Zoe Turner, Comma Press

Cat Step by Alison Irvine (Dead Ink) follows single mother Liz who has moved to her recently deceased partner Robbie’s hometown, Lennoxtown, with their daughter Emily. Shortly after their arrival, Liz makes the mistake of leaving Emily alone in the car while she pops into the shop and is caught out when someone breaks into the car to steal her phone that she leaves on the seat. Suddenly all eyes of the community are on Liz and her parenting is under scrutiny, and while she grapples with this responsibility, secrets of Robbie’s past reveal themselves and she begins to carry the responsibilities of those, too.

This debut novel is a unique exploration of the way that we care for one another and how our lives move from miniscule moment to miniscule moment. The mirroring of Liz’s past life as a carefree cruise-ship performer with her present life with Emily is a subtle study on the multitudes of mothers and, wrapped up in all its mystery, the book is as much a thriller as it is literary fiction.

Michael Schmidt, Carcanet

Back in 1994 I published the first New Poetries anthology. I called it Poetries because of the variety of the talents included: they did not constitute a school, they were drawn from all over the world, and they seemed unusual, unconventional and – entertaining. It featured among others Sophie Hannah and Vona Groarke. Later New Poetries introduced a range of outstanding writers – to scratch the surface, these books have introduced Sinead Morrissey, Patrick McGuinness, Caroline Bird (she was not yet twenty when she first appeared), David Morley, Togara Muzanenhamo, Jane Yeh, Kei Miller, Tara Bergin, Katherine Kilalea, William Letford, Helen Tookey, Ned Denny, Vahni Capildeo, Adam Crothers,  Rebecca Watts, Isabel Galleymore and Phoebe Power – and dozens more. This eighth volume, edited by Carcanet’s associate publisher John McAuliffe and me, contains two-dozen poets. One is a major novelist who here debuts as a poet; one is a retired teacher, into her ninth decade, whose first full collection will be published next year. There are writers from diverse corners of the Anglophone world. What they have in common is a deep interest in their languages, in poetic form, in the human condition as they’ve experienced it, and the challenges of the contemporary world. All are engagingly – intelligent — in very different ways. Six of them have first collections scheduled, and several more are writing their way in that direction and will reach full debuts in the foreseeable future. As always such anthologies are for us a clutch of eloquent and challenging promissory notes.

Jamie McGarry, Valley Press

To choose just one book to recommend from our twenty-two 2020 publications is a big ask; any readers who want to browse the full selection for themselves should head here.  I’ve decided to use this opportunity to talk about the book that I feel has suffered the most from the onslaught of Covid-19, Dear Blacksmith: A Journey of Love and Loss by Beverley Ward.

This memoir of intense love and intense grief sees the writer shedding all inhibitions; it’s a heartfelt rejection of ‘stiff upper lip’ culture that, as well as being a real literary achievement, made this cynical young publisher believe in love again.  It’s far from easy reading, but you don’t buy this book for a quick few days’ entertainment – you get it to blow out your emotional cobwebs and reevaluate a few priorities for 2021.

Released on February 1st, with a fantastic launch event at the end of that month, the book was beginning to build up some real word-of-mouth momentum by early March, with both major wholesalers stocking up their shelves in anticipation.  You know what happened next, of course: bookshops closed, the world changed, and one of the wholesalers went bust (taking all their copies into the abyss with them; I just hope some of them made it to readers!)  I put a halt on further new releases at that point until August, and we salvaged what we could, but I firmly believe if the year hadn’t gone the way it had, Dear Blacksmith could have troubled the bestseller lists.

So if you do decide to buy a copy based on this article – and the book comes to mean as much to you as it does to me – please tell your friends, and let’s send it “viral” in 2021.

Kevin Duffy, Bluemoose Books

Should We Fall Behind is Sharon Duggal’s second novel following her acclaimed debut The Handsworth Times which we published in 2016.

Jimmy Noone leaves his difficult life and finds himself on the streets of a city where he meets Betwa who brings a chance of real friendship and a glimpse of new hope. Betwa disappears and Jimmy walks across the metropolis searching for her. He arrives on Shifnal Road where people from all over the world live side by side and yet some are so isolated they seem to have disappeared altogether. Journeys to the street and to the city are retraced so too are stories abundant with lost dreams, unrivalled friendship, profound love and stifling grief, each underpinned with the subtle threads of commonality which intersect them all. It is a book about the passing of time and the intricate weaves of joy and suffering, love and loss which shape human life along the way. Should We Fall Behind is about the people who have somehow become invisible, and how their stories make them visible once more.

Hannah Bannister, Peepal Tree Press

From London, the USA and the Caribbean, Wandeka Gayle’s mostly young black women protagonists win our hearts as risk-taking, adventurous explorers of the white world, away from home, which at some point has been Jamaica.

What characterises these women is a readiness to encounter, an attempt to get to grips with the oddities and strangeness of the white world. The situations that Wandeka Gayle writes about in Motherland are in the main the stuff of everyday life, but what really elevates this collection is Gayle’s skill, empathy, grace and acute psychological understanding of her characters.