The Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize

We are delighted to announce the shortlist for our inaugural Debut Fiction Prize – an award for exceptional first novels, voted for by our booksellers. Celebrating debut fiction in all its forms, the prize highlights the importance of discovering and championing new talent and acts as an extension of the alchemy of bookseller word-of-mouth recommendation.

The six-strong shortlist represents the exciting scope of contemporary storytelling and takes us from 1970s war-torn Belfast to a future world reeling in the wake of a catastrophe, via modern Lagos’s spiritual underbelly and three contrasting visions of America.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 25 August 2022.

The Shortlist 2022

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Smart, funny, joyous and powerful, Garmus' 60s set debut featuring an unconventional female scientist with a quiet game-plan to change the world has won the hearts and minds of our booksellers and is undoubtedly one of 2022's most gloriously enjoyable debuts.
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Powered by playful originality and a cast of brilliantly drawn characters living in the same dilapidated apartment block in a post-industrial Mid-West town, Gunty's compulsively readable debut blends razor-sharp psychological insight with irresistible humour.
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A blistering account of encroaching violence and fractured loyalties in 1970's Belfast, Trespasses follows schoolteacher Cushla as she attempts to stay true to herself as her community crumbles around her.
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A prescient warning of an all-too-plausible future and a spellbinding mosaic of characters who stand as a testament to human inventiveness in the face of catastrophe, Nagamatsu’s ambitious, haunting debut announces the arrival of an astonishing new voice in science fiction.
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An exuberant tribute to the 'vagabonds' who live their lives in the margins, Osunde's freewheeling takedown of Nigerian capitalism takes readers on a twilight tour of the spirits and misfits of Lagos.
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Charting the story of three generations of women from a family in Memphis, Stringfellow‘s assured and evocative debut delivers an epic yet intimate history of black womanhood that is perfect for fans of The Vanishing Half and An American Marriage.
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‘This is a truly global shortlist which broadens horizons and challenges genre. United by a generous capacity to find hope, light, and community in the unlikeliest places, they are all timely and important novels by writers of staggering ambition and talent.’

Bea Carvalho, Waterstones Head of Fiction


Introducing the Authors

Discover our six shortlisted writers

Bonnie Garmus

Getting your first publishing deal at the age of 64 may not be unheard of but it is unusual. Then for your debut novel to become one of the word-of-mouth successes of the year is a truly remarkable feat. The former copywriter and science editor enrolled on a creative writing course in London and Lessons in Chemistry, her slyly subversive and delightfully witty debut about a chemist-turned-reluctant-TV-cook, was the sparkling result.

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Tess Gunty

Born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, Tess Gunty read English at the University of Notre-Dame before relocating to New York for her master’s in Creative Writing, and later to the City of Angels. 2022 saw the arrival of her unique and utterly fearless debut novel The Rabbit Hutch which provides piercing yet humorous commentary on life in a decaying Rust Belt town, through the inhabitants of an affordable housing complex.

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Louise Kennedy

After working as a professional chef for three decades, Louise Kennedy swapped the restaurant kitchen for the literary journal, with her short fiction appearing in numerous publications and garnering a variety of accolades. 2021 saw the release of her short story collection The End of the World is a Cul de Sac and the following year brought her debut novel Trespasses, a masterly account of forbidden love set during the 1970s Northern Irish Troubles.

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Sequoia Nagamatsu

Author, academic and owner of a robot dog, Sequoia Nagamatsu was raised in Hawaii and San Franciso and published the short story collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone in 2016. He then set to work on his eerily prescient, polyphonic science fiction debut How High We Go in the Dark that explores the human desire to find meaning within tragedy, as a deadly virus starts conquering the world.

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Eloghosa Osunde

In 2015, Eloghosa Osunde was headed for a career in management consulting, when a friend prompted her to apply for a writing workshop in Nigeria. Seven years on, her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Granta, and Berlin Quarterly among others, garnering praise and awards, including the prestigious Plimpton Prize 2021, and her unique, bold and lavishly experimental Lagos-set debut Vagabonds! has taken the literary world by storm.

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Tara M. Stringfellow

At 30, Tara M. Stringfellow decided to swap her life as a successful Chicago attorney with a penthouse apartment for a master’s degree in poetry. After graduation, she returned to her native Tennessee and took a job as a high-school English teacher, publishing work in various literary journals and working on a manuscript which became her stunning debut Memphis – a powerful saga about family and community, and a fierce celebration of Black womanhood.

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Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize: Panellists on Lessons in Chemistry, The Rabbit Hutch and Trespasses

Discover the shortlist, as introduced by the bookseller panellists.

Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize: Panellists on How High We Go in the Dark, Vagabonds! and Memphis

Discover the shortlist, as introduced by the bookseller panellists.

Why Debuts Matter: Bea Carvalho on the Ethos Behind the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize

Our Head of Fiction reflects on the magic and significance of discovering and championing new talent.