On writing

Why diversity in books is so important

Lola Jaye, author of Orphan Sisters, on the importance of expanding writers of colour in the publishing industry and the WriteNow initiative

When I was asked to get involved with the WriteNow initiative, it was a no brainer, because I have always felt diversity in books to be very important.  People of all races not only need to see themselves reflected back at them- but they also need to be reminded that the world contains more than a single narrative. However, if an alien came down from outer space, it would be forgiven for thinking otherwise when sifting through what is out there in terms of stories.

Out of 203 UK-based published novelists polled in Spread the Word’s 2015 Writing the Future report, only 30 percent came from a BAME background. Only 47 percent said their début was agented compared to 64 percent of the White novelists. I am proud to be adding my new book Orphan Sisters to this year’s figures as I am a black British author!

However, there aren't enough of me. Actually, let me rephrase that: there aren’t a lot of people like me getting published mainstream. Writers of colour or BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) writers are very much underrepresented in publishing, with many confined to the literary fiction genre which is probably why I’m so excited about launching into the saga market. Do Black writers write sagas? They do now.

Having grown up on the deliciously captivating stories penned by Barbara Taylor Bradford et al, the amount of writers of colour writing in that genre was let’s face it, non-existent. To be honest, I don’t remember reading a book by a black writer in any genre until I reached my twenties and apart from the excellently engaging Courttia Newland, these were generally from American authors like Lolita Files and Eric Jerome Dickey. 

Lola Jaye, author of Orphan Sisters

My first-ever published book many moons ago explored the very universal experience of grief and love – issues that would affect anyone, of any race. At the time, I had to actually convince myself that as a writer of colour, I was allowed to write about non race issues! But with race being a huge (but not only) part of my life, I have explored these themes in some but not all of my subsequent writings. My latest novel Orphan Sisters not only deals with migration in the 1950’s but also includes post-natal depression, child grooming and falling in love. It isn't only a black story – it’s all our stories. It is also my belief (and hope) that people WANT to hear from writers who come from backgrounds dissimilar to their own. I am not an alien, but I do enjoy a good alien movie!

As for me, I’m glad to be part of this conversation. Indeed words are great (I’m a writer, I love words) but there needs to be some form of action and WriteNow is one of the steps needed to make this a wider, ongoing conversation until it doesn't need to be talked about anymore. Instead of being referred to as BAME or ‘other’ we will just be... writers.

Whether it be by mainstream or self publishing, people, men and women of colour are writing, I refuse to see myself as an anomaly. Of course I’m not. The voices are out there - they just need a chance to be heard.

Lola Jaye is appearing at WriteNow’s Bristol Insight day in September 2017. WriteNow aims to find, mentor and publish writers underrepresented on the nation’s bookshelves. To find out more, see here.

More about the author

Orphan Sisters

Lola Jaye

Lana and May are a very long way from home.

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...

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