Books to look out for in 2021

Some of the authors to look forward to in 2021: Ed O'Loughlin, Sinéad O’Connor, Lisa McInerney, Danielle McLaughlin, Neil Jordan, Claire Keegan, Conor O’Callaghan and  Keith Ridgway

A preview of this year’s most anticipated fiction, nonfiction and poetry

Irish fiction

New work that has been a long time coming generates a particular shiver of anticipation. Small Things Like These (Faber, October) will be Claire Keegan’s first new work since her novella Foster, still a bestseller 10 years on. Her publisher says: “An exquisite wintery parable, Claire Keegan’s long-awaited return tells the story of a simple act of courage and tenderness, in the face of conformity, fear and judgment.”

Small Things Like These (Faber, October) will be Claire Keegan’s first new work since her novella Foster, still a bestseller 10 years on. Photograph: Alan Betson
Small Things Like These (Faber, October) will be Claire Keegan’s first new work since her novella Foster, still a bestseller 10 years on. Photograph: Alan Betson

Kevin Power, acclaimed author of Bad Day at Blackrock (2008), adapted for the screen as What Richard Did, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, returns with White City (Scribner, April), a novel about a life spinning out of control, without the bedrock of familial love, corrupted by material wealth. Keith Ridgway follows up Hawthorn & Child (2013) with A Shock (Picador, June), interlocking stories through which flit a clutch of loosely connected characters on the fringes of London life, often clinging on to sanity, solvency or a story by their fingertips.

Lisa McInerney: new bood due in May
Lisa McInerney: new bood due in May

Having won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with her debut, The Glorious Heresies, and the Encore Award for its sequel, The Blood Miracles, Lisa McInerney completes her Cork-set sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll trilogy with The Rules of Revelation (John Murray, May).

The Magician (Viking, September) by Colm Tóibín tells the story of the 20th century through one life, that of Thomas Mann.

Second books come with a sense of heightened expectation. Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs on Other Planets (2015) was one of the best debut collections of the decade. Having since won the Windham Campbell Award and Sunday Times Short Story Award, a lot is expected of her debut novel, The Art of Falling (John Murray, February) and she does not disappoint. We Are Not in the World (Doubleday, February) by Conor O’Callaghan is out of this world too, a wonderful successor to the brilliant Nothing on Earth. Checkout 19 (Jonathan Cape, September) by Claire-Louise Bennett, acclaimed author of Pond, follows a young woman in love, in conflict with life and death, and in a life made of books, where the act of turning the page is a way of carrying on living.

Anne Griffin follows up her number-one bestseller, When All is Said, with Listening Still (Sceptre, April), about a young woman who can hear the dead, a talent which is both a gift and a curse. Lisa Harding’s debut Harvesting is to be filmed, directed by the director of Derry Girls. Her Bright Burning Things (Bloomsbury, March) addresses maternal love, control and a woman at the mercy of addiction. Panenka by Leonard and Hungry Paul author Rónán Hession (Bluemoose, May) is about a man and woman who find resonance in each other’s experiences and learn new ways to let love into their broken lives. In Ten Days (Granta, February) by Austin Duffy, a man travels with his daughter to the United States after his wife’s death to set right wrongs before it is too late. Gavin McCrea follows his brilliant debut Mrs Engels with The Sisters Mao (Scribe, September). The Beauty of Impossible Things (Corvus, May) is billed as a darkly beguiling coming-of-age tale by Rachel Donohue, author of The Temple House Vanishing. The Sunken Road (Vintage, February) by Ciaran McMenamin is set, like his debut Skintown, in a divided Fermanagh but delves back into the first World War and War of Independence. Sue Rainsford’s new novel after Follow Me to Ground is Redder Days (Doubleday, March) – twins Anna and Adam live in an abandoned commune in apocalyptic times. 

Short story collections to look out for include Midfield Dynamo (Lilliput, March) by Adrian Duncan, winner of the inaugural John McGahern Book Prize, for his novel, Love Notes From a German Building Site; I Want to Know that I Will Be Okay (Banshee, May), the first book for adults by award-winning YA author Deirdre Sullivan, exploring the trauma and power that reside in women’s bodies; Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell (Faber, May); Trouble by Philip Ó Ceallaigh (Stinging Fly, May); and In the Event of Contact (Dzanc, June) by Ethel Rohan. The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices (Unbound, April), edited by Paul McVeigh, features 16 new and 16 established writers.

Ed O’Loughlin: echoes of the golden age of espionage fiction

Nora (New Island, April) by Nuala O’Connor tells the love story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce, an earthy and authentic love letter to Irish literature’s greatest muse. Life Sentences (Jonathan Cape, January) by Billy O’Callaghan is a saga set in the Cork author’s native village and partly based on his own family story. This Eden (riverrun, June) by Ed O’Loughlin, author of the brilliant Not Untrue & Not Unkind, is a smart modern-day adventure reminiscent of the cyber-noir novels of William Gibson and the golden age of espionage fiction.

Neil Jordan: taking on the life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s servant Tony Small

Two novels are being published next year within a few weeks of each other, both about Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s servant Tony Small, who was an escaped slave. The first is Words to Shape My Name (New Island, January), a debut novel by Laura McKenna. The second is The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small by Neil Jordan (Lilliput, February). In 2004, Colm Tóibín (The Master) and David Lodge (Author, Author) both wrote novels about Henry James. The Master triumphed but Lodge got another book out of the experience, The Year of Henry James.

The spotlight will fall on debut writers in a separate feature later this month but there is a wealth of new talent to be excited by: A Crooked Tree by Hennessy-award-winner Una Mannion (Faber, January); Pure Gold (New Island, February) by John Patrick McHugh; Before My Actual Heart Breaks (Hutchinson, February) by Tish Delaney; Acts of Desperation by New-Statesman-columnist Megan Nolan (Jonathan Cape, March); The End of the World is a Cul de Sac (Bloomsbury, April) by Louise Kennedy; Line by Niall Bourke (Tramp, April); Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett (Faber, April); Snowflake by Louise Nealon (Manila, May); Diving for Pearls by Jamie O’Connell (Transworld, May); Fallen by Mel O’Doherty (Bluemoose, June); Holding Her Breath (Sandycove, June) by Eimear Ryan; Dinner Party: A Tragedy (One, September) by Sarah Gilmartin of this parish; and Luke Cassidy’s Iron Annie (Bloomsbury, September).

Two years after his comic-fiction collection Juggling With Turnips, Karl MacDermott has written a comic novel, 58% Cabbage (Eyewear, June), the story of a sit-down nobody who tries stand-up comedy. Jo Spain is one of Ireland’s most successful crime writers. She returns with a standalone, The Perfect Lie (Quercus, May).

The Summer I Robbed a Bank by David O’Doherty (Penguin, May) is described as Millions meets Gangsta Granny. Fidget the Wonder Dog (Penguin, January), illustrated by Rachael Saunders, is Patricia Forde’s first picture book. Brian Conaghan’s first middle-grade title, Cardboard Cowboys, (Bloomsbury, April) is billed as a “life-affirming comic drama packed with the empathy and understanding”. Aldrin Adams and the Cheese Nightmares (Puffin, June), Paul Howard’s debut solo children’s book, is about an ordinary boy with an extraordinary superpower. From the same pen, RO’CK of Ages: From Boom Days to Zoom Days is a collection of the best Ross O’Carroll-Kelly columns from The Irish Times (Penguin Sandcove, May).

Irish nonfiction

Given that two of Tramp Press’s three Irish Books of the Year in the past five years have been nonfiction titles by female authors – Notes to Self by Emilie Pine and A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa – Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows (March) by Sophie White sounds like a banker. Nora Ephron meets Bram Stoker as White asks uncomfortable questions about being a woman. She balances vivid storytelling with sharp-witted observations about the horrors of grief, mental illness, and the casual and sometimes hilarious cruelty of life. After her novels Filter This and Unfiltered, this sounds like a return to the territory of her debut, Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown.

Thin Places (Canongate, January), a debut by Derry author Kerri ní Dochartaigh, is said to be a steely but spellbinding blend of memoir, nature writing, social history and politics, about the beauty and healing to be found in unexpected “thin” places.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? (Fleet, July) is Séamas O’Reilly’s memoir of growing up as one of 11 children outside Derry in the 1990s after the death of their mother when he was five. Given the warmth and wit of his Observer column and his Twitter account, expect at least some of the tears will be of laughter.

The Troubles with Us by Alix O’Neill (4th Estate, June) is billed as a hilarious and moving account of the madness and mundanities of life in Northern Ireland during the 30-year conflict. It’s a story of mothers and daughters, the fallout from things left unsaid and the lengths a girl will go to for fake tan.

On Valentine’s Day in 1981, a fire in the Stardust nightclub in Dublin killed 48 young people, and left behind one orphan, Lisa Lawlor. In Stardust Baby (Mirror Books, January) she tells the story of the tragic events of that evening and how they have shaped her life.

Photograph: Donal Moloney
Sinéad O’Connor: her memoir is due out in June. Photograph: Donal Moloney

Two of Ireland’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters step into the spotlight. Rememberings (Penguin Sandycove, June) by Sinéad O’Connor promises to be an intimate and revelatory memoir. Equally awaited is A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan (Omnibus, October) by Richard Balls.

The Disconnect: A Personal Journey Through the Internet (Profile, March) by Roisin Kiberd is a collection of essays exploring the online world by one of our brightest young writers.

Playwright Rosaleen McDonagh's  first book, Unsettled (Skein Press), tells the story of the activist and first member of the Traveller community to be appointed to Aosdána.

Free Speech: Why It Matters (Constable, February) by Derry-born Andrew Doyle, creator of controversial satirical character Titania McGrath, is a defence of our right to express ourselves as we see fit, and takes the form of a letter to those who are unpersuaded.

The Best Catholics in the World: The Irish, the Church and the End of a Special Relationship (Penguin, March) by Derek Scally, Berlin correspondent of The Irish Times, is an account of why Ireland was so very Catholic for so long, why that changed and what remains.

The Hitmen (Penguin, April) by Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon tells the shocking true story of the rise and bloody fall of the family of contract killers at the heart of Ireland’s gangland crime.

Emma Dabiri. Photograph: Olivia Harris
Emma Dabiri. Photograph: Olivia Harris

What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition (Penguin, March) by Emma Dabiri, author of Don’t Touch My Hair, is a rallying cry for the present movement for racial justice, in the spirit of manifestos such as We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The Ministry of Bodies (Head of Zeus, March) is an account of life and death in a modern hospital by Seamus O’Mahony, the award-winning author of The Way We Die Now and Can Medicine Be Cured? The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of the Social Life of Illness (Picador, April) is an investigation into an extraordinary medical phenomenon by Suzanne O’Sullivan, Wellcome-Prize-winner for It’s All in Your Head. In The Rag and Bone Shop: How We Make Memories and Memories Make Us (Penguin, Feb), Trinity College professor of psychiatry Veronica O’Keane shows how the mysteries of the brain are illuminated at the extremes of human experience.

The Partition: Ireland Divided 1885-1925 (Penguin, April) by Charles Townshend promises to be one of the most significant history books of the year, alongside Between Two Hells: The Irish Civil War (Profile, September) by Diarmaid Ferriter, an honest confrontation with the nature and legacy of the Irish Civil War and the lost and broken lives and polarised politics it resulted in, based on newly released archival material.

Four Killings: Land, Exile and War 1915-1922 (Head of Zeus, May) is a meticulously researched history by Myles Dungan of the fate of his family during the Irish Revolution. They were caught up in four violent deaths between 1915 and 1922: one in the remote and lawless Arizona territory and three in Ireland. The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation (Yale, May) by David Dickson looks at the making of modern Ireland through a study of 10 urban centres.

The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Murders that Shook an Empire (Head of Zeus, June) is a new account of the Phoenix Park murders by Julie Kavanagh, former London editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and a biographer of Nureyev, Marie Duplessis and Frederick Ashton.

England and Eternity: A Book of Cricket (Apollo, June) is a teasing but affectionate celebration of cricket through the ages, by one of Ireland’s greatest living critics, Declan Kiberd. Shorelines: The Coastal Atlas of Ireland (Cork UP, June), the latest in the award-winning Atlas series, looks at the coastline of the entire island of Ireland, from the physical, human and environmental perspectives.

International fiction

I absolutely loved Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor, which rightly won the 2017 Costa Novel Award, so I’ll be dropping everything to read his new one, Lean Fall Stand (4th Estate, April), about an Antarctic research expedition which goes wrong. I also adored Tin Man by Sarah Winman, bestselling author of When God Was a Rabbit, so Still Life (4th Estate, June), a beautiful, big-hearted story of people brought together by love, war, art. . . and the ghost of EM Forster, goes to the top my to-be-read pile.

Two more favourites next. Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday, September) by Colson Whitehead, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad (adapted and directed for Amazon Prime by Barry Jenkins) and The Nickel Boys, is billed as a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s. In Oh William! (Penguin, September) another Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Strout, returns to her beloved heroine Lucy Barton in a luminous novel about love, loss and family secrets.

Bewilderment (Heinemann, September) is Richard Powers' first novel since his Booker shortlisted, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory. The novel follows Theo Byrne, a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on planets light years away. He is also the widowed father of an "unusual" nine-year-old.

Luster (Picador, January) by Raven Leilani is a New York Times bestseller about Edie, who is messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office and sleeping with all the wrong men. Fans include Zadie Smith, Candice Carty-Williams and Dolly Alderton. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (Chatto & Windus, January) by Richard Flanagan, Booker-Prize-winning author of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is billed as “a wild and urgent story about family, love and hope, set against global catastrophe and climate crisis”.

Max Porter has not put a foot wrong so far. The Death of Francis Bacon (Faber, January) translates into seven extraordinary written pictures the explosive final workings of the eponymous Irish-born artist’s mind. Gratitude (Bloomsbury, January) by Delphine de Vigan, translated by George Miller, is about an old woman in a nursing home haunted by memories. Memorial (Atlantic, January) is the debut novel from Bryan Washington, the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize 2020 for his collection Lot.

Priestdaddy author Patricia Lockwood’s first novel No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury, February) is about what it feels like to live and think in the digital world. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (Viking, February) by Marianne Cronin tells of the unlikely friendship between Lenni, 17, living in a Glasgow hospital on the terminal ward, and fellow patient Margot, 83. Film rights have already been sold. Nick (No Exit Press, February) by Michael Farris Smith, a prequel to The Great Gatsby, tells the story of Nick Carraway’s life before he encounters the millionaire of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford won three major prizes so expectations are high for Light Perpetual (Faber, February). November 1944. A German rocket strikes London, and five young lives are atomised in an instant. Except, what if it didn’t? Open Water (Viking, February) by Caleb Azumah Nelson, a 26-year-old British-Ghanaian writer, is an “urgent, millennial love story” about struggling artists likened to Sally Rooney’s Normal People told from a black male perspective. Kololo Hill (Picador, February) by Neema Shah tells one Ugandan-Asian family’s story of expulsion by Idi Amin and rebuilding life in London. Empty Houses (Daunt, February) by Brenda Navarro was a literary sensation in Mexico, an explosive debut novel about maternal desire, pain and abduction.

Kazuo Ishiguro:. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images
Kazuo Ishiguro:. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Klara and The Sun (Faber, March) is the first new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he won the Nobel Prize. It asks: what does it mean to love? I like the sound of The Walking People (Penguin, March) by Mary Beth Keane, author of the bestselling Ask Again, Yes. It explores the Irish immigrant experience in modern-day America, overlapping with the author’s own parents’ story. Fiona Mozley, the Booker-shortlisted author of Elmet, returns with Hot Stew (John Murray, March), a chronicle of a teeming, disparate household in London’s steamy, insatiable Soho.

Queer: A Collection of LGBTQ Writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday (Head of Zeus, January) by award-winning translator Frank Wynne promises to be a landmark anthology.

Following the international critical acclaim of The Cost of Living, Real Estate (Hamish Hamilton, May) by Deborah Levy is the final volume of her “living autobiography”, an exhilarating, thought-provoking and boldly intimate meditation on home and the spectres that haunt it.

The reader is confident that, encountering Cusk in any circumstances, he would fall short
Rachel Cusk: a study of female fate and male privilege

Whereabouts (Bloomsbury, May), the new novel from Jhumpa Lahiri, the Booker-shortlisted author of The Lowland, is a portrait of a solitary woman in a beautiful and lonely Italian city. In Second Place (Faber, May) by Rachel Cusk, a woman invites a famed artist to visit her remote coastal region, the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege.

How to Kidnap the Rich (Little Brown, May) by Rahul Raina is the story of Ramesh, an “examinations consultant” and a cog in the wheel that keeps India’s middle classes thriving. When he takes an exam for Rudi, an intolerably lazy but rich teenager, he accidently scores the highest mark in the country and propels Rudi into stardom. Heaven (Picador, May) by Mieko Kawakami, the internationally acclaimed author of Breasts and Eggs, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, explores the threat of violence that can stalk our teenage years.

The Other Black Girl (Bloomsbury, June) by Zakiya Dalila Harris is billed as a major debut novel about race and authenticity in the workplace: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada as two young black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of book publishing.

Malibu Rising (Hutchinson, May) is Taylor Jenkins Reid’s follow-up to Daisy Jones & The Six. Set in the surfing community of Malibu in the 80s, Malibu Rising has the same evocative sense of period and place, combined with a flawed and relatable heroine. From AJ Pearce, the bestselling author of Dear Mrs Bird comes a sequel, Yours Cheerfully (Picador, June), a funny and uplifting second World War story of courage.

Ride a Cockhorse by Raymond Kennedy (Daunt, June) is “perhaps the funniest American novel since John Kennedy Toole’s prize winner, A Confederacy of Dunces,” claims Newsweek. Brimming with snappy dialogue and gleeful obscenity, this reissue is a rollicking cautionary tale and bank clerk Frances Fitzgibbons is the anti-heroine we all need.

Jonathan Franzen: a new trilogy on the way

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Bloomsbury, September) is Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s first novel in 48 years. Set in a contemporary version of Nigeria, it is “at once a savagely witty whodunnit and a corrosively satirical examination of corruption, both personal and political”. Crossroads (October) is a US saga by Jonathan Franzen, the first volume of A Key to All Mythologies, his Great American Trilogy, that will span three generations and trace the inner-life of American culture through the present day.

Fans of Mick Herron’s series about disgraced MI5 agents will be delighted with Slough House (John Murray, February) the seventh in the series. Tokyo Redux (Faber, June) by David Peace completes his post-war Tokyo trilogy. Girl on the Train made Paula Hawkins’s name. Her next novel, Into the Water, was also a number one bestseller so A Slow Fire Burning (Transworld, August) is odds-on to do the same. It’s billed as a propulsive, twisty thriller which examines the insidious and destructive nature of past trauma.

International nonfiction

Global crises are understandably a bit of a running theme in 2021. But let’s start with an uplifting tale from the early days of one that is now happily under control.

All the Young Men: How One Woman Risked it All to Care for the Dying (Trapeze, January) is a story of ordinary but heroic human empathy. When Ruth Coker Burks, a young, straight, white single mother in Arkansas, discovered Aids patients were being neglected, she set out to care for them. Soon to be a Hollywood film.

Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic (Bloomsbury Continuum, January) by Rachel Clarke, author of Dear Life, is an unflinching insider’s account of medicine in the time of coronavirus, which draws on testimony from nursing, acute and intensive care colleagues and patients. Intensive Care: A Doctor, a Community and Covid-19 (Wellcome Collection, January) by Gavin Francis, GP and author of Island Dreams and Adventures in Human Being is another account from the “pandemic’s forgotten front lines”.

Bill Gates addresses another global crisis in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs (Allen Lane, February).

Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang lift the lid on a social media giant whose disruptive influence on society we are still only beginning to fathom in An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination (Bridge Street Press, June).

Ece Temelkuran: ‘Young women are not embarrassed of being powerful.’ Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty
Ece Temelkuran. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now (4th Estate, May) is an unvarnished manifesto for positive political and social change by Ece Temelkuran, author of How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship. Democracy Rules (Penguin, July) by Jan-Werner Müller is a rethinking of what democracy can mean in an age of big data, curated news feeds, collapsing parties and social alienation. In How to Stop Fascism (Allen Lane, May), Paul Mason offers a radical, hopeful blueprint for resisting and defeating the new far right. Identity, Ignorance, Innovation: Why the old politics is useless – and what to do about it (Hodder & Stoughton, March) is a call to arms to challenge this age of political extremism, lazy populism and democratic torpor by Matthew d’Ancona.

In The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It (Picador, March), Robert B Reich, who advised Ford, Carter and Clinton on economics, shows how wealth and power have interacted in the US to install an elite oligarchy, eviscerate the middle class and undermine democracy. The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World (Allen Lane, February) by Kehinde Andrews argues that these problems go much deeper, and that the West was founded not on the three great revolutions of science, industry and politics but rather genocide, slavery and colonialism. The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World (Profile, March) by Linda Colley is billed as is one of the most original global histories in decades.

In Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain (Viking, January), Sathnam Sanghera looks at how the empire wrought contemporary Britain. In Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit (Faber, January), Philip Stephens paints a fascinating portrait of a nation struggling to reconcile its waning power with past glory. Fiasco: Notes on a Country in Crisis (Atlantic, May) is a first-hand account of the crisis that has engulfed British politics by the BBC’s economics editor, Faisal Islam.

The Auschwitz Photographer (Doubleday, March) by Luca Crippa and Maurizio Onnis is based on the powerful true story of Auschwitz prisoner Wilhelm Brasse, whose photographs helped to expose the atrocities of the Holocaust. In The Light of Days: Women Fighters of the Jewish Resistance (April, Virago) Judy Batalion tells how a cadre of Jewish women in Poland – some still in their teens – became the heart of a wide-ranging resistance network that fought the Nazis.

The Altar Boys (HarperCollins, April) by Suzanne Smith is the tragic story of two Catholic schoolboy friends who grew up to become a priest and a journalist. It’s an explosive exposé of widespread and organised clerical abuse of children in one Australian city, and how the Catholic Church covered it up.

Two sports autobiographies to look out for are Tiger Woods’s as yet untitled memoir (Harper Collins, April and The Accidental Footballer (Monorsy, March) by Pat Nevin.

Tracey Thorn: female firends in music

My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend (Canongate, April) by Tracey Thorn is an exploration of female friendship and women in music, from the bestselling author of Another Planet and Bedsit Disco Queen. Bessie Smith (Faber, February) is Jackie Kay’s nostalgic but gutsy biography of the legendary blues singer. Folk music fans may enjoy Beeswing: Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice, 1967-75 (Faber, April) by Richard Thompson. In Long Players: Writers on the Albums that Shaped Them (June) by Tom Gatti, 50 authors write about the albums that have changed their lives including: Deborah Levy on Bowie, Marlon James on Bjork, Daisy Johnson on Lizzo, George Saunders on Yes and Bernardine Evaristo on Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning authors Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan tell the story of one of the great modern painters in Francis Bacon: Revelations (William Collins, January).

Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life (Trapeze, January) by Alex Christofi is a biography of the Russian novelist, born 200 years ago, which pushes at the imaginative boundaries of what it is to retell the story of someone’s life. Philip Roth: The Biography (WW Norton, April) by Blake Bailey promises to be a 900-page-plus behemoth.

Having and Being Had (Faber, January) by Eula Biss is a personal reckoning with the intricacies of money, class and capitalism. The Soul of a Woman: Rebel Girls, Impatient Love, and Long Life by Isabel Allende (March) is an autobiographical meditation on power, feminism and womanhood. The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020 (Penguin, April) by Rachel Kushner, Booker-shortlisted author, is a wild ride of a collection about living fast and free in a crowded world. The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy (Tramp, April) dismantles seven “sins” women and girls are socialised to avoid: anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence, and lust in an uncompromising feminist manifesto that shows women and girls how to defy, disrupt and destroy the patriarchy. Everybody (Picador, April) by Olivia Laing, the author of The Lonely City uses the life of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to chart the great freedom movements of the era, from gay rights and sexual liberation to feminism and the civil-rights movement.

Salman Rushdie: In place of Don Quixote’s obsession with books about chivalry, Quichotte is fixated on junk television. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images
Salman Rushdie. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Bloomsbury, January) is a collection of essays about Russian short stories by Booker-winning author George Saunders. Languages of Truth (Penguin, May) offers Salman Rushdie’s most piercingly analytical views yet on the evolution of literature and culture. The Waste Land: TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and the Making of a Masterpiece (November) by Matthew Hollis is also a notable inclusion to this list.

Poetry

Doireann Ni Ghriofa, fresh from her award-winning prose debut, returns to her first love with a new collection, To Star the Dark (Dedalus, March).

Hennessy New Irish Writing-winner Audrey Molloy, now living in Australia, makes her full debut with The Important Things (Gallery). Other Irish published titles include Sonic White Poise (Dedalus, spring) by Patrick Cotter; Mute/Unmute (Arlen House, spring) by Geraldine Mitchell; The Value of Cut Flowers (Doire, autumn) by Amanda Bell; Selected Poems by John McAuliffe (Gallery); and Derek Mahon’s Poems 1960-2020 (Gallery).

Irish poets being published in Britain include a debut by Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe (Faber, July) and new collections by Maurice Riordan in October and Paul Muldoon in November, all as yet untitled.

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature winner: American poet Louise Glück. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, American poet Louise Glück, has a new collection out in 2021. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Carcanet is to publish American Mules by Irish Times poetry critic Martina Evans; Eat or We Both Starve (March) by Victoria Kennefick and Moya Cannon’s Collected Poems (February). It will also publish a new collection by Nobel-Prize-winner Louise Glück, Winter Recipes from the Collective, while Penguin Modern Classics will publish Glück’s Collected Poems.

Others to look out for include Andrew McMillan’s Pandemonium (Cape, May); Wanda Coleman’s Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems (Penguin, April) and Raymond Antrobus’s All the Names Given (Picador, September).