Irish born author Lucinda Riley wrote her first book at the age of 24. The Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author has sold over ten million copies of her books worldwide and her latest book ‘The Pearl Sister’ – one of a seven-book series ‘The Seven Sisters’ – was released in November. Lucinda now lives in an old farmhouse, just outside Clonakilty, which she’s been busy renovating for the past 18 months. She talks to Mary O’Brien about life in West Cork, her latest books and why she loves her job.
“My home is in the middle of nowhere and I absolutely love it,” admits the bestselling author, who more often than not can be found at Clonakilty Market on a Friday. “I always meet someone on the way and we end up going for a coffee or a Murphy’s (depending on the time of day!),” she says laughing. Other favourite haunts include De Barra’s for the music and Inchydoney Beach on a cold winter’s day when it’s deserted and at its most windswept. “I also go with my kids to the West Cork animal sanctuary, which my friend runs, to take their stray dogs for a walk on Ownahincha Beach. One has already been adopted so far, and every time my children go up there, I’m waiting for another to appear!”
No surprise then that West Cork played a part in Lucinda’s latest offering ‘The Love Letter’, which will be published on July 26, 2018. “I actually wrote it many years ago, she explains, “when I was staying at the amazing house in Rosscarbery that sticks out into the bay. The house is one of the settings in the novel.
“I’ve used West Cork in another book: ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ is set in Clonakilty and Dunworley Bay – another favourite haunt of mine. If I could, I’d set every book in West Cork. It’s my favourite place in the world because it’s home.”
On the Seven Sisters series, of which the fourth installment The Pearl Sister has just been released, Lucinda says she wrote it because she’s always loved looking up at the stars – especially the Pleiades cluster. “I had previously only written standalone novels, and I’d been searching for something that would challenge and excite me – and my readers. Now, almost five years later, I’m working on completing the fifth book in the series.”
The much-anticipated fifth book in the series is Tiggy’s story. “She is the most spiritual of the sisters,” explains Lucinda, who goes on to give us a glimpse into the story. “She calls herself a ‘snowflake’ and accepts that her sisters find her beliefs and often accurate prophecies strange and unsettling. Like with any ‘gift’, Tiggy wonders if her second-sight is also a curse, as it seems to land her in constant trouble. In ‘The Moon Sister’ we travel up to the majestic Scottish Highlands to a wild and snowy Highland estate, where a fascinating cast of locals befriend her. Tiggy’s journey to discover her past will also take her to the heat of Granada in Spain, where the magnificent Alhambra Palace overlooks the seven sacred caves of Sacromonte as they echo with the beat of flamenco music…”
When pressed she admits that her favourite sister is CeCe in ‘The Pearl Sister’. “She’s so vulnerable and real,” says Lucinda. “I think of the books like my kids – in other words, I love them all the same, but sometimes I like one more than the other on a daily basis, depending on their behaviour! That’s very much how I feel about my characters, who have a bad habit of going their own way when I am expecting them to take a different path.”
Lucinda says that like most Irish people, she was born telling stories! “I loved writing them as a child, because I lived in my imagination. It’s a far more comfortable place to be than reality.” However, it wasn’t until she was working as an actress and fell sick with the Epstein Barr virus that she decided to use the time to write her first book. “I was twenty-two and I just couldn’t believe it when my friend read it and gave it to an agent, who, to my amazement, got me a three book deal,” she says.
Lucinda researches her books by going to the place and becoming part of its culture, really immersing herself and meeting local people. Then she reads everything she can get her hands on about the chosen historical period, which can often prove quite difficult, as it involves finding out-of-print books.
The author follows a strict routine when she’s writing. After lighting the wood burner, and pulling her large leather beanbag by the fire, she grabs her Dictaphone and spends hours talking to herself as she tells the story. “I really immerse myself in it and the characters’ lives – I write best when walking in the open air (if it isn’t raining!) I have a schedule of drinks I adhere to as a way of rewarding myself: English Breakfast tea in the morning and coffee at 11am, and something a little stronger in the evening!”
She admits to a very wide-ranging taste in literature. “I’m re-reading James Joyce’s Ulysses yet again to try and make sense of it (I’m failing!) And for pleasure, I’m currently going through the entire series of the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George.
“I’m the kind of person who becomes obsessed with a particular drink, song, or book. This means my favourite author is the one I happen to be reading at that moment, although I do love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited is probably my favourite book of all time.”
When she’s not reading to herself, Lucinda is reading to her children. “I read to all of my children every single night before they went to sleep to encourage their love of books and storytelling. The older three have taken that with them into adulthood, and all three of them took English on to higher education. Sadly, the youngest grew up in the technological age and it’s been more difficult to entice him away from his computer and phone screen, but I do my best.”
Although her work means she’s away from home quite a lot, Lucinda says that travelling is one of her favourite parts of the job.
“Although sadly it does mean I spend most of my life living out of a suitcase, which makes it an extra pleasure to come back home and sleep in my own bed in West Cork.”
Although Lucinda and her family won’t be celebrating Christmas at their home in Clonakilty this year, they are looking forward to observing their many Christmas traditions here in the future.
“I could write a novel on how we spend Christmas, we have so many traditions, the first one being the arrival and erection of our fourteen foot Christmas tree,” says Lucinda. “The entire family gathers to help heave it upwards, put on the six sets of lights and decorate it with the Nutcracker Suite playing in the background. We also have a show on Christmas Eve, in which every member of the family participates. In the past few years it’s become quite high tech, and now we have original films being produced especially for the occasion. We also have an annual Boxing Day inter family table tennis competition. The prize is a freshly-delivered grapefruit all the way from Israel – don’t ask!