The list, which is published each year since 2014, includes industry-tipped titles snapped up by big-spending publishers, but also a canny acquisition from a small independent press. PhD English Literature graduate, Dr Elizabeth O'Connor was featured in recognition of her book Whale Fall which was inspired by her grandparents, both of whom grew up in coastal communities.
The novel is inspired by their journeys to the inland and how they lost their native tongue (Welsh and Gaelic) through making the transition. A couple of years ago, O'Connor undertook learning Welsh, which she interweaves throughout Whale Fall along with Welsh folksongs, traditions and ancient beliefs.
I’m so thrilled to have been chosen for the Observer New Review’s annual list of debut novelists. Writing a novel can be quite a long and isolated process, and it’s great to see it out in the world, being read and enjoyed.Dr Elizabeth O'Connor.
Dr O'Connor revealed in her interview that the writing process for Whale Fall involved jotting notes down on the back of receipts and food orders whilst she worked in a Café. Although she makes it clear that writing the novel was not rushed and in total took her four, lengthy years to write.
The novel itself is set in an isolated island community off the coast of Wales, on the eve of the second world war, it’s a coming-of-age story that takes place in a world on the cusp of change. The arrival of two anthropologists from the mainland to research a book on the island’s customs throws the inhabitants into disarray and gives O'Connor's protagonist, Manod, an opportunity to imagine a new life.
Elizabeth’s PhD was a beautifully written study of the shoreline in H.D.’s poetry. I am very excited to read her own story of the shore in Whale Fall.Professor John Holmes - Elizabeth O'Connor's PhD supervisor and Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture.
Dr Elizabeth O'Connor studied her PhD in English Literature, in her hometown of Birmingham at the University, which she completed back in 2019. Since then she has been working at the University as a Postgraduate Community Engagement Manager in the Graduate School.
O'Connor won the White Review prize in 2020 for a short story about a dog show and now there are plans afoot for a second novel based back in the world of dog shows, exploring what it is like for your world to be revolved around an animal.