Debut Authors to Watch in 2015

From deliciously dark fairy tales and gritty crime thrillers, to stories of love, redemption and fantastical space battles, there is plenty to get your teeth into this year

Hailing from Belfast, Bangor, Ballymoney, Newtownards, Lisburn and Carrickfergus, here are six new novelists, and one short story writer, who have just published, or are due to publish, their debut titles in the months ahead.

The Defence, by Steve Cavanagh

Joining the circle of successful crime writers operating in Northern Ireland, Steve Cavanagh’s debut novel is a gritty legal thriller and the first of a planned trilogy.

Set in New York, the story centres on former con-artist and gifted attorney, Eddie Flynn, who is faced with the ultimate life and death decision during a seemingly normal day.

Having been absent from the courtroom for over a year, he is now threatened by the Russian mafia, and ends up with a bomb strapped to his back in a bid to save his 10-year-old daughter. Can Eddie win a murder case where the mafia boss is on trial in just 48 hours?

Described by the Irish Times as ‘a foot-to-the-floor thriller that… takes no prisoners,’ The Defence has been hailed a major debut for Belfast-born Cavanagh, who now lives in Lisburn. Indeed, the father-of-two was named as one of Amazon's Rising Stars for 2015, and was awarded one of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's ACES awards for 2015.

Cavanagh previously studied law in Dublin, and although he initially dabbled with screenwriting, set this aside to pursue his legal career. He only picked up his pen again 15 years later, which is good news for us readers. Published by Orion Books, The Defence was released March 12.

Abendau’s Heir, by Jo Zebedee

Described as a ‘dark space opera with a fantasy feel', the first novel from Carrick writer, Jo Zebedee, is part of her forthcoming The Inheritance Trilogy series.

Combining fantasy, science fiction and horror, the story follows the adventures of Kare, the son of a dangerous empress who can manipulate minds. Having already destroyed planets, his mother risks ruining all around her in a bid for power – Kare is the only person who might be able to thwart her efforts. He must therefore return to the city of Abendau, where dark secrets lurk and danger is around every corner…

Zebedee is a fresh, prolific voice in a genre which has traditionally been dominated by male authors. A regular contributor to the website, she is currently working on a dark fantasy based in the Antrim Glens and another fantasy trilogy. 

Zebedee is set to appear as a panellist at Belfast’s popular sci-fi/fantasy literature, media and gaming convention, TitanCon, in September. Abendau's Heir was published by Tickety Boo Press on March 31.

The Traveller’s Guide to Love, by Helen Nicholl

The first debut author from Blackstaff Press this year is Helen Nicholl, whose book has been described as ‘a funny, tender and warm story about finding love again'.

The narrative unfolds in Northern Ireland where protagonist, Johanna Van Dam, stumbles upon The Traveller’s Guide to Ancient County Down in a second-hand bookshop. She also meets the mysterious Albert and the pair slowly fall in love as their paths continue to crisscross while negotiating the dolmens and cairns of Strangford and Downpatrick.

As the story moves forward, however, questions are raised about how dependable Albert really is, and the two travelers must subsequently juggle the accumulated baggage of marriage, friends and families. The question is – amid all of this – will they be able to make their relationship work?

Originally from Cape Town, Nicholl moved to London in 1970, subsequently working and travelling throughout England, Northern Ireland and, for 18 years, Zimbabwe. She returned to Belfast in 2000, and was the co-manager of the War on Want Bookshop in Belfast, before her recent retirement, although she still travels at every opportunity. Her debut title is published by Blackstaff Press on June 19.

The Bones of It, by Kelly Creighton

Another new crime writer to look out for this year is Newtownards author Kelly Creighton, whose debut novel is set in County Down post-Troubles.

Described by fellow crime writer Brian McGilloway as ‘a brilliant crime debut, chilling, compulsive and beautifully written', The Bones of It should also appeal to fans of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy.

Expelled from university, the protagonist, Scott, returns home to live with a father he doesn’t speak to – a father now reformed after a stint in prison. With no mediating female presence, suppressed emotions simmer as Scott reminisces over the death of his mother, weaving a tale of lies, paranoia and rage.

Creighton, who is works as an arts facilitator and editor of The Incubator literary journal, was previously runner-up in the 2014 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award. She was also shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2015, the Fish Short Story Prize and the Cúirt New Writing Prize for fiction.

In 2013, she received a SIAP grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and her writing has featured in The Stinging Fly, Litro and Cyphers, among other places. The Bones of It was published by Liberties Press on May 7, and will celebrate an official Northern Irish launch in Belfast's No Alibis Bookstore on June 4.

The Good Son, by Paul McVeigh

Belfast-born and now London-based writer, Paul McVeigh, is the author of a tale set in North Belfast during the Troubles, previously described by Culture NI as 'a charming coming-of-age story with a refreshingly complex young narrator at its heart'.

McVeigh tells his story through the eyes of a young boy, Mickey Donnelly, who dreams of going to America with his ma and sister, Wee Maggie, who is also his best friend. Mickey decides to take things into his own hands, but in so doing, might just have to become a bad boy to be a good son…

Acclaimed novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell says the book has ‘flashes of both Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke and Patrick McCabe’s Francie Brady in the character of Mickey Donnelly'.

McVeigh launched his writing career as a playwright, after studying theatre in Coleraine, before moving to London, where he has written various comedy shows. These were performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in London's West End, while his short stories have been published in literary journals and anthologies, read on BBC Radio 5 and commissioned by BBC Radio 4. The Good Son was published by Salt Publishing on April 5.

The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories, by Jane Talbot

The second new author from Blackstaff Press in 2015 is Ballymoney-based Jane Talbot, who has written a collection of dark fairy tales for adults.

The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories tells of sinister magic, evil deeds and wicked creatures, and includes tales inspired by ancient Celtic folklore, as well as fresh new stories. ‘The Spirit of the Meadow Burn’, for example, tells the story of how the whiskey of Bushmills got its sweet taste. Readers can subsequently expect a mixture of the grim and gruesome throughout the book, which is sure to send a few shivers down the spine.

Other stories involve a merman forced to walk on land, a bitter farmer who sells his wife to the faerie king, water sprites who steal the bodies of drowned men and vengeful trees that make furniture out of people. Described as ‘a stunning debut from an exciting and original new voice in Irish writing’, The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories is one to look forward to as summer segues into autumn.

Born in Swindon, Talbot spent ten years in Scotland before moving to Northern Ireland, and is a coach and therapist who specialises in therapeutic storytelling and performance. Her debut collection is published by Blackstaff Press on October 1.

Biddy Weirdo, by Lesley Richardson

Bangor author Lesley Richardson is set to publish her debut novel later this year, a book that focuses on the themes of bullying and redemption, and of being different.

Set in a fictional seaside town, Biddy Weirdo, aka Biddy Weir, is ‘a shy young loner with an exceptional talent for drawing, and an emotionally crippled father’. Branded a weirdo by the school’s most popular girl, Biddy is subjected to all the cruelty that primary school kids can be so very good at. Friendless, motherless and hopeless, her tale begins in the 1970s and is followed through right up until 2000.

Richardson’s novel portrays the long-lasting effects that childhood bullying can have, not only on the victim but also on the bullies themselves, as well as those who look on and do nothing. The book is described as 'spare, dark and often unrelenting... a story with universal appeal, which ultimately affirms the value of being different'.

Also a freelance copywriter and press officer for Open House Festival, Richardson is a former recipient of the James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary. She is currently now working on her second novel, with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Biddy Weirdo is published by Twenty7 Books later this year.