Lucinda Riley, Lisburn (Ireland), 1968.
Interview conducted by Mª Ángeles Álvarez for ELD.
Although she was educated as a dancer and performer, she says that reading and writing have always been part of her life. Today she is one of the most published writers and some of her novels have been number one in international sales. Author of titles such as "The girl on the cliff" or "The secret of the orchid", her novels in the saga of "The seven sisters" are especially well known, translated into several languages and whose sixth title has been published in Spain this year 2020 .
How long have you got the writing "bug" inside? Has it always been there?
I always had a very vivid imagination and as a child spent much of my free time making up stories. It has always seemed to come naturally.
Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa used said that "life is not enough and that is why literature exists." What are the reasons why you feel the urge to write?
I have always instinctively been drawn to the past and I have always read historical novels. My favourite period is the 1920/30’s and the wonderful authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh who wrote so evocatively on that part of world history. All of my books are therefore told in dual narrative, with powerful back stories. Sometimes I truly feel – especially with the past sections of the book – that I’m being told the story and I have a responsibility to share it with as many people as possible.
Also being an actress, as well as a writer, why have you never written theater?
I am working with a film production company to turn The Seven Sisters into a TV series, and I will be heavily involved in the scriptwriting. At the moment, however, I am concentrating on finishing Book 7, ‘The Missing Sister’.
The freedom and equality of women, in addition to travel, are present themes in all your books. Could we say that they are two important pillars in your literary creation? Why?
Yes, my definition of ‘feminism’ is equality, not domination, and the women I write about, both in the past and present, accept that they want and need love in their lives, not necessarily in the traditional form of marriage and children. The Seven Sisters series unashamedly celebrates the endless search for love, and explores the devastating consequences when it is lost to us.
As I travel round the world, following in the footsteps of my factual and fictional female characters to research their stories, I am constantly humbled and awed by the tenacity and courage of the generations of women who came before me. Whether fighting the sexual and racial prejudices of times gone by, losing their loved ones to the devastation of war or disease, or making a new life on the other side of the world, these women paved the way for us to have the freedom of thought and deed that we enjoy today. And so often take for granted.
The world is sadly still not a perfect place, and I doubt it ever will be, because there will always be a new challenge ahead. Yet I truly believe that humans – especially women – thrive on this. We are, after all, the goddesses of multi-tasking! And every day – with one hand guiding my children, and the other a manuscript – I celebrate the fact that my ‘freedom’ to be who I am was won by thousands of generations of remarkable women, perhaps leading right back to The Seven Sisters themselves…
Have you traveled to all the places you describe in your novels?" Do you think it is necessary to travel to describe a place in a way that transports the reader to it, or is it sufficient to obtain information about each site without visiting it?
Yes, I have travelled extensively to some wonderful places – you will notice in my books that all the places I feature are beautiful, or fascinating for some artistic reason. With all my books, it’s the location that sows the first seeds for a story. I always meet people who have lived there for a long time to build a full picture, and discover things that you can never find on Google! This is always the most enjoyable bit of research.
Then the characters begin to appear and start to subconsciously guide me along.
In your novels you usually appeal to a dual chronology, two stories in two different times that are finally related in some way. Do you consider that this resource makes the stories more attractive?
What readers are interested in is a wonderful story and characters they can connect with. The dual time-narrative that I use enables me to explore parallels between the past and the present.The past element particularly allows readers to enter another world, escape into a story just like I do and forget the real world for a while. And if we learn a little more about a time in history, or feel comforted that there is a character going through something similar to us, then that's very positive.
I hope to show how forgiving and understanding the past can help us live happily in the present and look forward to the future.
The historical setting and the appearance on occasions of real characters with fictional characters give your creations an important attraction. What do you usually do to document yourself? Does it take a long time?
I’m a storyteller first, not a historian. However, I read widely on every subject and visit each historical location. This all takes months of work on each book and I am passionate about getting the facts right – otherwise I receive many letters from readers pointing out any errors!
What do you have in mind when you create a novel, what the literary market and readers demand or what would you like to read?
I write what I would like to read - I have tried not to listen to publishers or agents who have wanted me, in the past, to change my style or genre. My books don’t fit neatly into any ‘standard’ genre definition. Now I am successful, they don’t want me to change anything!
Who are your reference writers? And what do you like as a reader?
I am a total bookworm and have read thousands of books over my lifetime from many different genres. I adore the classic storytellers from the 1920/30’s - apart from anything else, women got to wear great clothes! I also love good modern detective writers like Robert Galbraith, Louise Penny and Ellie Griffiths.
Do you have a bedside book?
I have recently finished ‘The Chief Inspector Gamache’ by Louise Penny. I love him as a character, and the wonderful descriptions of Québécois life, especially the food. In my dreams I want to move to the village of Three Pines.
I think you have said that you dictate your novels, is this true? If so, why do you prefer it to writing at a computer or on paper? Is it easier or more difficult?
My writing routine is a little different from other authors. After writing my first novels, I got bad Repetitive Strain Injury, and I had no option but to train myself to use a dictaphone. Although it was difficult to get used to at first, I now love it as I am ‘portable’ and can work as I walk inside or out (depending on the weather!) and because I trained as a dancer and am very bad at sitting still my best thoughts come to me when I’m on the move. It also means I can act out all the characters.It sounds weird, but ‘Dick’ - as I affectionately call my dictaphone – and I have a love/hate relationship as we spend so much time together. I spend weeks talking to myself – my kids think I’m crazy. I then hand it to Ella, my editorial assistant, who has the task of converting my verbal ‘vomit’ into words. Then comes the real work: the editing process. I revise the first draft over twenty times to perfect it, playing Rubik’s cube with the sentences, until I am happy to send it to my publishers.
Do you read other authors while you're working on a novel? If so, does what you read influence what you write?
I always read widely, every day, and there is no doubt that great authors inspire my writing. The main reading I do when writing is for research purposes. You can see from the long list of books in my bibliographies the amount of reading I do!
What does the international success of all your novels mean to you? Did you ever imagine it when you started to write?
I can honestly say that I don't feel 'successful'! When I see the books at No 1 all over the world it feels like it's happening to someone else. Maybe that's because I am a mother of four kids and I see that as my main 'work'. Also because I just LOVE telling stories and feel like the luckiest person in the world to get to do it every day. I would write whether I was successful or not because it's a 'need' inside me, part of who I am.
In your early days as a writer you signed your books as Lucinda Edmonds, what difference is there between Lucinda Edmonds and Lucinda Riley as writers? if there is a difference.
My later works, starting with ‘Orchid House’ in 2011, were written once I’d had my four children. So I suppose the difference ‘on paper’ is that my later novels were created from a more mature standpoint, with a little more experience of life! Having said that, the thing that strikes me when I re-read my earlier work is how similar all the books are, in essence. The past-present narrative, the family secrets, the moral dilemmas, the international locations, the agonies and ecstasies of love, the power of forgiveness … these all feature in my books from the very first one I wrote at 24. They’re the things that fascinate and inspire me, and always will.
All your readers are waiting for the seventh book in the saga of “The Seven Sisters”, “The missing sister”, what are we going to find in it?
Book 7 in the saga, ‘The Missing Sister’, is almost finished and is another huge story. It answers the questions about who she is and why she has never met the six adopted sisters that I have written about so far.
If you had to choose just one of all your books, what would it be and what is special about it?"
I am a spiritual person at heart, and for that reason I would choose ‘The Girl on the Cliff’. It is also set in Ireland which is a country I love.
What literary projects do you have in mind?
I am writing a children’s series of four books with my son Harry, all about angels who come to the rescue of young children who need help and reassurance in an increasingly uncertain world. The first book called ‘The Christmas Angel’ will be published in October next year.
Also, the ‘sisters’ have been a big part of my life for seven years and I will find it difficult to say ‘goodbye’ to them. I would love to find a way of involving some of them in other stories – we shall see!!