Could 2011 be the year in which digital books finally take off? Waterstone's MD Dominic Myers thinks it might be: in December, after blaming the weather for a worrying drop in pre-Christmas sales of what we must now call "paper books", he unveiled, apparently without irony, the retailer's new "cloud-based" solution, which will enable e-books to be accessed across different devices. He expected a spike in digital-book sales from Christmas morning, when eager young futurists opened the e-readers in their stockings. Rumours that Father Christmas is backing digital-book technology (thousands of pages in a device the weight of a reindeer sneeze) are unconfirmed.
At the time of writing, Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-Minute Meals (Michael Joseph, £26) was only the third-bestselling hardback non-fiction book since records began, needing to shift 141,000 further copies to beat Delia Smith's How to Cook: Book One and Lynne Truss's 2003 classic Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Fourth Estate, £8.99).
All of these authors succeeded because they are true originals, but publishing loves a bandwagon, and the holy grail for 2011 will be a book that combines pukka recipes with the authorial talents of Stephen Fry and the loveable eccentricity of a member of the genus Suricata suricatta. Expect a bidding war for the memoirs of a descendant of Mongis Khan, as told to Mrs Fry or some such other fictional extension of the Fry ego, and taking issue with the slurs on mongoose history detailed in the meerkat Aleksandr Orlov's current bestseller, A Simples Life. In the meantime, Arrow is republishing four Fry books (The Hippopotamus, Making History, The Liar and Paperweight) in June.
Also in June, Virago will reissue some of the backlist of the 2010 Booker-shortlisted author Emma Donoghue, who did not in fact live silently in a tiny room until the day she published Room, but in fact wrote the marvellous Slammerkin (2000) and Touchy Subjects (2006). They should now get the attention that they always deserved.
Some bigger-name authors have new fiction published in 2011. Look out for Wish You Were Here (Picador, June) by the Waterland author Graham Swift – "a resonant novel about a changing England", says Picador, in which a Devon farmer must collect the remains of his brother, a soldier who died in Iraq. Also from Picador comes The Stranger's Child (July), Alan Hollinghurst's follow-up to the 2004 Booker-winning The Line of Beauty, which follows the lives of two families from the eve of the First World War to the close of the 20th century, and Edward St Aubyn's At Last (May), a darkly comic story of dysfunctional families and the culmination of his Patrick Melrose series.
Readers will be sorry to see the end of two very different series in March. Kurt Wallander solves his final case in Henning Mankell's The Troubled Man (Harvill), the first Wallander novel for a decade, and in the same week, Hodder publishes the sixth and final instalment of Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series, The Land of Painted Caves, in which Ayla struggles to find a balance between her duties as a new mother and her training to become a Zelandoni – one of the Ninth Cave community's spiritual leaders and healers.
No concrete news yet on what's next from these authors, but Eoin Colfer is due to follow up his 20-million-selling Artemis Fowl series for children with his first adult novel, Plugged, in May (Headline). It's described as a "quirky crime noir", involves a psychotic Irish bouncer, and is aimed at teenagers (and their dads) who have grown up with and perhaps outgrown the Artemis Fowl books.
One of the smash hits of 2010 was David Nicholls' One Day, which followed his novels Starter for Ten (2003) and The Understudy (2005), and won a Galaxy National Book Award. Nicholls tells me that he is working on another novel, but he's also closely involved with the film of One Day, which is due out in autumn. He has already adapted Starter for Ten (2006), plus Blake Morrison's And When Did You Last See Your Father? and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles; any Nicholls production is worth waiting for. The film of Lionel Shriver's brilliant (and divisive) novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, meanwhile, previews at Cannes in May. It stars Tilda Swinton as Kevin's mother, which bodes well.
Another old favourite in a new genre will be Joyce Carol Oates, author of more than 50 novels, as well as poetry, essays and short stories. In March, she will publish her memoir, A Widow's Story (Fourth Estate), about the sudden death of her husband of half a century. An early, pre-publication review calls it "a deeply intimate look at the eminent author's 'derangement of Widowhood'... Oates writes with gut-wrenching honesty and spares no one in ripping the illusions off the face of death."
Also worth looking out for is Camilla Gibb's The Beauty of Humanity Movement (Atlantic, March), set in Hanoi. Her earlier novels, Mouthing the Words (1999) and The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life (2003) were torturous portraits of family misery. And Jason Webster's Or the Bull Kills You (Chatto, February), a debut novel about a pot-smoking Spanish detective, is already causing a stir.
Other titles not to miss include Ali Smith's There But For The (Hamish Hamilton, June); Paul Theroux's The Tao of Travel (Hamish Hamilton, May); Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers (Fourth Estate, March); the Booker winner Aravind Adiga's second novel, Last Man in Tower (Atlantic, June); and Alan Bennett's Smut (Profile, May), intriguingly subtitled "two unseemly short stories".
But before those, why not start 2011 with another Profile title: Susan Maushart's The Winter of Our Disconnect? This cold-turkey memoir of "how one family pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell/text/tweet the tale" is apparently "a meditation on new media, the life of a family and the meaning of home". I'd just like to know how the three children felt about having to read paper books.
Lastly, Jackie Kay's pithy and beautiful collection of poetry, Fiere, will be published by Picador on Friday. And here, exclusively for readers of The New Review, is a sneak preview, below. n
Poem by Jackie Kay
FIERE GOOD NICHT (after Gussie Lord Davis)
When you've had your last one for the road,
a Linkwood, a Talisker, a Macallan,
and you've finished your short story
and played one more time Nacht und Traume
with Roland Hayes singing sweetly;
and pictured yourself on the road,
the one that stretches to infinity,
and said good night to your dead,
and fathomed the links in the long day –
then it's time to say Goodnight fiere,
and lay your highland head on your feather pillow,
far away – in England, Canada, New Zealand –
and coorie in, coorie in, coorie in.
The good dreams are drifting quietly doon,
like a figmaleerie, my fiere, my dearie,
and you'll sleep as soond as a peerie,
and you, are turning slowly towards the licht:
Goodnight fiere, fiere, Good Nicht.
The new collection 'Fiere', by Jackie Kay, is published by Picador on 7 January, priced £8.99