After writing memoirs and a young adult novel, Alice Pung turns her hand to adult fiction with One Hundred Days (June, Black Inc.) about a teen whose mother confines her to their housing commission flat for 100 days. In Jesustown (August, A&U), Paul Daley follows a historian who leaves London after the accidental death of his son and travels to a former mission town in far north Australia. In Echolalia (June, Vintage), Briohny Doyle takes us to a fictional regional city beset by drought and the aftermath of a family tragedy. For a smile, try husband and wife Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist’s Two Steps Onward (March, Text), a follow up to their Two Steps Forward.
The youngest person to be shortlisted for the Stella Prize, Jamie Marina Lau, follows her bamboozling debut Pink Mountain on Locust Island with Gunk Baby (May, Hachette), about a budding entrepreneur who opens an ear-cleaning business in the local mall. After winning the Stella Prize in 2015 with her debut The Strays, Emily Bitto will publish Menagerie (second half, A&U), which tells of a young man on a doomed American road trip. Following her poignant debut, The Last Migration, Charlotte McConaghy again takes the natural world as her subject in Once There Were Wolves (August, Hamish Hamilton). And more than a decade after publishing Fugitive Blue, Claire Thomas returns with a bang with a promised breakthrough novel The Performance (March, Hachette).
Also expect new titles from: John Kinsella (Pushing Back, February, Transit Lounge), Trevor Shearston (The Beach Caves, February, Scribe), Pip Adams (Nothing to See, March, Giramondo), Stephen Orr (Sincerely, Ethel Malley, April, Wakefield Press), Debra Oswald (The Family Doctor, March, A&U), Nikki Gemmell (The Ripping Tree, April, Fourth Estate) and Kate Morton (untitled, second half, A&U).
It is a truth universally acknowledged that most journalists have a manuscript tucked away in the bottom drawer of their desks and it seems publishers have been busy enticing writers to move from fact to fiction. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age writer Jacqueline Maley’s first novel, The Truth About Her (April, Fourth Estate), follows journalist and single mother Suzy Hamilton who is troubled after the death of one of the subjects of her investigations. Also drawing on his day-job, journalist Barry Divola’s Driving Stevie Fracasso (March, HarperCollins) is about a down-and-out music journalist tasked with driving his estranged ex-rock star brother from Texas to New York. Former Saturday Paper chief correspondent Martin McKenzie-Murray’s The Speech Writer (Scribe, February) starts with the Prime Minister’s ex-speechwriter in a high-security prison ghost writing letters for his cell mates. Wine writer Campbell Mattinson’s We Were Not Men, about the relationship between twin brothers, is published by Fourth Estate in June.
As Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles approaches its 70th birthday, Angela O’Keeffe’s intriguing debut, Night Blue (May, Transit), is told in the voice of the abstract painting. Neurodiverse author Madeleine Ryan’s A Room Called Earth (March, Scribe) promises to “reveal something new about what it means to be a human trying to communicate with others”.
Publishing newcomer Ultimo Press pins its hopes on Hannah Bent’s When Things Are Alive They Hum (second half) about two sisters and set in Hong Kong, London and China in the year 2000. Other works from fresh faces include Ella Baxter’s New Animal (February, A&U), L.P McMahon‘s As Swallows Fly (March, Ventura), Emma Spurr’s A Million Things (March, Text), Sophie Overett’s The Rabbits (July, Michael Joseph) and Max Easton’s Leaving the Plain (tbc, Giramondo)
Look out for these short story collections: Adam Thompson (Born Into This, February, UQP), Te-Ping Chen (Land of Big Numbers, March, Scribner) Melissa Manning (Smokehouse, April, UQP), Chloe Wilson (Hold Your Fire, March, Simon & Schuster) and Paige Clark (She is Haunted and Other Stories, August, A&U).
In his first novel since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (March, A&U) is about an “Artificial Friend” who waits for a customer to choose her. Jonathan Franzen will release what’s been dubbed “the grandest sounding novel of 2021”, A Key to All Mythologies: Crosswords (Fourth Estate, October), the first in a trilogy that will “span three generations and trace the inner life of our culture through to the present day”.
Also polarising, but in prose rather than personality, Grief is a Thing with Feathers author Max Porter’s The Death of Francis Bacon (February, A&U) about a dying painter. Similarly turning to art, Rachel Cusk publishes Second Place (May, A&U) about a woman who invites a famous artist to visit her in a remote coastal region.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead’s literary crime novel Harlem Shuffle (September, Penguin Random House) is a family saga set in New York City in the early 1960s and in the same month Sebastian Faulks is due to release Snow Country (Vintage). After his Booker-shortlisted, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory (yes, that really long book about trees), Richard Powers will release Bewilderment (September, William Heinemann) ,which takes our imperiled world as its subject. Jennifer Egan is also expected to have a new novel later in the year.
Keep your eyes peeled for: Viet Than Nguyen’sThe Committed (March, Corsair), his long awaited sequel to his Pulitzer-winning debut The Sympathiser; Lisa Harding’s moving Bright Burning Things (March, Bloomsbury); Haruki Murakami’s collection of eight short stories (First Person Singular, April, Harvill Secker) and Imbolo Mbue’s second novel How Beautiful We Were (April, A&U).
Turning her hand to fiction after the international phenomenon that was Three Women, Lisa Taddeo’s Animal (June, Bloomsbury) is about “one woman’s exhilarating transformation from prey into predator”. Other new voices to watch include: Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water about two black British artists falling in and out of love (February, Viking), Irish writer Una Mannion’s A Crooked Tree (February, A&U) and Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl (June, Bloomsbury) which prompted a nine-way auction.
Chills and thrills
Scrublands author Chris Hammer gets better with each novel and his fourth, as yet untitled, is due out with A&U in the second half of the year. Sarah Bailey follows her bestselling The Dark Lake trilogy featuring investigator Gemma Woodstock, with new thriller Housemate (second half, A&U). A former soldier and an Airbnb rental feature in Call Me Evie writer J.P. Pomare’s The Last Guests (August, Hachette) and an arts journalist chasing a deadly scoop is the subject of Pip Drysdale’s The Paris Affair (February, S&S).
When it comes to the Michaels, Michael Robotham has his first standalone thriller since The Secrets She Keeps with When You Are Mine (July, Hachette) and Michael Brissenden‘s Dead Letters (February, Hachette) moves from the streets of Sydney to the corridors of Canberra. Also keep an eye out for The Cry author Helen Fitzgerald’s Ash Mountain (March, Affirm); Tasmanian writer Kyle Perry’s second novel The Deep (July, Michael Joseph) and Beautiful Revolutionary writer Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s The Newcomer (July, Scribe) about the murder of a young woman on Norfolk Island.
There’s no shortage of crime debuts, including novels by Banjo Prize-winner Elizabeth Flann (Dogs, January, HarperCollins), Kill Your Darlings publishing director Rebecca Starford (The Imitator, February, A&U) and Richell Prize-winning author Ruth McIver (I Shot the Devil, June, Hachette). Former professional snowboarder Allie Reynolds has a locked-room thriller set in the French Alps (Shiver, February, Hachette), Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 (May, Text) is led by a social worker turned true crime podcaster; John Byron’s Sydney-set story follows a serial killer recreating scenes from the foundation text of modern anatomy (The Tribute, July, Affirm) and Peter Papathanasiou offers what could be our first fictional Greek-Australian detective (The Stoning, October, Transit).
Memoir, personal essays
The Natural Way of Things author Charlotte Wood’s Inner Life (second half, A&U) develops an essay published in Spectrum about the creative process, inspiration and hard work. Rick Morton follows his acclaimed debut memoir One Hundred Years of Dirt with My Year of Living Vulnerably (March, HarperCollins) and Eggshell Skull writer Bri Lee’s Brains (second half, A&U) explores the structural inequalities behind elite institutions.
After publishing feminist manifestos Fight Like A Girl and Boys Will Be Boys, Clementine Ford’s How We Love (second half, A&U) is a deeply personal account of love, motherhood and her family. After a year dominating column inches, ABC’s former chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici promises to Rewrite the Story (September, Hardie Grant). One of Australia’s most famous playwrights, David Williamson, is set to release his as yet untitled autobiography (October, HarperCollins) as is Dick Smith, one of Australia’s most famous businessmen (August, A&U).
Sexuality, gender and bodies continue to dominate, with no shortage in creative non-fiction that blends memoir, essay and cultural history. Look out for Sam van Zweden’s Eating With My Mouth Open (February, NewSouth Books); Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A History of My Brief Body (May, QUP), Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s My Body Keeps Your Secrets (June, A&U) and Shane Jenek (aka Courtney Act)’s Gender, Sexuality and Growing Up Fluid (October, Pantera).
Other highlights include: Fiona Murphy’s memoir about being deaf, The Shape of Sound (March, Text), writer Alison Croggon’s Monsters (March, Scribe), Storm and Grace novelist Kathryn Heyman’s Fury (May, A&U), Lech Blaine’s Car Crash (March, Black Inc.), Sinead Stubbins’ In My Defence, I Have No Defence (June, Affirm) and Yumiko Kadota‘s Emotional Female (March, Viking).
Writer, researcher and editor Evelyn Araluen‘s debut Dropbear (March, QUP) will blend poetry and essay.At Ventura, the standout is Christine Skyes‘ Gough And Me (May), about the authors relationship with Gough Whitlam who lived on her street in Cabramatta and whose political reforms shaped her life.
Politicians picking up the pen include Chris Bowen (On Charlatans, March, Hachette), Kate Ellis (Sex, Lies and Question Time, April, Hardie Grant), Scott Ludlam (Full Circle Power, May, Black Inc.), Mehreen Faruqi (July, A&U) and Julia Banks (Power Play, August, Hardie Grant).
Blockbuster releases are expected from actor Sharon Stone (The Beauty of Living Twice, April, A&U), Chelsea Manning (untitled, May, Bodley Head) and actors Stanley Tucci (Taste, Fig Tree, July) and Will Smith (Will, September, Century).
Nearly 15 years after Fun Home proved what the graphic novel can do, Alison Bechdel has The Secret to Superhuman Strength (April, Houghton Mifflin) about fitness fads and exercise obsessions.
On the way are two biographies of Australia’s 30th Prime Minister Scott Morrison by political reporters Annika Smethurst (The Accidental PM, July, Hachette) and Sean Kelly (Scott Morrison: A political portrait, October, Black Inc.) New Zealand’s Prime Minister also goes under the microscope in Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte’s Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy (May, Hardie Grant).
Journalist Paddy Manning offers the first Australian biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of Rupert Murdoch and expected heir to his empire, with Sly Fox (November, Black Inc.). Stephen Chavura and Greg Melleuish have a new account of Australia’s longest-serving prime minister The Forgotten Menzies (May, MUP).
Historian Henry Reynolds looks to the question of First Nations sovereignty and argues for the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in Truth-Telling (February, NewSouth). After discovering the involvement of his relatives, David Marr blends the personal and historical in A Family Business (October, Black Inc.) about Queensland’s frontier massacres in the 19th century. Don Watson’s The Passion of Private White (second half, Scribner) explores the connection between the anthropologist Neville White and the Yolngu clans in north east Arnhem Land whose way of life he studied. Journalist Santilla Chingaipe tells the stories of convicts of African descent transported to the Australian penal colonies in Black Convict (July, Picador).
The prolific Tom Keneally recounts the story of how a Luger from World War I ended up being involved in the death of an IRA turncoat in NSW in 1933 in Corporal Hitler’s Pistol (August, Vintage). Other dives into Australian history include: David Hunt’s Girt Nation (November, Black Inc.), his third instalment after Girt and True Girt; Stuart Macintyre’s The Party (second half, A&U) about the Cold War period, the sequel to his 1998 history of the Communist Party of Australia, The Reds; Matt Murphy’s exploration of booze in colonial Australia (Rum, June, HarperCollins) and Guy Hull’s account of foreign animal species The Ferals (July, Harper Collins).
Rebecca Wilson tells the story of Ned Kelly’s sister in full for the first time in Kate Kelly (February, A&U) and Ian Hoskins has the first work to explore Australia’s relationship with the Pacific region from the arrival of humans more than 60,000 years ago in Australia and the Pacific (June, New South).
Turning to culture, Eleanor Hogan has a biography of writers Daisy Bates and Ernestine Hill (Into the Loneliness, March, NewSouth) and Joyce Morgan details the life of Sydney author Elizabeth von Arnim – who is having something of a resurgence after one of her books was mentioned in Downtown Abbey – in The Countless from Kirribilli (July, A&U). Robert Wainwright will release a biography of soprano Nellie Melba (The Diva and the Duc, second half, A&U) and Evelyn Juers takes to the stage with Philippa Cullen in The Dancer (tbc, Giramondo).
Also look out for: Simon Winchester‘s history of land ownership (Land, February, HarperCollins); Frances Wilson’s Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence (Bloomsbury, May); Andrew Morton on royal sisters Elizabeth and Margaret (April, Hardie Grant) and Katie Booth’s revisionary biography of Alexander Graham Bell, The Invention of Miracles (April, Scribe).
Big issues and other non-fiction
After cleaning up awards with her 2019 book The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Believer (March, Text) weaves together the stories of six people and their faith and convictions. Journalist Stan Grant’s latest, With the Falling of the Dusk (April, HarperCollins), is about the challenges facing our world. After his international blockbuster The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben returns with The Heartbeat of Trees (June, Black Inc.). Tobias McCorkell looks at Australia’s relationship with class in essays Cop This Lot (May, Scribe); Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Coming of Age in the War on Terror (February, New South) explores the world post 9/11 as the generation born at the time of the attacks turns 18and Carly Findlay edits the latest in the Growing Up series, Growing Up Disabled (February, Black Inc.).
Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (March, Black Inc.) takes as its starting point the 1934 shooting at Uluru of Aboriginal man Yokunnuna by white policeman Bill McKinnon; Mick Warner looks at the power and politics of AFL in The Boys’ Club (June, Hachette) and The Australian‘s foreign editor Greg Sheridan follows Good is Good for You with Christians (August, A&U). Helen Garner is also expected to have a new non-fiction work out with Text later this year.
Books about last year’s bushfires will also hit the shelves, including: Michael Rowland’s edited collection of essays by ABC journalists, Black Summer (January, ABC Books); philosopher Danielle Celermajer’s essays Summertime (February, Hamish Hamilton); science writer John Pickrell’s Flames of Extinction (March, NewSouth); journalist Bronwyn Adcock’s Currowan (August, Black Inc.) and former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins’ Firestorm (September, Viking Australia).
Writers investigating human interaction with the natural world include Bill Gates (How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, February, Allen Lane); Richard Beasley (Dead in the Water, February, A&U); Jonica Newby (Beyond Climate Grief, NewSouth); Michael E. Mann (The New Climate War, February, Scribe); Gabrielle Chan (Why You Should Give a F— about Farming, August, Vintage); and Ian Lowe (Long Half Life, August, Monash). Building on two essays published in the Sydney Review of Books, Delia Falconer’s Signs and Wonders (second half, Scribner) explores how our era of ecological collapse is transforming our culture.
In politics, Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington grade Scott Morrison in How Good is Scott Morrison? (March, Hachette), Zoe Daniel and Roscoe Whalan explore how the Trump presidency has changed the world (February, ABC Books) and former press gallery journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh considers the division between Church and state with In God’s Name (second half, A&U).
Elsewhere in current affairs, Trevor Watson and Melissa Roberts edit a collection of essays from foreign correspondents in The Beijing Bureau (May, Hardie Grant); Nicholas Jose and Benjamin Madden edit Antipodean China (February, Giramondo), an anthology of writing by Australian and Chinese authors and academic David Brophy has China Panic out through La Trobe in June.
If we can’t go on cruises, we can at least read about the reason why in Duncan McNab’s The Ruby Princess (February, Macmillan). Also speaking to COVID-19 times, are economist Ross Garnaut’s Reset (Februrary, La Trobe), Hugh McKay’s The Loving Country (May, A&U) and everyone’s favourite medical expert Norman Swan in So You Think You Know What’s Good for You (July, Hachette).
On gender, power and feminism try: Koa Beck’s White Feminism (February, S&S) Isabel Allende’s The Soul of a Woman (March, Bloomsbury), and Zareh Ghazarian and Katrina Lee-Koo‘s collection Gender Politics: Navigating Political Leadership in Australia (May, NewSouth).
There’s also a new book from former FBI director James Comey (Saving Justice, January, Macmillan), George Saunders‘ guide to seven classic Russian short stories (A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, February, Bloomsbury), Jordan Peterson’s already controversial Beyond Order: 12 more rules for life (March, Allen Lane), Julie K.Brown’s investigation into Jeffrey Epstein, Perversion of Justice (May, HarperCollins) and Johann Hari’s Lost Focus (October, Bloomsbury) about our addictions to phones, social media and television.
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Melanie Kembrey is Culture Deputy Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.