The Best Debut Novels of 2014

Every year thousands of debuts novels are published in the UK, struggling to get noticed by readers, reviewers and bloggers, and to make that all important good first impression.

I hadn’t, in all honesty, ever thought much about whether or not a book was an author’s first until my own debut novel was published earlier this year. Having your first book on the shelves makes you inordinately (some might say obsessively) interested in the trials and tribulations of other debuts: the six-figure publishing deals, the PR frenzies, the reviews and the sales.

But once all the noise has died down, which are the debuts that will really stand the test of time? Who are the authors with long and successful careers ahead of them? Which are the truly standout debut novels of 2014?

Here are seven I think are genuinely unmissable.

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Midsummer Round-Up: The Year (so far) in Books

Given it’s Midsummer’s Day - and the sun is shining - it seemed a good moment to reflect on the year in books so far. There’ve been lots. Lots of truly exceptional books (February and March especially brought an embarrassment of literary riches). So I decided to pick just my best five (it was a tough job, but someone had to do it). Then, because I felt guilty about all the great books I haven’t yet got around to reading from the first half of they year, I picked the five that are sitting at the top of my TBR. And then, because I’m greedy, I chose the five books I’m most looking forward to for the second half of 2014.

Let the debates (/arguments) begin!

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Married At First Sight: Will Channel 4’s New TV Show Live Happily Ever After?

Channel 4 have just announced a new television series which they describe - in the hyperbole we’ve come to expect from them - as “a groundbreaking social experiment”. 

The series is called Married at First Sight and it does pretty much what it says on the tin: it takes two strangers, gets them to marry, gives them six weeks to see if they can make it work and then asks them to decide whether they want to stay together or not.

So far, so voyeuristic. Except this being Channel 4, there needs to be some public service explanation.

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Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn: Book Review

There’s a passage near the beginning of Lost for Words in which Malcolm Craig MP, newly appointed chair of the Elysian Prize for literature, sets out his aspirations for the committee’s eventual winner:

...young writers were the future, or at any rate, would be the future - if there were still around and being published. You couldn’t go wrong with the future... The promise of young writers was perfect as well, until they burnt out, fucked up or died - but that would be under another government and another committee.

Edward St Aubyn’s eighth novel tells the story of a hapless, self-serving jury as they cajole, compete and deceive in order to ensure their chosen titles make it on to the prize’s long list. 

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The Mum Test: Ten Tell-tale Signs You’re Definitely A Mother

This Sunday will be my second Mother’s Day as a mum. Last year, with a five-month old who seemed to be under the impression that sleeping for more than ninety consecutive minutes (day or night) was overrated, I wasn’t sure I was even human, let alone a mum. This year, with the occasional full night’s sleep under my belt, I’m pretty sure I fulfill the brief. And here’s what I reckon are the ten true rites of maternal passage:

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It’s Brilliant but is it Broad? The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

A few days ago I blogged about my hopes for this year’s Women’s Fiction Prize longlist: that it would be take the opportunity of a new sponsor (Baileys) to reposition itself as a broader, more inclusive  - dare I say it? - more populist prize. I was intrigued when one of the judges, Denise Mina, tweeted me to say that the longlist would delight me and that it was “a brilliant, broad spread of books”.

The list was announced late last night and it is, in many ways, brilliant: there are six debut novels among the twenty longlisted titles which is brilliantly encouraging not just for those six first-timers but for debut novelists everywhere. There’s a brilliant range of subject-matter from insightful, funny coming-of-age tales (Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English) to dark nineteenth century Icelandic murder stories (Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites). There’s a brilliant range of big-hitting titles (Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things) juxtaposed with four or five books I suspect most of us have never heard of. 

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10 Top Tips for Debut Authors: What Every Writer Needs to Know About Their First Time

Last week, my first novel was published. I didn’t, in all honesty, have any clue what to expect: it’s not as though there’s a training course called ‘How To Be A First-Time Novelist’ which lays out what’s going to happen. So from the vantage point of a seasoned pro (well, a published author with seven whole days of experience under their belt), I thought I’d share my top ten things every author needs to know before their first time.

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Are Books on TV Dead? Enter The Bloggersphere.

A couple of weeks ago a new book discussion programme launched. It was hosted by a popular, well-known writer and journalist, sported a well-designed, cosy set abundant in brown leather sofas and antiquarian maps, and featured a trio of telegenic women discussing their latest books.

So far, so standard, right?

Except that this book show wasn’t on TV. And it wasn’t made by a broadcaster or a production company.

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