Nitin Lakhani: bringing history to life and middle-of-the-night gems – Jericho Writers
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Nitin Lakhani: bringing history to life and middle-of-the-night gems

Nitin Lakhani: bringing history to life and middle-of-the-night gems

We caught up with Nitin Lakhani, Simply Self-Publish course alum and Jericho Writers member to celebrate the release of his debut novel Lalji’s Nairobi and hear about his journey to publication.

JW: Can you tell us a little bit about the process your book went through from writing the first draft, through to publication?

I came to writing quite late after retiring from medical practice in the NHS. My first novel, ‘Lalji’s Nairobi’ had a long incubation period as I wanted to write it from when I was a teenager, the story being loosely based on my grandfather’s life story.

It is a story of four young men who leave Gujarat as economic migrants to escape famines and high taxes under the British Raj. Led by Lalji they travel across the ocean and arrive in British East Africa where their skills are required but the politics is against them. Lalji, their leader, chose to put roots down inland in Nairobi which at that time was a small market town. Through sheer determination and strong business abilities, Lalji achieves success against difficult odds. It is a ‘rags to riches’ tale with unexpected danger that puts Lalji’s success at risk when he is at his most vulnerable.

JW: Can you tell us a little bit about the process your book went through from writing the first draft, through to publication?

Although I started with a story ‘in me’ it is fair to say I had little confidence or knowledge of how to go about publishing it. I was certain I wanted to self-publish as I saw many advantages there compared to the traditional route, especially as I knew my novel was going to be different from other historical novels.

My initial research led me to join Jericho Writers on a monthly subscription to see what I made of the writing world. I was inspired by one of Harry’s blogs where he encouraged budding authors to start writing and worry less about issues like genre. His stance was to get writing and doing it well. Then edit the book to near perfection before pitching or self-publishing.

Before I started putting any words down I spent umpteen hours researching. That was an essential step to ensure accuracy, especially for a historical novel.

By the time I had finished my manuscript – accelerated by the pandemic lockdown – I was ready to have it read by an author. Here, Jericho Writers helped identify an experienced manuscript reader. The next step was to immerse myself in polishing the plot, cleaning up the text and cycles of self-editing. All this required my personal input before engaging a copy editor.

So far so good. However, the area that was most challenging, of which I had little knowledge, was the world of self-publishing. I read and listened to self-published authors and I was convinced it was the right way for my novel. But there was a steep learning curve, especially if one wanted to do it properly and do it well.

That’s when I decided to do the Jericho Writers Simply Self-Publish course. The course over ten weeks covered the full breadth of how to get self-published. Debbie Young runs the carefully crafted course with talks, discussions and homework which are available for future reference. There is a lot to learn to self-publish successfully and Debbie’s excellent course set me firmly on the right path. Her feedback and encouragement on a personal level were particularly helpful for me.

JW: Sounds like it was a lengthy process, did you lose heart at any stage?

The process could have been shorter if I had been more engaged, and perhaps more disciplined. But I also found going away from writing for spells helped me regain my creative drive. Similarly, I did not mind starting the self-publishing course after the final draft was complete.

And no, I did not lose heart! Writing is so engaging. Knowing you are producing something original which hopefully others will enjoy spurs you on.

JW: You were developing your craft for several years before you were published, is there anything you found particularly useful on your journey?

Two things come to mind immediately. Firstly, research, which was great fun. I could lose myself for hours on a subject. It was all quite relevant to get a feel for the period even if I did not use individual pieces.

Secondly, the talks and material on the Jericho Writers site. The wealth of material on the site is fantastic. For a budding author, the content by experienced authors, agents and publishers in one place is a great boon.

JW: What advice would you give to writers working on their first draft?

I am not sure I am qualified to give advice! But seriously, the advice I received and which helped me most was what I gained from the talks and reading on the JW site.

Secondly, your writing environment is also unique like your book. How, when and where you write must feel right for you. Get all the externals right so that you can be in an undistracted and comfortable place with your writing. Changing the environment is allowed but always make sure everything feels right and distractions are avoided.

JW: You mentioned you first thought about writing what would become ‘Lalji’s Nairobi’ when you were a teenager. After having spent years working on the story, spending infinite amounts of time with your protagonist, and waking up sporadically in the middle of the night with edit ideas – how did you know it was time to publish?

Isn’t it strange about the middle of the night gems? After re-editing multiple times, you realise further editing reduces the returns, and it is time for a copy edit. That break from self-editing I found therapeutic. In my case, it prepared me to be able to look at the copy-edited version with fresher eyes. Then it was a case of engaging a cover and internal designer which was the fun part.

JW: Can you let us know what are you working on now?

Firstly, a long trip to North America which I had promised my wife before Covid. Her patience, support and encouragement kept me going.

I would like to see how ‘Lalji’s Nairobi’ is received before deciding on my next venture. Writing is a lonely occupation and feedback is important for all of us. I expect that will help crystallise what comes next.

About Nitin

Nitin is a historical novelist who came to writing his debut novel after retiring as a doctor. Born in Kenya before its independence he came to England at the age of fifteen. His parentage is Indian, his grandfather having moved during the British Raj from Gujarat in India to Colonial East Africa as an economic migrant.

His debut novel, Lalji’s Nairobi, was released in the summer of 2023 and is available from Amazon Books and Waterstones.