Globe-spanning settings, 19th century heroines and the complexities of motherhood are some of the most prominent themes in the books selected for the new W H Smith Fresh Talent promotion, with almost half the titles released by independent publishers and most of the books written by female authors.
Debut The Woman in the Window (HarperCollins), by HarperCollins US staffer Daniel Mallory and written under the name of ‘A J Finn’, is one of several thrillers selected for the promotion. The “tight, clever and keenly observed thriller" was originally submitted to publishers in 2016 under the pseudonym, and it transpired only following an offer on the book that the author was Mallory, v.p. and executive editor of the HarperCollins US imprint William Morrow.
American thriller Need To Know by former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland (Bantam Press) is one of the three titles published under Penguin Random House imprints selected for the promotion. It follows CIA analyst Vivian Miller who “makes a shocking discovery whilst investigating the computer of a suspected Russian spy”.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire-based thriller writer A A Dhand’s Girl Zero (Corgi) features the return of Detective Inspector Harry Virdee to the city of Bradford. It follows Dhand's successful debut Streets of Darkness, with the author displaying “more than a touch of the verve and pace of Lee Child”, according to W H Smith Travel fiction buyer Matt Bates, who spearheads the Fresh Talent campaign.
Historical debuts also feature strongly in the crop. Mary Lynn Bracht’s “beautiful" novel White Chrysanthemum (Chatto & Windus) “brings the history of Korea vividly to life and follows the lives of two sisters who are separated by World War II”, according to Bates. Prompting comparisons with Memoirs of a Geisha , Bracht’s novel was pre-empted in the US and the UK for six-figure sums within hours of final edits at last year’s London Book Fair.
Laura Carlin’s much hyped debut, The Wicked Cometh (Hodder & Stoughton), is based in the “dark and dangerous streets” of 1831 London and was editorial director Melissa Cox's first acquisition for the publisher after joining from Waterstones, where she was a buyer. One of two Hodder & Stoughton titles on the list, it follows Hester White who becomes a “social experiment for a daring young doctor and is placed under the tutelage of his enigmatic sister, Rebekah".
Altogether independent publishers have released five of the 12 titles selected, with nine written by women.
Another 19th century-set novel featured, published by indie Aardvark Bureau, part of Gallic Books, is Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar, an “elegant and beautifully written historical novel” following heroine Hester Finch who recounts the hardships of her life in Adelaide before coming to England in later life.
Oneworld takes readers to the Black and Latino ball culture of New York City in the mid to late 1980’s in The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara, “a tour de force”, inspired by the documentary “Paris is Burning” while coming-of-age novel, Farewell Cowboy (Istros Books) by Olja Savičević is also featured. Bates said he was "delighted" to showcase the London-based publisher which specialises in Balkan and South-East European translations.
Fellow indie Canongate is also featured with the listing of African writer Odafe Atogun’s second novel, Wake Me When I'm Gone, which combines “folklore and traditional Nigerian story-telling against the background of a rapidly changing modern world”.
Another international setting comes in the form of Lullaby (Faber) by Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist Leïla Slimani, which explores the place of the mother in Parisian society. The title has shifted 4,034 copies in hardback since being published on 11th January with rights have sold in 36 countries to date. The Bookseller’s Alice O’Keefe described the writer as a “talented writer impressively unafraid to challenge society’s darkest taboos”.
The role of motherhood crops up again in “wise, witty and introspective” debut The Cactus, written by Liverpool-based author Sarah Haywood (Two Roads). It follows “non-compromising Susan Green who, at 45, is quite happy with her somewhat rigid and compartmentalized life”. Meanwhile, in Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro (Picador), mother and emerging writer Maggie “wrestles her uncompromising spirit with a moral sense of right and wrong whilst living through an affair that nearly destroys her”. Bates described US author Quatro as "one of the most exciting writers I have read for some time".
The Fresh Talent promotion highlights emerging authors and will be featured in more than 50 of the retailer's Travel stores across the UK from Thursday (1st February).
This is the 11th collection of titles promoted under the Fresh Talent banner. The selection process for this batch started last autumn with Bates choosing the final titles with input from both store and head office teams.
The promotion was first launched in February 2015.