An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Lucinda Riley
The Royal Secret (Atria, 21 May 2019)
When Sir James Harrison, one the greatest actors of his generation, passes away at the age of ninety-five he leaves behind not just a heartbroken family but also a secret so shocking, so devastating that it could rock the English establishment to its core . . .
The Royal Secret is a thrilling novel full of secrets, lies and unforgettable twists, from the internationally bestselling author, Lucinda Riley.
AUTHORLINK: Ms Riley, we are thrilled to be talking to you about The Royal Secret on Authorlink today. It was a brilliant read. The story was enthralling and the writing so beautiful and clear. What was the first kernel of inspiration that prompted you to write The Royal Secret?
At the time, Princess Diana’s death was still very fresh in our cultural consciousness…
RILEY: I began writing ‘The Royal Secret’ (also published under the name ‘The Love Letter’ in other countries) in the late 90s. At the time I was living in a cottage in Ireland with a brilliant view of the estuary with my husband and two young children. This is when the setting for the Coast Guard’s house grew in my mind. At the time, Princess Diana’s death was still very fresh in our cultural consciousness – the power of the tabloids was (and still is) enormous, and I wanted to explore it from different points of view: those within in the media machine, such as Joanna; and those targeted by it, such as Zoe.
The conflict between love and duty is a central theme in many of my books, and nowhere is this still more exemplified than in the royal family, so as an author I was naturally drawn to the question of ‘what if…?’
AUTHORLINK: Yes, of course. We understand you don’t plot any of your books except for researching the allocated era. Is that correct? If so, you’re truly gifted. But how do you work out the plot and the mystery and what’s going to happen? How does it all make sense in the end? Have you ever written yourself into a corner?
RILEY: It’s true when I write a first draft, I’m never quite sure where the story is going to lead because it’s the characters who take over. The twists come to me as I’m writing, I don’t keep notes, I simply plough on. Any plot glitches get ironed out when I get to the extensive editing process, and this is when I go through the manuscript with a fine tooth-comb.
However, the epilogue of ‘The Royal Secret’ was literally the very last thing I wrote before sending it to my publisher!
AUTHORLINK: Amazing! We understand you have occasioned to write something in your books, only to find out later that in fact, you’ve conjured up a reality out of thin air. One example is when you found out about your distant relatives who had once lived in India in the early part of last century – after you had written a book set in India whose characters also had the same names. Another is the time you met an elderly Frenchman whose surname, chateau and vineyard had the same names and title as the ones featured in your book before you knew such a family existed! It would be absurd to think that everything in life can be explained away by science and coincidence, but how do you explain these ‘coincidences’ happening in your writing world?
I often feel like I’m being told the story…
RILEY: Simply because they always have! I often feel like I’m being told the story, especially as I use a dictaphone and ‘speak’ the words.
AUTHORLINK: To follow on from the question above, you once said, “I absolutely, completely believe in ‘spirits’ and ‘angels’ – I’ve been lucky enough to actually see them too. And when I did, it was so unlike the ‘blinding flash’ everyone seems to describe – they were actually there for hours before I recognized what the ‘white shapes’ actually were! Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true.” (BookLovers 1 November 2011). This is so compelling. Does this still happen to you? Please tell us about your experiences.
RILEY: I’ve had what other people would call ‘strange’ experiences since I was a little girl. I grew up feeling they were normal, though others would call it ‘second sight’. I often know who and why someone is phoning me before they do. Like Tiggy in Moon Sister – it can be a blessing and a curse to ‘know’ things before they happen. And whether, when they affect other people, I should say something. There are times where I just have to.
AUTHORLINK: How fascinating. Your process of getting the story down is entirely unique to you and echoes your past life as a dancer and actor. As noted above, you tend not to plot out your novels before you start them, but neither do you actually write them! You dictate them, either walking around or sitting on the floor, acting out your characters’ dialogue and movements. Tell us a bit about this. In particular, how did this method ended up being your preferred way of getting the story down? Was that how it was from the beginning? How many hours do you usually work when you’re dictating your first draft? Do you have any writing rituals?
I have to write the first draft of any book in total solitude…
RILEY: After writing my first books twenty years ago, I suffered from RSI so I began dictating my stories into my dictaphone. It took a bit of getting used to, but there are many advantages as not only can I act out the dialogue whilst moving around, it also enables me to work outside in the fresh air when the weather allows, rather being chained to a computer!
I have to write the first draft of any book in total solitude and as we have four children and our home is always jammed with people coming and going, I take myself off to my house in West Cork, Ireland, for weeks at a time. I normally never go outside my front door and often work ten to twelve hours a day.
It’s a cozy beamed room with an enormous inglenook fireplace. There is a desk but I rarely if ever sit at it as that feels like ‘work’. I light the fire, then sit on my giant beanbag and write.
Yes, I’m very excited to see the Seven Sisters come to life on television one day…
AUTHORLINK: We understand a Hollywood company, Raffaella Productions, has optioned your book series, The Seven Sisters with a view to turning them into a multi-season TV series. How brilliant! Have any of your other books been optioned since then? If you were to choose the actors to play Joanna, Sir James and Marcus in The Royal Secret, who do you feel might be a good fit?
RILEY: Yes, I’m very excited to see the Seven Sisters come to life on television one day – although the project is still in its early stages. I would love to see ‘The Royal Secret’ as a film. I can picture Lily Collins as Joanna and Amanda Seyfried as Zoe. I think Cole Sprouse has Marcus’ rakish charm.
AUTHORLINK: Good choices! It’s so impressive that you wrote your first novel at 22 and a few years later got a three-book-deal with Simon and Schuster! How do you think you’ve evolved creatively since your first published book, Lovers and Players (1992)?
RILEY: I would say that life experience has definitely improved me as an author. I was so young when I wrote my first novel, when I read it now I realise how innocent I was! Today, my characters have far more depth and I’m able to use some of my own experiences when creating them. The phrase ‘older and wiser’ rings very true.
AUTHORLINK: And for our final question, if you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, over and above your many other talents, what would it be?
RILEY: To speak fluent French! I often dream that I am speaking French and wake up only to be disappointed.
AUTHORLINK: How interesting. Ms Riley, it was so great talking to you today about The Royal Secret. We can’t wait to read more of your books and wish you all the very best for the future.
I am busy working on the sixth book in the Seven Sisters series…
RILEY: Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful questions, and for your support. I hope all of your readers will love ‘The Royal Secret’. In the meantime, I am busy working on the sixth book in the Seven Sisters series, ‘The Sun Sister’, which is all about Electra and partly based in the US. Book 5, ‘The Moon Sister’ has just been published in the US and Canada.
AUTHORLINK: That’s great. Looking forward to reading them.
About the Author: Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland, and after an early career as an actress in film, theatre and television, wrote her first book aged twenty-four. Her books have been translated into thirty-five languages and sold fifteen million copies worldwide. She is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller.
Lucinda is currently writing The Seven Sisters series, which tells the story of adopted sisters and is based allegorically on the mythology of the famous star constellation. Each book in the series has been a No.1 bestseller across the world, and the rights to a multi-season TV series have already been optioned by a Hollywood production company.