11 books you need to read before they become TV series in 2020

From coming-of-age romances to haunting thrillers, the new decade brags a stellar line up of series for us to binge on

Noughts & Crosses

As Christmas spirits soar and the chill of winter sets in, why not snuggle up with a novel?


We’ve got the low down on the adaptations of popular tomes that will be hitting the screen in 2020. From coming of age romance novels like Sally Rooney’s Normal People to thrillers like Stephen Kings The Outside, the new decade brags a stellar line up of series to binge on.

So why not get in there first and read the book?

1. Normal People – Sally Rooney

Normal People first look

Channel: BBC Three

This iconic, coming-of-age romance novel has been adapted for BBC Three as a 12-part series. Penned by the award-winning author herself, the story follows the relationship of Marianne and Connell, two teenagers who live in a small Irish town, as they navigate their way through adolescence and adulthood.

This literary sensation is, at its core, a study of the irrevocable impact two individuals can have on each other. It acts as an insight into human emotion, love and power told through the lens of two mismatched characters, connected by their profound understanding of each other.

Daisy Edgar Jones has been cast as Marianne and Paul Mescal will play Connell.

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said: “Sally is fast becoming the voice of her generation and the BBC is thrilled to be working with her on her first piece for television. Normal People is a beautifully crafted story of love and friendship.”

Buy Normal People by Sally Rooney

2. Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman

Masli Baduza and Jack Rowan in Noughts & Crosses (BBC)

Channel: BBC One

Racial tensions, social inequality and injustice are central themes of this dystopian young adult novel currently being adapted for the screen by BBC One. Against a backdrop of violence, distrust and rebellion, this six part series tells the story of Sephy and Callum.

Set in a world ruled by racial segregation, the series follows the illustrious and forbidden relationship that develops between two childhood friends. Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought – a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass.

Masali Baduza will play Sephy and Jack Rowan will star as Callum.

Buy Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

3. The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries

Channel: BBC Two

This much anticipated six part series is based on Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, which has been adapted for the screen by Catton herself.

Set on New Zealand’s South Island, during the nineteenth-century gold rush, the book begins with Walter Moody believing that he has seen a phantom onboard a ship. Upon arrival at his hotel in Hokitika, Moody stumbles across a smoking room filled with twelve men who are discussing a series of dark, mysterious events.

The cast includes: Eve Hewson as sex worker Anna Wetherell, Himesh Patel as missing man Emergy Staines and Casino Royale’s Eva Green as ruthless and manipulative brothel madam, Lydia Wells.

Buy The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

4. Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)


ChannelBBC One

The fourth novel in the Cormoran Strike series written by JK Rowling (under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) has been adapted for BBC One and is set to air in 2020. The series follows private investigator, Strike (Tom Burke), and his sleuthing partner, Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger).

The series begins when Strike receives an unsolicited visit from Billy Knight, a man in the grips of psychosis, who claims to have witnessed a child being strangled and buried many years ago.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil, from the Strike series, have previously been adapted for BBC One.

Buy Lethal White: Cormoran Strike 

5. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

Adam Kay
Adam Kay

Channel: BBC Two

Adam Kay, wrote the bestselling memoir This is Going to Hurt; a book which chronicles his own personal experience working for the NHS as a junior doctor.

Mapping the highs and lows of his gruelling 97-hour weeks, Kay offers a candid and painfully honest insight into the realities of working for the NHS. Peppered with humour, witty remarks and brutally frank accounts of bodily fluids (and the fact that the hospital’s parking meter earned more than him)– this book seamlessly navigates from heart-breaking struggles to hilarity.

This Sunday Times bestseller has been adapted into an eight-part series for BBC Two set to air in 2020.

Buy This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

6. The North Water – Ian McGuire

Colin Farrell in The North Water - now filming for BBC Two - TNW_NW_0310_EP4_7269

Channel: BBC Two

This tale of darkness explores the dying days of Hull’s whaling industry in the late 1850s through the lens of a six month voyage to the Arctic on a Greenland whaler, the Volunteer.

The novel opens with brutality and violence as readers witness Henry Drax murder a man who has aggravated him in a bar. Drax signs onto the Volunteer alongside former army surgeon Patrick Sumner who joins the voyage under false pretences, fleeing the horrors of his past.

This brutish and violent drama is as much an exploration of the human relationship with nature as it is the relationships of characters to each other.

The Man Booker-nominated novel has been adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh for the BBC. BAFTA winner Jack O’Connell will star in the BBC as Patrick Sumner alongside Colin Farrell as the amoral, Henry Drax.

The four part series offers an interesting insight into the futility of man against nature within the modern day context of global warning and the pressing relevance of climate change.

Buy The North Water by Ian McGuire

7. Tenacity – JS Law


Channel: ITV

This gripping debut thriller begins with a suspected suicide of a Royal Navy sailor, discovered dead aboard a British nuclear submarine. Military detective, Lieutenant Danielle Lewis, is sent to investigate the accident, where she discovers that something more sinister is going on within the nuclear base, 200 metres below the surface.

This pace-driven, claustrophobic novel has been adapted for a six part series by Peter A Dowling for ITV.

Buy Tenacity by JS Law

8. The Outsider – Stephen King

Channel: HBO (US), Sky Atlantic (UK)

Air date: 12th January 2020

Set in Oklahoma, police detective Ralph Anderson arrests popular teacher and coach Terry Maitland during a baseball game – charging him with the rape, mutilation and murder of an 11 year old boy. Conflicting forensic evidence and an alibi for Maitland at a writer’s conference in a neighbouring town (backed up through CCTV evidence) leave police wondering how their suspect could be in two places at once…

This gripping thriller is coming to screens early January in the US, so viewers can expect it to premier on Sky Atlantic in the UK later in the month. It will manifest as a ten episode series.

Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo and Bill Camp will star.

By The Outsider by Stephen King

9. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman


Channel: BBC One and HBO

After the success of the televised version of His Dark Materials, the BBC and HBO will continue the series with an adaptation of The Subtle Knife. The second novel in Philip Pullman’s cult fantasy trilogy will again be an eight-part series.

The trilogy is set in in Oxford, in an alternative world, where people are accompanied by their daemons – a physical manifestation of a person’s soul, which takes the form of an animal.

12 year old Lyra, whose daemon is called Pantalaimon or ‘Pan’, lives in Jordan College, Oxford where she was left as a baby by her uncle, Lord Asriel. Instead of studying, she spends most of her days causing havoc with kitchen boy, Roger, and friends. Things abruptly change, however, when charming socialite Mrs Coulter arrives at Jordan, offering to take Lyra away to live with her.

Buy The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman or you can buy all three novels in the His Dark Materials Set

10. Us – David Nicholls

Us - First Look

Channel: BBC One

Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Us tells the story of Douglas Petersen, an industrial biochemist, whose art gallerist wife (of almost a quarter of a century) Connie informs him that she thinks the marriage is over. Douglas still loves Connie, madly. They both agree to go on the grand European tour (that they have recently booked) before Albie, their 18 year old son, goes to college.

Petersen takes this trip as a chance to sway his wife’s mind. This four part drama, adapted by David Nicholls from his own book, will star Tom Hollander as Douglas Petersen and Saskia Reeves will play Connie.

Buy Us by David Nicholls

11. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

First look image of Maan (Ishaan Khatter) and Saeeda Bai (Tabu) in BBC One’s A Suitable Boy

Channel: BBC One

A Suitable Boy is set in India in 1951. It tells the story of spirited university student Lata who rejects her mother’s efforts to find her a husband and instead, embarks on her own journey of love and self-discovery. This occurs at the same time as the country begins to carve out its identity as an independent nation.

It is a panoramic tale that navigates the fortunes of four large families and explores the rich culture of India at a crucial point in history. The stories of these families occur during a tumultuous period for India, reflecting the wider conflict between tradition and modernity.

Directed by Oscar and BAFTA-nominated director, Mira Nair, this novel has been adapted as a six part series for the BBC. Newcomer Tanya Maniktala will play Lata.


Buy A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth