The 6 debut books that should be on your radar this year

We asked our book editors to tell us about the new voices they're backing in 2020.

 The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (6th Feb)

There are few writers today I read with more excitement than Ta-Nehisi Coates. A non-fiction writer of genius and one of America’s most influential thinkers, his memoir Between the World and Me dominated the US bestseller list for months and transformed the public discourse on race. So it was with huge anticipation that I began reading his first novel, The Water Dancer – and it didn’t disappoint. Propulsive and transcendent, written in language of enormous power, it tells the story of Hiram Walker, born into slavery on a Virginia plantation and destined to risk everything for a chance to escape. Oprah Winfrey calls The Water Dancer ‘one of the best books I have read in my entire life’ and this novel packs an unforgettable emotional punch, addressing America’s most disgraceful sin, in prose of spell-binding strength and beauty.

 – Simon Prosser, Publishing director (Hamish Hamilton) 

Debut authors 2020

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (30th Jan)

This story of a nine-year-old boy who turns detective to investigate the disappearances of other local children gripped me from its opening pages and quickly electrified our whole team! Deepa plunges straight you into the sights, sounds and smells of a tight-knit community on the outskirts of an Indian city. Jai, our hero, and his friends Pari and Faiz are irresistible characters on a quest to find the truth and I adored their charming company. Inspired by her years working as a journalist in Mumbai and Delhi, Deepa’s remarkable debut novel is warm and funny and immersive, while never flinching from real injustice. 

 – Charlotte Humphery, Editor (Chatto & Windus)


Debut authors 2020

Poor by Caleb Femi (30th Jul)

Lyrical, heartbreaking and hopeful, my must-read debut for 2020 is Caleb Femi’s poetry collection, Poor. In it, Femi draws on his own true stories of growing up on the now-demolished North Peckham estate to explore the lives of young Black boys and the architecture that shapes them. There’s police profiling and the nuances of violence; the complexities of community, and young love. And, since Caleb is a talented photographer and director as well as a poet – aside from being featured in the Dazed 100, he’s also worked with the BBC, Tate, Guardian and TED – his own gorgeous original photographs are interwoven with the text. It’s a tribute in full colour to the world that shaped him, and the people forging lives within it.

– Donald Futers, Senior commissioning editor (Penguin Press)

Debut authors 2020

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (23rd Jul)

We received over 1,200 entries for the first #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, and eventually decided on two winners: a poetry collection by Monika Radojevic, coming in 2021, and We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan, a novel which completely entranced every judge and the whole imprint when it was first submitted.

It tells the story of one family separated and brought back together over a turbulent half-century, moving from Kampala at the time of Idi Amin’s coup, to Leicester today. We follow Sameer, a high-flying young lawyer in his early twenties, who seems to have it all - that is until a personal tragedy calls him home, and he finds himself caught between two worlds: the world he thought he wanted, and the world he thought he’d left behind. 

This is an extraordinarily ambitious and accomplished debut – a brave work which explores the bonds of family, the allure of the past, the difficulty of finding your voice, and the true meaning of home - and a novel that marks the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

 – Tom Avery, Editorial director (#Merky Books)

Debut authors 2020

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray (6th Feb)

The Last Day is a high-concept and totally gripping thriller set only 40 years in the future when the world has stopped rotating, and half the globe remains exposed to the heat of the sun in perpetual daylight, while the other remains in the frozen dark. We lucky few in the UK and the fringes of Europe still enjoy a more temperate climate, and it is here that the novel is set, and features a young female scientist who makes a discovery (carefully hidden by the ruthless and self-serving prime minister of the day) that may save our world. 

Page-turning, acutely atmospheric and elegiac in equal measures, Murray already has a list of high-profile fans including Lee Child and Stephen Fry and I am certain it will capture the imagination of readers everywhere. 

 – Selina Walker, Publisher (Century & Arrow)

Debut authors 2020

The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (3rd Mar)

There are some characters you meet in novels who make an immediate and enduring impact. The characters you remember from books are the ones that draw you in and never let you out of their grip. Author Stephanie Wrobel has managed to conjure up such a character not once but twice in The Recovery of Rose Gold. In Patty and Rose Gold Watts, she has created the ultimate toxic relationship, a mother and daughter who are more than a match for each other. This is a book which has it all – a topic which will spark heated debate and standout writing. 


– Maxine Hitchcock Publishing Director, Fiction (Michael Joseph)


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