Historical novelist Rebecca Mascull has completed Vanessa Lafaye’s manuscript following the author’s death, HarperCollins has revealed.
Lafaye died earlier this year, aged 54, from terminal cancer a week after a world rights deal was announced for her novella inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which picks up the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased colleague Jacob Marley and introduces Marley’s sister, Clara Belle, "to step forward and tell the story".
Following Lafaye’s death in February, The Bookseller revealed that the author had asked three friends to help her develop the story, entitled Miss Marley, after her death. Lafaye had written the majority of the book, with an outline and illustration for the final scenes, but asked for writers Mascull, Fionnuala Kearney and Essie Fox to await a call from her editor, Kate Mills, to discuss ideas, with one of them tasked with completing the last 10,000 words.
It has now been revealed that Mascull, author of The Visitors and The Wild Air (both published by Hodder), has completed the final piece of the novella ahead of its publication in November.
Mascull was Lafaye’s friend and both were members of The Prime Writers, an authors' collective consisting of people who published their first novel aged 40 and above. Lafaye had also talked to Mascull frequently about her progress with the novella.
Mills, HQ publishing director, said: “It was heartbreaking to lose Vanessa, a much-loved author and friend to many in publishing. Vanessa had been honest about what was to happen if she died before she could finish her novella, and she was passionate about Miss Marley being published come what may.
"I’d been reading Vanessa’s work as she wrote, so I knew Miss Marley was something very special, but it was always going to be a tough job finding someone who could do the material justice, so I was delighted that Rebecca, whose writing I’d read and admired, was willing to take on the project."
Mills revealed that Mascull has "delivered a brilliant ending that Vanessa would have adored, and which will enchant readers".
"Rebecca’s skill both as a storyteller and a lover of Dickens shine off the page, and I read the last few pages with tears running down my cheeks," she said. "It feels so very right, but of course it’s terribly bittersweet."
Mascull revealed it was a "privilege to complete this story for my dear friend, Vanessa" and that she was "honoured to be asked".
"I miss her very much - I miss her warmth, her humour, her joyous attitude to life and our chats about Dickens," she said. "I will miss her glorious writing. Before she died, I told her, ‘Your voice will live forever in your books’....With Miss Marley, I hope I've helped her in a small way to achieve her final writing ambition. It is a beautiful tale and readers will take it to their hearts, I'm sure of that."
Lafaye had worked for many years in academic publishing, including the Oxford University Press, Blackwell’s and Wiley. She worked as a commissioning editor at OUP throughout the nineties, joining in 1989 and leaving in 1999.
She was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year and explored the impact of living with the disease in her popular blog Living While Dying.
Miss Marley: The Untold Story of Jacob Marley’s Sister will be published as a small format hardback, e-book and audio on 1st November.