Orphan Sisters is the new novel from the fabulous, Lola Jaye and I am excited to be a part of her blog tour to celebrate the paperback release.
Their Nigerian parents have emigrated to England in search of a better life for their family. Nineteen Fifties London is a great adventure to the girls but not always welcoming. There are signs in windows of lodging houses warning: ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.
When tragedy strikes and the girls lose their father, their mother is unable to cope. When she fails to recover from the surprise birth of another child all three girls are sent to an orphanage. Lana is determined to keep her sisters together but when baby Tina gets adopted, she must admit their family is about to be torn apart – perhaps for ever…
Hi Lola. It’s so lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your new novel is called Orphan Sisters. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired you to tell this story?
Orphan Sisters is a saga spanning thirty years but primarily set in 1960’s London where three little girls were supposed to be living the dream of their immigrant parents. However, they end up living a nightmare many migrants, even today, often face. I have always been so inspired by my parents, aunties, uncles and all those who came to the UK from the former colonies in the hopes of a better life. They faced racism, hardship and were basically told to ‘go back to where you came from!‘ constantly. Having not read much on migration when it came to Nigerians, I wanted to tell their story.
What’s your typical writing day like and do you have any rituals whilst writing (silence, coffee, a specific place to write etc.)
When I’m not being distracted by endless cat pictures on the Internet, I settle down with a glass of water by my side and just write. After a couple of hours I will break and make a smoothie, watch a TV program perhaps and then start writing again. My needs are subject to change though. For example, in the UK I generally sit at my desk in my living room with the television out of sight and in silence. But in Atlanta (where I lived for two and a half years until recently) I sat in a lovely little bubble tea shop and wrote whilst the hustle and bustle didn’t seem to disturb me at all!
What challenges did you face when writing a book in a historical setting?
I tended to get deeply involved with the research. There was so much I didn’t know about the history of race in the United Kingdom. Having lived in America, I’d become immersed in the American experience, but there’s so much to learn about regarding the UK. I found myself reading and over reading my research, having to remind myself that I actually had a book to write!
Which elements do you feel make a good character?
For me I feel that a character has to be sympathetic no matter what they have done. For example, if your character is a serial killer, we’ll need some kind of back story to tell us why they became this way. Even though we don’t agree with serial killing, we still need to see what has driven this person to do such a heinous act. As a reader, we like to feel invested in the character.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Today it is rapscallion. It’s just a fabulously old-fashioned word that conjures up an image of an old black and white movie villain; complete with smart suit and hat. Beautiful word!
Which three books do you think would be on the bedside table of your favourite author?
As I don’t have a favourite author -just favourite books, I’m going to try and answer this question envisaging my fantasy favorite author. I would like to think they’d be reading; The autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley; The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, ThirtyNothing by Lisa Jewell and Orphan Sisters by me … of course! Now, what a compliment that would be!
Which do you think should come first – plot or character?
I think you can plot a novel quite clearly – but it takes a multifaceted, fascinating character to bring this plot to life. So for me it would be character. The classic Boy Meets Girl novel can just be that, but with two characters who shine and leap off a page, it becomes so much more.
Which fictional character would you like to spend a day with and what would you do?
If I can cheat and choose a character from my own book, then it would be Eve from Orphan Sisters. She needs to lighten up a little! I’d take her to an adult ball park in Shoreditch and push her into the pit! We’d eat cupcakes in Soho and then go for a boat ride on the Thames. I would simply want her to experience the world around her, live in the moment. And for her to realise there’s more to life than working twelve-hour days only to earn more money than she can actually spend!
Are you able to tell me a little about what you’re currently working on?
I am writing another saga, first set in World War II and spanning 30 years. That’s all I can say for now. Okay, I can give you the working title and it’s Flower Girls. But yes, if I told you any more I would have to kill you.
What advice would you have for someone suffering from writer’s block?
If you’ve tried everything it is sometimes best to just step away from the machine… as in the laptop or desktop computer. Go for a walk, take a few days off if you can and then go back to your manuscript with fresh eyes. I know for me, if I’m looking at something for too long I become blind to what is good or bad about what I’ve written. Sometimes it’s just about slipping away for a while yet still having the confidence to believe that when you return, all will be well again.
If I’m overly tired (a bit different from writers block but still a muse zapper) I will make sure I do something useful like a spell check. I currently have a 100,000 word novel to spell check- I really need to make a start on that…
What advice would you give someone who is thinking or trying to write their first novel?
Less thinking, more DOING. In other words, don’t think too much about it and just get on with it. I love the saying, every journey begins with the first step. You don’t actually know how long your journey is going to be, but if you’re still thinking about whether you should go it, there isn’t actually going to be one.
It’s so easy to let fear of failure get in the way of moving forward. Don’t let fear be the killer of your dreams. Know that there will be failures and rejections along the way- but keep moving (and writing).
My verdict on Orphan Sisters:
At the beginning of Orphan Girls, Lana and May are brought from Nigeria to 1950’s England by their parents as the family search for a better life.
For the girls, it’s a great adventure where they don’t fully understand how unwelcome they are in their new local community.
After the birth of another sister, the girls find themselves suddenly alone and sent to a children’s home, Lana does all she can to keep the sisters together.
I’ve been a fan of Lola’s novels since her debut, By The Time You Read This. Reaching For The Stars is never far out of reach either (if you’re looking to write a novel and need encouragement, get Reaching For The Stars,) so I eagerly started reading this Orphan Sisters.
This book is beautifully written from start to finish. From a very early stage, I grew so attached to these girls; continuously turning the page so I could find out what happened to them.
These girls go through so many hardships through the book. However, there is a strong ‘you can do it,’ theme running through the novel which I loved. If you follow Lola’s Instagram feed, positive is pretty much her ethos and it shows through the story.
Lana is the eldest and so has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She is the more outgoing sister and so is able to at least make one friend.
May on the other hand is a lot more like me in that she is quiet. She prefers books to people and just wants to keep her head down and work for something better.
It was interesting to see these girls come to London and adjust to life in England at such a young age and with such optimism. The way in which Lola Jaye describes the overall setting is so vivid, you feel as though you’re there in 1950’s London.
It was heartbreaking to see some of the bigotry and racism especially through the eyes of these children.
Orphan Sisters has powerful, identifiable characters and the plot develops at a good pace. There was never a slow moment. I completely devoured this novel. I cried and smiled along with Lana, May and Tina.
I certainly had a book hangover after reading the Orphan Girls. Looking forward to the next novel, Lola.
Lola Jaye has penned four novels and a self-help book. Her work has been translated into several languages, including Korean, German and Serbian.
She grew up in South London, and has also lived in Nigeria and America. She admits to watching too many soaps and reality TV, but firmly believes they enhance her writing. She even taught a class on it!
Orphan Sisters by Lola Jaye was released by Ebury Press on 21st September 2017. It is available in most UK book shops and online.