid description of Mary’s ingenious garden, with its ‘various vestiges of marine life’: ‘The jaws of a large white pointer shark, in which the children liked to pretend they were being eaten, formed an ornamental feature near the front gate, while the path leading up to the house was laid with the pulverised remains of whale vertebrae, creating an effect not unlike pebbles, although considerably sharper underfoot.’  Mary, when she is not cooking and cleaning, spends much of her spare time sketching whale hunts, examples of which have been placed throughout her narrative.  Of her hobby, she comments: ‘How dreary and bluestocking it seemed suddenly, to enjoy such a pastime.  Nor was this impression helped by the fact that I was indeed wearing my blue stockings.’

The collaboration in hunting between human and orca is fascinating, and this, along with the general history of the period, has been written about with such enthusiasm.  Barrett also addresses the multicausal effects of less whales passing Eden than usual.  The previous season of 1907, for instance, ‘had been the worst on record in sixty years of whaling at Twofold Bay.  Not a single whale had been captured…’.  Some elements of the story are quite graphic, particularly for a modern reader, but they definitely add some grit and harsh reality to proceedings.

Rush Oh! is a wonderfully exciting seafaring novel, which has a lot of compassion at its heart.  I agree entirely with the thoughts of Markus Zusak, another Australian novelist whose work I enjoy; he writes that this is ‘a story of great surprises and a beating heart’.  I am thrilled that so many more Australian authors are available for me to read now, even compared to just a few years ago, and that my local library has such a good stock of them.

Rush Oh! is an excellent example of the historical fiction genre, and I read it with relish from cover to cover.  One can tell that it must have been a great deal of fun to write; it is brimming with vitality and intelligence.  I for one am so looking forward to whatever Barrett brings out next.