Epics, experiments, escapism, excellence: Australian fiction at Frankfurt

Epics, experiments, escapism, excellence: Australian fiction at Frankfurt

2 October, 2023

Several prize-winning Australian authors will have new novels showcased at the fair. Waanyi (First Nations) author Alexis Wright, who is the only writer to have won both the Stella Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, has released Praiseworthy (Giramondo, April 2023). This new novel is ‘an epic set in the north of Australia, told with the richness of language and scale of imagery for which Wright has become renowned’—‘a novel which pushes allegory and language to its limits, a cry of outrage against oppression and disadvantage, and a fable for the end of days’.

Also in experimental style, Brian Castro—2018 winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry—‘abandons the traditional novel form for vignettes and flowing monologues of memory’ in the forthcoming Ruins and Fragments (Giramondo, 2024), ‘exploring the isolation and despair of an ageing writer living in the provinces in the midst of fissured times’.

Among other award-winning authors whose works are being pitched at Frankfurt is Melissa Lucashenko, whose Too Much Lip, published by the University of Queensland Press (UQP), won a Miles Franklin Literary Award. The author’s new novel ‘asks readers to consider what might have been and, also, what could be’. Edenglassie (UQP, October 2023) is an ‘epic tale of love and resistance’ in which ‘two extraordinary stories set five generations apart are connected by a violent colonial history’.

Arthur C Clarke Award winner Laura Jean McKay (The Animals in That Country, Scribe, 2020), returns with Gunflower (Scribe, October 2023), a ‘political, ecological and bodily’ short story collection—a series of ‘glimpses of places where dreams subsume reality, where childhood restarts, where humans embrace their animal selves and animals talk like humans’.

From Allen & Unwin, Stone Yard Devotional (October 2023) is the newest title from Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood, which agent Jenny Darling will highlight—‘a thought-provoking tour de force and a literary novel that delves deeply into questions of forgiveness, grief, and what it means to be “good”’.

Darling is also highlighting Edwina Preston’s novel Bad Art Mother (Wakefield, May 2022), which was shortlisted for the 2023 Stella Prize. Set in bohemian Melbourne, this novel was described by the publisher as ‘a timely, beautifully crafted and vividly imagined contribution to still-blazing debates about gender: who gets to be an artist or writer, and who is responsible for parenting and other forms of care’.

Meanwhile, in the follow-up to Miles Franklin–longlisted The Magpie Wing (Giramondo), Max Easton returns with Paradise Estate (Giramondo, October 2023), in which newly single and grieving Helen finds a four-bedroom house in Sydney’s ‘hostile rental market’, filling its rooms ‘with an unlikely group of residents looking for communal belonging’.

Several state literary award winners also return with new historical fiction titles. Simon & Schuster Australia (S&S) will be showcasing the 2024 title Dirrayawadha: Rise Up from Wiradjuri (First Nations) author Anita Heiss, who won the Indigenous Writers’ Prize at the 2022 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray. The author’s new novel ‘pays homage to Windradyne, the Wiradyuri warrior who led his people in the Battle of Bathurst at a time when martial law was declared, and the impacts of invasion were felt across south-eastern Australia’.

Meanwhile, Queensland Literary Award winner Mirandi Riwoe’s new novelSunbirds (UQP, September 2023)—set in 1941 West Java while a Japanese invasion looms—tells of an ‘intricate web of identities and loyalties created by war and imperialism, and the heartbreaking compromises that so often ensue’.

Debut fiction

Publishers and agents are set to bring wide-ranging debut works of Australian fiction to Frankfurt this year. Among them is Jordan Prosser’s Big Time (UQP, July 2024)—‘a satirical black comedy about art in the face of entropy, wrapped up in a spec-fic road-trip saga’, set ‘in a not-too-distant future where the Eastern states of Australia have become the world’s newest autocracy’.

Hasib Hourani’s experimental poetry book Swallow Sinking (Giramondo, 2024) is ‘an epic poem that, over five chapters, follows a single linear narrative to tell an allegory of political occupation and dispossession’, addressing the realities ‘Palestinians are faced with on the ground and across the diaspora’.

Everyone and Everything by Nadine Cohen (Pantera, September 2023) is a literary debut in which protagonist Yael Silver seeks solace in ‘surprising places’—‘an unconventional new friendship, a seaside safe space and a heart-warming relationship with her sister’, as well as ‘some truly terrible erotic literature’.

Pantera is also excited to pitch The Next Big Thing (James Colley, January 2024), a story that centres the Australian tradition of celebrating a town’s claim to fame through ‘Big Things’—‘kitsch roadside statues’ of anything from prawns to pineapples. Norm, whose town is dying, decides to build a Big Thing ‘to drive tourism and give it a future, and hopefully to keep his friend Ella nearby’.

Whenever You’re Ready by Trish Bolton (A&U, February 2024) is ‘a love letter to the resilience and wisdom of women in their twilight years’, as an unexpected death finds three women ‘at various crossroads in their lives, torn between looking back and moving on’.

Jane Novak is pitching Tidelines (Sarah Sasson, Affirm, February 2024), in which protagonist Grub is on a quest for revenge following the death of her brother, for which she blames his best friend. However, ‘as Grub looks back at those dreamy summer days they all spent together, the sanctuary of her certainty crumbles’.

Darling is pitching thriller When One of Us Hurts by Monica Vuu (Macmillan, June 2023), a ‘stunning debut novel’ set in an insular coastal town, with a ‘twisted, creepy and slightly macabre’ tone.

Chinongwa (Lucy Mushita, Spinifex) is a story of a nine-year-old girl who, in the early 20th century, is sold into marriage to help her family survive ‘dire poverty caused by the colonisation of Rhodesia by Britain’.

And, last but not least, Hachette is highlighting The Secrets of the Little Greek Taverna. Erin Palmisano’s debut novel brings ‘an element of magical realism to the picturesque Greek island of Naxos’—and US, UK and Portuguese language rights have already been sold.

Contemporary and literary fiction

West Girls by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Scribe, August 2023) is ‘a bold and ambitious collection of interlinked stories’: ‘Featuring an intersecting cast of glamour-hungry public schoolgirls, WAGs, mining heiresses, backpacker-barmaids, and cosmetic nurses, West Girls examines beauty, race, class divisions, and social mobility in Australia’s richest state’, through the story of white teen Luna, who ‘takes her ticket out of the most isolated city on earth’ by reinventing herself as ‘Luna Lu’.

Novak is pitching Prima Facie (Suzie Miller, Picador, October 2023)—based on the internationally acclaimed play of the same name—‘a propulsive, raw look at the price victims pay for speaking out and the system that sets them up to fail’, from the perspective of ‘thoroughbred’ barrister Tessa, who finds herself faced with a gut-wrenching, life-changing decision about testifying about her rape.

In Bitter & Sweet (Amal Awad, Pantera, August 2023), protagonist Zeina’s life is filled with disasters, so she chooses the one she believes she might be able to solve, taking leave from her job to help repair her father’s community restaurant, which has flooded, as well as ‘losing ground to trendier competition’—a decision that sees her immersed ‘in the familiar foods and flavours of her childhood and the Arab community that is her history’.

Gretchen Shirm, author of The Crying Room (Transit Lounge), among other titles, is returning with Out of the Woods (Transit Lounge, September 2025), which Novak will also be highlighting. During a war crimes trial, Tess—an Australian working for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in the Hague—‘gradually becomes obsessed with the defendant but is at the same time transfixed and mesmerised by the testimony of witnesses’, creating emotional turmoil that surfaces her own trauma history.

Novak is also pitching Little Clothes (Deborah Callaghan, Penguin Random House, May 2024), a novel about Audrey Mendes, a hard-working and disciplined lawyer, who, after committing a small act of theft, begins ‘causing small amounts of havoc on those who, perhaps, deserve it—until her life reels out of control’.

Karen Viggers (The World Beneath the Trees, A&U) returns with the forthcoming novel Sidelines (A&U, January 2024), a ‘pacy novel’ that unfolds in ‘the world of suburban junior soccer games and competitive parents’.

Margaret Connolly Agency (represented by Bold Type) is excited to bring A Secret Garden in Paris (Sophie Beaumont, Ultimo, November 2024) to the fair. An ‘intriguing story of unexpected revelations, romantic discovery, hope, and the pleasures of a secret Paris garden’, this is a companion title to November’s The Paris Cooking School (also Ultimo), for which German and Portuguese language rights have already been sold.

Poetry

Publishers and agents will also highlight an array of new and forthcoming poetry titles. In a ‘playful upturning of Greek mythology’, Roslyn Orlando’s Ekhō (Upswell, January 2024) is a poem in three parts, which ‘considers the “echo” as a social and historical phenomenon’, from the nymph of Greek mythology to the Amazon smart speakers, reconsidering ‘echoing as a poetic practice, and as an orienting device that tunes the world into itself’. Black Inc. will showcase the title.

Suneeta Peres da Costa—whose novella Saudade (Giramondo, 2018) was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction—has a 2024 poetry collection, titled The Prodigal, which is ‘about migration and travel, memory and personal life, and plants, food and objects’, ‘inflected by the mythic and the surreal as they traverse the everyday’.

Also from Giramondo is a forthcoming ‘landmark collection’ of New and Selected Poems (2024) from award-winning Yankunytjatjara (First Nations) poet Ali Cobby Eckermann.

Historical fiction

Novelist and essayist Nicholas Jose has published his first novel in almost 20 years: The Idealist (Giramondo, September 2023). Set in Australia, East Timor and Washington in the lead-up to the 1999 East Timorese independence referendum, this novel ‘explores the entanglement of private and public life’ as an Australian defence analyst’s widow seeks justice.

Meanwhile, Margaret Connolly Agency (represented by Bold Type) is pitching North American and translation rights for In the Margins (Gail Holmes, Ultimo, September 2024)—a novel about book collector Frances Wolfreston, who ‘uniquely preserved the earliest part of Shakespeare’s legacy while risking everything to improve the lives of the women around her’.

Pantera is excited to pitch The Gallows Bird (Barbara Sumner, April 2024), a story of Hannah ‘Birdie’ Bird, a servant in an 1830s London manor house, who ‘will risk anything to change her life, falling into love and crime before being transported to the new Colony at the other end of the world, where she will continue to fight for her freedom’.

From Simon & Schuster, The Beauties (Lauren Chater, April 2024), tells of when the Queen Mother commissions famous artist Peter Lely to paint 12 portraits of ‘the most beautiful women at court’, a decision that ‘fuels an explosion of naked ambition as rivals vie for their chance at catching the eye of the King’. And The Lost Letters of Rose Carey (Julie Bennett, also S&S) is ‘a captivating tale of love, glamour, secrets and betrayal’, taking inspiration from the life of 1920s film icon Annette Kellerman.

Finally, Spinifex is pitching The Rust Red Land (Robyn Bishop), a novel based on the life of the author’s grandmother, as the protagonist ‘finds solace and joy in books and through tenacity and perseverance manages to carve out a fulfilling life’.

Crime, thrillers, and romance

Among new crime and thriller novels publishers will highlight at Frankfurt are Body of Lies (A&U, March 2024), the latest from Sarah Bailey, as Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock ‘uncovers devastating secrets about the people she thought she knew best’. Also from Allen & Unwin, The First Friend (October 2024) is a forthcoming novel from Bluebird author and award-winning journalist Malcolm Knox, which Novak will be pitching. This ‘chilling black comedy’, which is ‘at once a satire and a thriller’, unfolds in the USSR in 1938, imagining ‘a gangster mob in charge of a global superpower’.

Publishers and agents also hope to win hearts with this year’s romance stories. In a friends-to-lovers romance, news reporter Josie’s life takes an unexpected turn when she’s sent to a regional bureau, where she reunites with her best friend, Zac, in Love, Just In (Natalie Murray, A&U, January 2024)—a romantic story that explores a neglected friendship, secret attraction and health anxiety. Meanwhile, in the first book of the new Four Winds series, The North Wind (Alexandria Warwick, 2022, S&S) is a ‘lush romantic fantasy novel’, which is ‘inspired by a blend of mythology and fairytales’. Jacinta de Mase Management will showcase historical romance and ‘impossible love story’ Light at Lavelle (Macmillan) from Paullina Simons, author of Tully and The Bronze Horseman—and another historical romance, The Italian Marriage (Macmillan), which is the first of three romance novels from Jenna Lo Bianco, and a book described by the publisher as ‘fun, page-turning, cute, steamy and joyful escapism’, set in ‘the green heart of Italy’.

Originally published by Books and Publishing (Read More)