Lucinda Riley & Her Lively Characters

Photo by JM Wilder Bill

International bestselling authoress, Lucinda Riley, is well known for her historical romances, however, for me, her depth in characterization makes her writing style resonate. She challenges herself by writing a broad range of genres. Her resilience in facing personal obstacles carries over into her themes, and guides the reader along the intrigue of dysfunctional relationships we all seem to find irresistible in real life.

She has risen to celebrity status while retaining charm and a quick wit. Yet, her stories have meaning, and a bit of educational history. How does she do it?

JM Wilder Bill: I empathize for each character in your novels. Not only can I relate, I find myself contemplating whether I should be more like them or less. I understand the personality of your characters are inspired by family, friends, and even yourself, but how do you bring them to breathing, heart-wrenching life with words? 

Lucinda Riley: ‘The Olive Tree’ is the closest I’ve come to drawing on my own experiences. When I wrote the first draft about fifteen years ago, we had just come back from a family holiday in Cyprus, and our five children were of similar age to the children in the book. Although much of the plot and the characters are of course fictional, I drew on my observations of the things that my children were going through at the time. 

Usually, my inspiration comes from the pages of history books – I am fascinated by the people whose lives are relegated to footnotes. One such person is Kiki Preston, who lived during the notorious ‘Happy Valley’ era of colonial Kenya. She is one of the main characters in ‘The Sun Sister’, the sixth book of the Seven Sisters series (due out in the UK on October 31st), and during my research, I tried to look beyond the bare descriptions I could find of her in books. While writing her character I pieced together a full, living, breathing person, who had suffered tragedy upon tragedy, but who kept up appearances as the most famous ‘party-girl’ of Happy Valley. By choosing real people who have been relegated to the sidelines of history, so to speak, it gives me more scope to exercise artistic license when bringing them to life again in my books.

JM Wilder Bill: Do you develop characters who act and behave true to the person behind the inspiration, or do you have them break out of how they actually behave, speaking their minds, acting out for the sake of adding tension to a scene?

Lucinda Riley: During my writing process, I let the characters tell the story through me – they are the ones who lead the way, and I am often surprised myself at what they choose to do! So I never force them to act out of character in order to make a plot line work or to fabricate tension. It is enough to let them live their lives on the page. I’ve often completely discarded thousands of words I’ve written, because my characters have chosen to take a different path.

JM Wilder Bill: You wrote chapters where your dialogue and descriptions are simplicity at its best, yet you establish an intense setting and vivid emotions. Is there an art to selecting the perfect words that will carry the motivation behind the scene?

Lucinda Riley: My writing process is a little unusual: I dictate the entire first draft into a Dictaphone. I like to act out the dialogue and walk outside in nature – so for months on end, I’m simply talking to myself! I find that dictating lends the text a natural rhythm, and my characters speak from their hearts, because that is what I do. Of course, the editing process is very intense, and I spend months playing Rubik’s cube with every single word to get it perfect, but each line is originally born from my own emotions. 

JM Wilder Bill: You have stated that writing can be therapeutic, however, what if readers identify with an unexpected character and take it personally when he suffers? Do you strive not to portray anyone in a negative light? 

Lucinda Riley: I live with my characters day and night when I am writing a novel, and I can promise you that I suffer with them whenever tragedy strikes in my books. I often cry when I am writing particularly emotional scenes, so I completely understand it when readers tell me how much they cried, or even when they’re angry with me over a character’s death. However, as a writer, I want to breathe real life and emotion into my stories, and sadly, tragedy and suffering are an occasional part of life. It would be dishonest of me not to portray characters as they truly are – fully formed, with positive and negative aspects, and as humans who experience the highs and lows of life.

I have only ever made one exception, and that is in my book ‘The Love Letter’ (published in the US as ‘The Royal Secret’) – I won’t give away which character I saved, though, as I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone!

JM Wilder Bill: I understand you write your first draft away from family distractions, and then, when you edit, you change writing venues. What do you need in a writing space and how much of an impact does it play in your story’s setting? 

Lucinda Riley: My favourite place to write is in my house in Ireland, settled into my huge, comfortable beanbag chair, with a roaring fire to keep me warm and a nice cup of tea. Having peace and quiet is absolutely crucial to me when working on my first draft – it enables me to immerse myself in the story, and to focus on my experiences from my research – for ‘The Sun Sister’ I spent some time in Kenya and in New York, so when I was writing, I could simply close my eyes and transport myself back to these places to capture the atmosphere. 

However, I can’t stay a hermit forever – I emerge for the editing process, and my children often find me surrounded by heaps of paper and research notes. My ‘office’ is wherever I am, all I need is a pen and paper!

JM Wilder Bill: I value the time you gave in sharing your thoughts and secrets of the trade. You are inspiration to us all, not only because of your carefully crafted talent, but due to your sunny, funny presence on this earth.

For the latest and greatest books by Lucinda Riley, in addition to interviews and personal news, visit http://lucindariley.co.uk.

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About J. Wilder Bill

J. Bill writes romance fantasy novels and motivational works. Her inspiration comes from traveling the world, soaking up sun rays on watery escapades, and seeking out vegan dishes in every culture to satisfy her love of purple foods. She lives among lush beaches with powdery sand and is surrounded by sloppy doggy kisses.