PW’s Writers to Watch Spring 2018: Anticipated Debuts

Publishers Weekly‘s most anticipated debuts of Spring 2018 include these three Macmillan standouts:

PEACH by Emma Glass
Emma Glass began writing her debut novel, PEACH (Bloomsbury, out now), about a young woman who struggles to resume ordinary life after being assaulted, a little less than a decade ago while she was studying creative writing at the University of Kent in the U.K. For her final assignment, Glass had to write the first 4,000 words of a novel. The prompt was open-ended, but the program, she says, put special emphasis on plot-driven, commercially viable narratives, which she had little affinity for.

“I’ve never been particularly good at coming up with stories,” Glass says. In her frustration, and with the deadline approaching, she put on some music and started simply writing “words”—not even sentences. “I was surprised at what came out,” Glass, now 30, says. “It felt like it was something different.”

Glass, who is at work on her second novel, has kept her job as a nurse. People sometimes ask her whether PEACH, with its visceral bodily imagery, was influenced by her career in medicine. The answer is no. “That kind of grotesque violence, I’m afraid, is all my own,” she says.

THE TRANSITION by Luke Kennard
When the British poet Luke Kennard was writing his first novel, THE TRANSITION (FSG, out now), he imagined it taking place in the very near future. But novels take years to write, and the future arrives more quickly than we expect. Now, the themes at the center of the book—millennial hopelessness, financial precariousness—feel scarily current. “A lot of things it explores have been superseded by reality,” Kennard jokes.

THE TRANSITION tells of a feckless writer named Karl who, mired in credit card debt and facing jail time for his unwitting part in an online fraud operation, is forced to enroll (along with his wife, Genevieve) in something called the Transition—a program that aims to help struggling young people get their financial and personal lives in order. Kennard, 36, likens the Transition to less-extreme iterations of the self-help cult, such as mindfulness. “I’m quite cynical of those sorts of movements,” he says. “You can’t avoid suffering.”

It hardly sounds like a near future. If anything, the novel’s speculative conceit enables Kennard to depict the contemporary moment more clearly, according to Laird Gallagher, an associate editor at FSG. “It’s freeing,” Gallagher says. The world of THE TRANSITION may be skewed, he says, but only insofar as it “reflects our psychic reality.”

The title of Nafkote Tamirat’s debut novel, THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT (Holt, Mar.), will have special resonance for Ethiopian-Americans. According to Tamirat, a first-generation Ethiopian-American from Boston, everyone in the Ethiopian-American community knows someone who has worked in a parking lot. “Our parents, our grandparents, our uncles, aunts—everyone does,” Tamirat, 31, says, adding that no one seems to quite understand why. In a way, THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT is her attempt to make sense of the phenomenon.

The novel is set primarily in Boston and centers on a young unnamed woman, a first-generation Ethiopian-American, who comes under the influence of a charismatic but suspicious parking lot attendant named Ayale. Ayale represents an older generation of Ethiopians who migrated to the States in the late 20th century.

The novel is also partly speculative—the narrator tells her story from a fictive island utopia—and originally it was even more so. But Tamirat says early readers found the scenes in Boston more compelling than those on the island. “There’s a concrete element, in terms of the details, how people speak,” they’d say. She decided to devote more space to the city where she grew up.

Tamirat, who now lives in Paris, says writing the novel felt like entering into conversation with the Ethiopian stories of her childhood—narratives “from Ethiopian movies, Ethiopian plays, our family’s stories.” Though the book is written in English, she imagines its events unfolding in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. “I very much wanted it to be an Ethiopian story,” she says.

Caroline Zancan, Tamirat’s editor, says that after the 2016 election, one of her first thoughts was, “Thank God for people like Nafkote: her work is more important than ever.”

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