Memoir, biography & a great range of Fiction – 2019 is going to be a stunner 

We couldn’t think of a better to start your year of bookselling, than with a run-down of some of our publishers’ favourite titles for the first half of 2019, and a couple of thoughts on trends for you to keep an eye on over the year. Most of the trends our publishers note focus on non-fiction, and the books suggested are predominantly memoir. So reinforce those memoir and biography shelves, and get ready to sell. 

We were very happy to see Nicola Legat from Massey University Press and Te Papa Press, Olivia Nikkei from Bridget Williams Books, Lara Shprem from Text Publishing, Katrina McCallum from Canterbury University Press, Adrian Kinnaird from Bateman and Earth’s End Publishing, Kirsten McDougall from Victoria University Press, Alex Hedley from HarperCollins Publishers, Becky Innes from Allen and Unwin, Rachel Scott from Otago University Press, Claire Murdoch from Penguin Random House NZ, Sam Elworthy from Auckland University Press, David Ling from David Ling Publishers and Melanee Winder from Hachette NZ with their feet back under the desk this week. We thank them for their contributions to this article. The piece is structured by month within categories.  

Let’s start with Memoir
We asked our publishers about themes and trends for the year, and it came as no surprise after the strength of the likes of Driving to Treblinka and Can You Tolerate This? in the past two years, that many of them are naming memoir as a trend for 2019. The memoirs being recommended this year come in a lot of different flavours – we have politics, rock and roll, horse-training, family history, travel – and even a graphic novel. 

If you are an equestrian fan, or a bookseller who sells a lot of Kelly Wilson titles, here’s one for you: Fearless: The life of adventurer, equestrian and endurance rider Chloe Phillips-Harris. HarperCollins publisher Alex Hedley says, ‘Chloe shares her stories of training wild stallions, rescuing neglected working animals, traveling to some of the most remote places on the planet, and overcoming challenges during a ride like no other – the most gruelling race on earth, the Mongol Derby.’ 

Also in April, Otago University Press is bringing us A Communist in the Family, by Elspeth Sandys. This title sees Sandys join a family pilgrimage to China on a quests for insights into the life of an extraordinary New Zealander – her cousin Rewi Alley. Publisher Rachel Scott says, ‘Part-biography, part-travel journal, part-literary commentary, this beautifully written multi-layered narrative takes us as close to the man and the workings of his inner mind as we are ever likely to come.’ 

From VUP in May comes Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known. Publicist Kirsten McDougall says, ‘Straitjacket Fits and Dimmer frontman Shayne Carter is a rock legend and a gifted storyteller. Dead People I have Known is an intimate portrait of Carter’s life in music and traces the broader culture of New Zealand.’ 

This morning, so far, I’m alive by Wendy Parkins is also published in May, from OUP. Scott says, ‘This brave, intimate and yet highly entertaining memoir by a former professor of Victorian English charts the author’s breakdown after she migrated from New Zealand to England. What began as homesickness and career burnout developed into crippling depression, contamination phobia and OCD.’ 

Olivia Nikkel from BWB recommends May release The Parliamentary Years, by Marilyn Waring (BWB), saying ‘Marilyn’s tale of life in a relentlessly demanding (and largely male) political world is uniquely of its time and highly pertinent today.’

David Ling Publishing is publishing leading Education policy maker Maris O’Rourke’s memoir in May, and this will be launched at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. He says, ‘Zigzags and Leapfrogs is a memoir of an unlikely life that embraces themes of persistence, luck, bravery, ambition, roaming, joy, disappointment and success, where the lessons learned are laid bare.’

From Auckland University Press in June comes Making History, a memoir from leading historian Jock Phillips. Sam Elworthy notes, 'Phillips is telling the story of how he (and New Zealand) discovered New Zealand’s past.' 

And here's something exciting: Selina Tusitala Marsh is publishing a graphic novel memoir, illustrated by herself, through AUP. 'Mophead is beautifully illustrated in the style of Spike Milligan', says Elworthy.

A drift into biography
Canterbury University Press is excited about March release Living Among the Northland Māori: Diary of Father Antoine Garin, 1944-1946, which has been translated and edited by Peter Tremewan and Giselle Larcombe. Editor Katrina McCallum says, ‘This offers a new insight into Māori thinking and culture at a crucial time in the history of European immigration.’

John Scott was one of this country’s most significant architects, and MUP is bringing John Scott: Works to us in March. Legat says, ‘It’s the first ever book on Scott and has been lovingly photographed, expertly written by David Straight, and stunningly designed by Catherine Griffiths.’ 

‘Shirley Smith was one of the most remarkable New Zealanders of the 20th century,’ says McDougall from VUP. The biography of this woman ‘whose lifelong commitment to social justice, legal reform, gender equality and community service left a profound legacy’, by Sarah Gaitanos, will publish in April. ‘Shirley Smith: An Examined Life tells the story of a remarkably warm and generous woman, one with a rare gift for frankness, an implacable sense of principle, and a personality of complexity and formidable energy.’ 

Allen and Unwin are looking forward to The Note Through the Wire in April, with publicist Becky Innes noting its similarity to The Tattooist of Auschwitz (but non-fiction) and explaining, ‘Wellingtonian Doug Gold tells the adventurous love story of his parents-in-law, who met during WW2 when Bruce was a prisoner of war and Josefine a resistance fighter – this is a cracking read for mother’s day and beyond.’ 

In May, OUP will see the publication of West Island, a non-fiction title by Stephanie Johnson, which ‘explores New Zealand’s relationship with the large continent to our west, through looking at the lives of five New Zealanders who became better known in Australia.’ Scott notes it is ‘Witty, warm and illuminating.’
A shift into history
Just in time for Waitangi Day, Bateman Books is releasing Waitangi: A Living Treaty, by Matthew Wright in late January. Senior Editor Adrian Kinnaird says, ‘This explores the origins and significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and its place in the present day. It’s a well-researched and extremely accessible read – a must for anyone interested in our history of bicultural relations.’ 

In February, CUP has Roger Robinson’s When Running Made History. McCallum calls the latter ‘a brilliantly written and original insight into the significance of the sport. New Zealand’s place in running history is given full credit in this globe-trotting account.’ 

Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! B Company 28th Māori Battalion 1939-1945 by Wira Gardiner (Bateman) is a companion volume to Nga Tama Toa, C Company Māori Battalion which has been a massive seller for 10 years now. Kinnaird says, ‘This gorgeous hardcover, released in April, gives B Company the same deluxe treatment, telling their story illustrated with hundreds of photographs and specially commissioned maps.’ 

In April from MUP, For King and Other Countries, by leading military historian Professor Glyn Harper, is another in a handsome hardback series of official World War One histories. Publisher Nicola Legat says, ’It has breakthrough coverage of the thousands of New Zealanders who served with the British, Australian, Canadian, Indian and American forces and also the men and women who served with overseas medical organisations. There are some terrific stories and images here.’

If farming is more your thing, perhaps you could try Fifty Years Young: A History of the Young Farmer of the Year, also from MUP. Legat says, ‘This is a lively, 288-page hardback telling the story of this remarkable annual competition…It’s an entertaining and eye-opening read.’ She adds, ‘given the high profile of the contest in heartland New Zealand we are sure it will do well.’ 

BWB has The New Zealand Wars by Vincent O’Malley coming in July. Nikkel says this is a ‘short, accessible account of the New Zealand Wars that highlights the many ways in which this history is alive in the twenty-first century.’ 

Also in July, Bateman has Historic New Zealand Racing Cars, by Steve Holmes. ‘From the sleek futuristic McLaren M8A to the missile-shaped RA Vanguard… on display in all their full-colour, tire-burning glory. 

A burst into Non-fiction
Finally, a book with an F word in the title to call our own! This February sees HarperCollins release Busy as F*ck, by Karen Nimmo. Hedley says, ‘This is a typically Kiwi book about trading in your busy as f*ck lifestyle for something more meaningful. It seems as though we are inundated with books from authors abroad telling us how to improve our lives, so I think bookstores will really appreciate having a no-nonsense New Zealand perspective on how to live a balanced life.’ 

Nigel Latta recommends Allen & Unwin title Smart Mothering, by Dr Natalie Flynn, coming in March, and so does Becky Innes, saying ‘Dr Natalie Flynn’s thorough analysis of scientific research on key parenting topics such as feeding, crying and sleeping, is a readable and reassuring book. Our publicity manager and I have pre-schoolers and find it so fascinating and comforting that we have stuck quotes from it on the fridge!’ 

Also out in March is Homemade, from Eleanor Ozich. Penguin Random House NZ Publisher Claire Murdoch describes this book by the bestselling author of The Art of Simple: ‘It’s a super-stylish, smart and useful book for living a natural, healthy and sustainable daily life.’

In April, we turn to nature with HarperCollins title The Meaning of Trees, by Robert Vennell. Hedley notes ‘I can’t wait to see this book on the shelves! It’s a beautiful package. Robert Vennell shows us how a globally unique flora has been used for food, medicine, shelter, spirituality and science. Full of botanical illustrations, paintings and photographs, this is a guide and gift book in equal measure.’ 

Also from Penguin, we have The Baker’s Companion by Allyson Gofton, which Murdoch describes as, ‘Bible. Beautiful. Totally trustworthy. Tasty as.’

We look at The Future of Work with BWB in May. This title sees Kinley Salmon ‘look at how automation could transform the working world in New Zealand.’ Nikkel adds, ‘Salmon is one of the sharpest young minds looking at our future.’ 

May also sees the publication of Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, by Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler from AUP. Elworthy notes, 'This is to coincide with a major exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery  that will tour the country for the next two years, copublished in the UK by Thames and Hudson with plans for the exhibition to tour there too.'

Have you heard of Bets Gee? Of course you have! Allen and Unwin are bringing you her debut cookbook, Magnolia Kitchen.  Innes explains, ‘Bets Gee is an online star with over 180,000 followers who love her incredibly beautiful cakes and baking and fabulous merchandise, but also her sweary and straightforward approach to life. Magnolia Kitchen will make a great Mother’s Day gift for cool younger Mums.’ 

A frission of fiction 
We know, we know – all this non-fiction, but where’s the fiction at? Do not panic: there are plenty of wonderful titles coming your way from NZ and Australian authors.

Melanee Winder from Hachette has a great thriller for summer reading for those who may have just finished the latest Reacher. She says, ‘Call Me Evie by JP Pomare has just published and is getting fantastic media coverage and reviews here and around the world (it’s published in NZ before anywhere else!). It is a claustrophobic, edgy thriller set in Maketu. A great page-turning, creepy read.’ 

Also out now from Penguin Random House NZ, is What you Wish For, the new Gabriel’s Bay novel from Catherine Robertson. Murdoch says, ‘She’s such a clever writer, equally beloved by customers at indies and chains, and more readers here and overseas are discovering her all the time. I can’t say it better than John Campbell who called this book “technically assured and utterly warm-hearted”.’

A couple of years ago, we hosted Graeme Simsion at the Booksellers NZ conference for the second in his ‘Rosie’ trilogy. Text Publishing is very happy to present the third in this series, The Rosie Result, out in February. Lara Shprem notes, ‘Don and Rosie are back in Melbourne after a decade in New York, and they’re about to face their most important challenge. Their son, Hudson, is struggling at school: he’s socially awkward and not fitting in. Don’s spent a lifetime trying to fit in – so who better to teach Hudson the skills he needs?’ 

This March sees A Mistake, the new title from one of NZ’s most lauded authors, Carl Shuker. McDougall says, ‘When Shuker’s fifth novel was submitted to VUP the staff stopped all their other work to get to the end of this tense and compelling read. We can’t wait for the rest of the world to down tools and discover this brilliant short novel about human fallibility and the dangerous hunger for black and white answers in a world of nuance.’ 

Carrie Tiffany is another lauded author, from the other side of the Tasman. Her new title, published in March by Text Publishing, is Exploded View. ‘A dangerous man moves in with a mother and her two adolescent children... Set at the close of the 1970s and traversing thousands of kilometres of inland roads, Exploded View is a revelatory interrogation of Australian girlhood.’ 

Back on safer land, Nicky Pellegrino has delivered again, from Hachette on 26th March. Winder says, ‘A Dream of Italy is going to be even bigger than A Year at Hotel Gondola.’ The latter is still on the bestsellers list occasionally. ‘A Dream of Italy,’ she says, ‘has a fabulous cast of characters, a gorgeous Italian village and a little light interior design. It’s the most perfect escapist read.’ 

We also have a new graphic novel in March. Earth’s End publisher Adrian Kinnaird says, ‘We’re very excited to be bringing Ross Murray’s acclaimed webcomic Rufus Marigold to print for the first time as an expanded graphic novel. It’s a darkly funny, yet moving account of living with and managing anxiety.’ 

Finally, this May sees the publication by TExt of the first winner of the Michael Gifkins Prize, New Zealander Ruby Porter. Here’s what Shprem has to say about her novel, Attraction: ‘The present reckons with the past in Attraction. Porter’s unnamed narrator is on a road trip between Auckland, Whāngārā and Levin with her friends Ashi and Ilana, haunted by the spectre of her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, her complicated family background and New Zealand’s colonial history.’ 

A range of trends to watch and stock 
Many of our top publishers agree on one thing: Memoirs are the trend of 2019. Kirsten McDougall from VUP says, ‘The bulk of submissions we’ve been receiving over the last year are memoir and poetry. VUP has a reputation as a poetry publisher, so the quantity of poetry submissions isn’t surprising, but the memoir submissions pile is taller than it has been in previous years.’
Alex Hedley from HarperCollins agrees, saying ‘We see a continuing trend toward inspiring and honest memoirs from our own backyard.’ McDougall adds, ‘We don’t expect this will be surprising to booksellers, as so many great books being published currently are auto-fiction or memoir and essays.’ 

Claire Murdoch from Penguin Random House NZ notes ‘We have some very cool bios and memoirs in the works – my personal favourites – as well as those big, beautiful art, photography and illustrated books about Aotearoa, our people and culture. 

Non-fiction more generally, and events associated with them, are the trends spotted by Tom Rennie from BWB and Adrian Kinnaird of Bateman. Rennie says, ‘We were thrilled to see readers pack out our BWB Talks last year, including the remarkable Parihaka presentations at the National Library by Mahara Okeroa, Rachel Buchanan and Maria Bargh. Keep an eye on our BWB Talks in 2019…’

Kinnaird notes, ‘In general, I think we’re seeing a sizable growth in local non-fiction. Thanks to recent company mergers in both publishing and distribution, there’s a lot of competition now for market share. I think we’re seing some bold choices in direction and subject matter, which can only be a win for local readers as publishers diversify their offerings to capture new readers.’

Personal growth and development is another trend at the moment, with Hedley saying ‘We think New Zealanders can teach the world a thing or two about personal growth and development, which is why we’d encourage booksellers to keep an eye on local books in this category.’

While we’ll be getting into Children’s books separately, Claire Murdoch has noted these are hugely important for PRHNZ, and they have many great titles in store this year. She also says, ‘Our Māori language publishing is going from strength to strength under Jeremy Sherlock, so booksellers can expect more great books for te reo Māori learners for readers young and old.’

Finally, we have some great new authors to look forward to from Penguin. ‘We are totally committed to publishing new fiction and creative non-fiction from both senior NZ authors and in 2019 this includes a number of writers whose work we’re wildly excited to publish for the first time.’ 

Whichever way you look at it, we can see there are plenty of goodies to look forward to from New Zealand publishers this year.