Historical novelist Vanessa Lafaye dies aged 54

Historical novelist Vanessa Lafaye dies aged 54

The “inspiring” and “sublime” historical novelist Vanessa Lafaye has died aged 54.

A week after her latest book deal was announced with HarperCollins, the Florida-born author died from cancer on Wednesday morning (28th February).

Both Orion and HQ have paid tribute to the author, who relocated to the UK in 1987 and spent many years in academic publishing, including the Oxford University Press. She detailed the impact of living with cancer in her popular blog Living While Dying, which was picked up in a number of media outlets such as the Daily Mail. She wrote two acclaimed historical novels, Summertime published in 2015 and First Light two years later, both published by Orion, with another recently acquired by HQ.

The HarperCollins imprint revealed on Thursday (22nd February) that it was publishing Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly business partner, Jacob Marley, and his sister, inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Miss Marley will be published by HQ this year.

The publisher said: “It is with great sadness that we learnt yesterday of the death of our friend and author, Vanessa Lafaye. Vanessa died at home in Marlborough yesterday aged 54.”

HQ publishing director Kate Mills, who published Summertime at Orion and acquired Miss Marley for HarperCollins paid tribute to the author who “could breathe life into the past in a sentence”. 

Mills said: “She was a sublime storyteller and a force of nature – brave, generous, wryly funny and determined to make every word and every day count.  She had many friends across the trade and will be hugely missed by her fellow authors, readers, reviewers and booksellers alike.”

Lafaye’s literary agent, Tina Betts at Andrew Mann Ltd revealed how the author wrote about women with breast cancer, before suffering from the disease herself.

“Vanessa came to me in 2006 with a story about a group of women recovering from breast cancer,” Betts said. “The book didn’t find a publisher, but when she sent me the opening chapter of Summertime, I knew it was the book to launch her historical fiction career. She was a wonderful client, not only talented, but a joy to work with, full of enthusiasm and love of life.  She had plans for so many more books and it is very sad that we won’t be able to read them."

A spokesperson for Orion said: “We at Orion are saddened to hear the news of the death of Vanessa Lafaye. We were proud to have been the publisher of Summertime and At First Light, and to have helped her reach readers with her wonderful storytelling. She was an inspiring person and talented writer and we are honoured to have been part of her creative journey.”

Laura Gerrard, Vanessa’s editor at Orion Fiction said: “I’m so sad to hear this news. Vanessa was a wonderful writer, so passionate about storytelling, and we’ll all miss her here at Orion.”

Before her writing career took off, Lafaye worked as a commissioning editor at OUP throughout the nineties, joining in 1989 and leaving in 1999. Martin Baum, senior commissioning editor for Psychology and Neuroscience at OUP who ultimately took over her list when she left, paid tribute to her intelligence and sense of humour.

“It’s such sad news," said Baum. "Vanessa employed me and was great fun to work with. Although very professional, she had a great sense of humour, and just didn’t seem to take life too seriously. She was also a very smart person – I think she could match some of our authors on that front.  At that time, it was noticeable that she was an outstanding writer – I witnessed the work she undertook on some of our authors’ prose. Hers were big boots to fill!"

The author was profiled by The Bookseller’s books editor Alice O’Keeffe for her debut in 2015, which was also selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club.