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Lola Jaye: On Telling Untold Stories in Historical Fiction

Author Lola Jaye discusses the urgent feeling she had when she knew it was time to write her new epic historical fiction novel, The Attic Child.

Lola Jaye was born and raised in London, England, where she still makes her home; she has also lived briefly in Nigeria. By the Time You Read This—Lola's first U.S. novel—was published by HarperCollins in 2009. Her inspirational essay "Reaching for the Stars: How You Can Make Your Dreams Come True," in which she charted her journey from foster child to author, was released in 2009 as part of the U.K.'s wildly popular Quick Reads program. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Lola Jaye: On Telling Untold Stories in Historical Fiction

 Lola Jaye

In this post, Lola discusses the urgent feeling she had when she knew it was time to write her new epic historical fiction novel, The Attic Child, her advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Lola Jaye
Literary agent: Judith Murdoch
Book title: The Attic Child
Publisher: William Morrow/ HarperCollins
Release date: September 6, 2022
Genre/category: Epic Historical Fiction
Previous titles: By The Time You Read This; While You Were Dreaming; Reaching for the Stars - (Nonfiction) Being Lara; Orphan Sisters; Wartime Sweethearts
Elevator pitch for the book: Two children locked in an attic—almost a century apart—are bound by a secret.

Lola Jaye: On Telling Untold Stories in Historical Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

It all started when I saw a collection of photographs at a very famous art gallery in London—The National Portrait Gallery. One picture stood out to me; a black and white photograph of a little boy, taken during the Victorian era in England. His name was N’dugu M’Hali. In his eyes, I saw so much trauma and sadness, and he’d clearly been told to “pose” in a certain way. I felt he had a story that needed to be told.

Sadly, not much was written about him in that exhibition, so I made it my mission to find out more—but not before vowing that one day I would write a book about him.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

When I first saw the photograph of little N’dugu, the year was 2016. It never felt like the “right” time to begin the process of bringing this little boy’s story to life. Bereavement, illness, a major operation, and a book deal for two other books—that changed. It was now 2020 and that little boy’s voice grew louder: It was time.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I had recently signed a contract for another book and also had three offers on the table for yet another title. But I’d waited long enough to write Ndugu’s story, and it no longer felt like an option to wait any longer.

However, I hadn’t written more than a few pages, so what occurred next was something which had never happened to me before. I produced a 50-page proposal and sold The Attic Child based on that. The uniqueness of this—the entire situation—further proved just how special this story is.

Lola Jaye: On Telling Untold Stories in Historical Fiction

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

As we all know, 2020 was a year like no other in living history. The world stood still due to a pandemic we’d never heard of before, when towns and cities across the world stood united in their anger at racism.

That’s the time I began writing The Attic Child, a book which would mirror the “noise” going on around me. Statues of explorers being torn down as I wrote about a similar such man. The isolation associated with being on a national lockdown lasting months whilst writing about two children locked in an attic.

Life was imitating art as I wrote! Hence, writing The Attic Child was a unique experience for me, even as a writer of six previous books.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

An intense journey that ends with an overwhelming feeling of hope.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Write. Even when you don’t feel there’s much to say. You can always work on “trash” but it’s much harder to edit a blank screen!

Historical Fiction

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

Click to continue.

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