Lucinda Riley On How to Evaluate Research Sources for A Historical Novel + Using Tech To Promote The Historical Novel

lucinda riley
Name: Lucinda Kate Riley

Based In: North Norfolk and the South of France

Education: Italia Conti of Performing Arts, London

Briefly: Author of The Orchid House, a New York Times Bestseller, Richard & Judy Book Club selection; bestseller in Germany, Norway and Norway. The Girl on the Cliff, a New York Times Bestseller. The Lavender Garden, a bestseller in both Norway and Germany and a Novelicious Book of the Year Award Winner.

Favorite Read: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Pet Peeves: Negativity. And ‘smiley face’ symbols at the end of texts or emails.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…An actress or dancer

Author Crush: Scott Fitzgerald

Up Next: The Midnight Rose is being published in the USA and all major markets of the world in early 2014. The Italian Girl, which was originally published in 1996, and I’ve re-edited, is being released in Germany UK and Norway in mid 2014.

Who would you say has been the most encouraging person in your journey as a novelist?

My father, who was my biggest cheerleader when he was alive. The Orchid House is dedicated to him.

What historical novel do you remember being really taken by as a child?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

What drew you to the historical fiction genre?

I have always instinctively been drawn to the past. Most of the fiction I’ve read has been historical. My favorite 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 and an underlying moral of forgiveness, acceptance and the understanding of one’s past – in order to live happily in the present and also to embrace the future.

lucinda riley

For each of your novels, you do these behind-the-scenes videos that you share with your fans on website, and social media channels and on Youtube. It’s a really great way for you—an author who writes historical fiction—to implement modern technology in promoting your books.

The world we live in is getting more technology-based year by year and I think it’s incredibly important to find different ways of reaching your audience. Social media allows direct contact with readers all over the world for the first time. When I was an author twenty years ago, there was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even private websites, and I would do a lot of my publicity in book shops and during book tours. Today however, my two minute inspiration videos can reach readers all over the world, and the feedback I get is amazing and is a constant inspiration to keep writing. I also did the first ever live Google Hangout Q & A in Brazil which was watched over 200,000 times.

What was your research process like for Girl on The Cliff?

The main research I had to do was on the First World War, a subject I’m really interested in. I am also an ex-dancer and know the theatres and ballet schools of London well. I also spent a few years near to Cork in Ireland so know the area intimately.

That book debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and also reached No 1 in Germany as well as Norway. How can authors position their books to accomplish such a similar feat?

I think that writing a good book is only one factor – you also need a publisher who really believes in you and prioritizes you within their portfolio.

When you’re researching a certain historical period, how do determine which sources are the most credible?

I start with reading books and seeing films about the time and place, but then I visit the location and meet people who have lived there over time, and build up a full picture. Interestingly I sometimes find that I am surprising people who have lived in an area all their lives with their own history.

How did the Midnight Rose, your latest work take shape as a novel?

Firstly, I read absolutely everything I could find about the locations and the real-life characters that existed in the last days of the British Raj. I also watched endless films and trawled the internet for information. At that point I began to form a picture in my mind of where the story should begin and it was then that I boarded a plane and flew to Jaipur and Mumbai. I visited the Moon Palace and actually stayed at the Rambagh Palace before journeying up to Cooch Behar in the far north of the country. The reality of modern India was a huge culture shock. It’s a country on such contrasts. The beauty of the landscape, with its stunning temples and palaces, yet coupled with so much deprivation for many of the human beings that live there, has had a lasting effect of me. It’s only when you’ve experienced the noise, the heat, the dust and the intense claustrophobia of so many human beings – many of whom live on the streets – you can begin to understand the chasm that still exists between rich and poor. I wanted to touch on that in the story, contrasting the vast wealth of the Maharaja and Maharani of Cooch Behar with the hardships experienced by the vast majority of the population.

And the most surprising thing I learnt was after I’d finished writing the story, my mother came to visit with a wonderful 90-year-old photograph album that she’d found in the attic. It chronicles in photo form the experiences of my great-great grandfather, who was a British Army Officer out in India in the days of the Raj. Not only were there photographs of many of the places I’d used in the story, there were also numerous photos of family members called “Donald”, “Daisy”, “Violet” and “Maud” – names that I’d randomly chosen for four of the main characters in the book. Not only that, but from the photo’s it seemed that my ancestors ‘fitted’ the characters I’d created.

When you compare that book to The Lavender Garden, how did the two works compare in terms of what they brought out of you as an author?

Although I find all my novels challenging, The Lavender Garden, was partly set in the South of France, where we have a house, and I love the area, architecture and…the wine! The Midnight Rose is set partly in India which is a country I have visited but never lived within, and although I have friends who are from India, understanding the country and class structure prior to independence was a huge project – but fascinating.

Do you think that it matters what goes on the cover of a historical novel?

It matters what goes on the cover of any novel, whatever the genre. It’s the first thing a reader looks at when deciding to buy it. I, like all authors, hope that the publishers will convey the ‘essence’ of the story in physical form. And so far, I’ve been so happy that they have. ‘The Midnight Rose’ is my favourite so far as it truly evokes the spirit of the story.

What tips do you have to offer to writers on how to write in the language style of the historical period that they’re writing in?

Read as many books by authors who lived in the period you are writing about as possible. Dickens, Austin, Evelyn Waugh all wrote in the language style of the time. But of course, it’s vital to develop your own personal ‘voice’.

I noticed that you have a link where your fans can buy your books from local indie bookstores. Do you think bookstores will always play a role in historical fiction promotion? Why or why not?

Bookstores will always play a vital role because the reader desperately searches for recommendation in a world where too many books are published, particularly in the English language. Yes, online reviews will play an increasing role but many people appreciate the personal touch provided by bookstores.

And also, you have free first chapters for your novels available online. Do you think that’s a sure-fire tactic?

I hope it helps prospective new readers to gauge my writing style without buying the book, and that must be a good thing.

What makes a great hero?

Someone you would be proud to be.

And how can an author know whether a book is a standalone or whether it has series potential?

I think that, unless you have a lot of experience as a published writer, this kind of question can only be answered by publishers and readers. That’s why I always listen to feedback on my books, both positive and negative—-painful though it may be sometimes.

Do outlines, index cards play a role in your writing?

No. I have no written plan for the book and I don’t use any kind of story boards – I dictate all my books “from within” and often the plot develops as I develop the characters and tell their story

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Self-publishing is exciting because it is opening doors for new writers, and has given publishers a gentle prod to make more effort on the promotional side of the business. As a result, publishers are becoming more effective and ‘self-publishing authors’ are now working with publishers to widen their distribution.

orchid house

Your book Hot House Flower made the prestigious UK’s famous Richard and Judy Bookclub. How can new authors make the best of bookclubs?

New or Old – I think all authors should embrace book clubs. It’s very hard to visualize one person reading my books, let alone millions. And every time I get an email from a reader saying they enjoyed it, I experience a thrill. And to hear people are taking the book for their book clubs and then discussing them is amazing! When I’ve visited or Skyped book clubs, and they know all the characters and are engaged with their stories, it’s very exciting to think they care about them as much as I do.

What are you working on right now?

I have just finished writing the first of a unique series of seven books called The Seven Sisters. These books – each one following the story of an individual sister –is based loosely on the mythology surrounding the famous star cluster.

Book one, entitled Maia starts in a beautiful lakeside house in Geneva – the childhood home of all the sisters who gather together when they are told that their beloved father, Pa Salt, has died. I’m not saying anymore about the over-arching plot, but the first book follows Maia as she discovers her past and comes to terms with her present. It’s set in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in the 1920’s and Paris.

And the second book in the series is set … in Norway! I’m so excited about researching and writing it. And very excited about the whole project, as are all my publishers.

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