Writing a series – Q&A with Lucinda Riley
By Jade Craddock
The thought of writing a book series can be a daunting prospect but when a series works it has the potential to become a phenomenon. But how many books makes a great series? Two, three, four? Try, seven! That’s how many books Lucinda Riley has planned for The Seven Sisters, which follows the stories of seven adopted sisters, based allegorically on the mythology of the famous star constellation. Book 1 has already been a top 5 bestseller in Germany, Italy, Brazil and Norway and has recently been published in USA, Greece and France. Book 2, The Storm Sister is to be published globally from November 2015. You can find out more about The Seven Sisters series, at the micro website www.thesevensistersseries.com. So who better to ask about just how to write a book series? ♥
1.At what point did you know The Seven Sisters would be a series?
I knew from the very first moment I had the idea. In January 2013 I was searching for my next story but wanted to find an overarching angle to add another element to my past/present writing, something that would challenge and excite me – and my readers. I had always watched the stars – especially the Seven Sisters in the belt of Orion – and on that frosty night in North Norfolk, I looked up to the heavens, and, thinking of our own seven children, came up with the idea for a seven-book series based allegorically on the legends of the Seven Sisters constellation.
2. Have you had a plan for each book from the start or do you let each one evolve organically as you work on it?
Because each sister’s story is guided partly by her mythological counterpart, there is a very loose ‘plan’ of sorts, but to be honest, I never write anything down; it’s all in my head. I know where in the world each sister is from, and then I let the history and beauty of each location guide me into creating a story. With Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, I knew I wanted it to be set in Brazil, so I lived in Ipanema whilst doing research. It led me to discover the fascinating history behind the construction of the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue as well as the mystery of whose hands were actually used as the model… and the story formed in my head.
For Ally’s story in The Storm Sister, I had already decided it would be set in Norway, as the country has such a special place in my heart: my father loved it and often spoke to me of it when I was younger, and then it was also the first country to invite me to visit on a book tour. Whilst doing research, I met Erik Edvardson at the Ibsen Museum. He told me about the original production of ‘Peer Gynt’ and the ‘ghost voice’ used for the character Solveig, whose real identity is still unknown to this day. This gave me the key to the ‘past’ section of the novel.
The ending of the seventh book has been planned from the start, but the secrets that will eventually come to light are all in my head. This hidden plot line goes right through the series like an invisible thread, and I have to ensure it remains subtle and consistent through all the books. I won’t say too much more but it surrounds the mysterious father that adopts the sisters from all across the globe. I am thrilled to see extensive social media speculation already on #WhoIsPaSalt. Only my husband knows the plot of the last book, though recently he said he’s forgotten it already…!
3. Does the process get easier or harder as you go or is the experience of writing each book different?
I would say that each experience is different. I’m currently writing the third book in the series, Star’s story, and I’ve found that each sister comes with her own challenges. Star is so very different to her elder sisters, Maia and Ally, that she requires a new approach – readers will be catching a glimpse of her at the end of The Storm Sister. Where Ally is confident and decisive, Star is quiet and introspective. It makes the whole writing process much more exciting.
It was only when I set to work on Ally’s story, the second novel, that I actually realised the challenge I’d set myself in writing such a vast, complex series. Apart from writing Maia and Ally’s modern-day story, plus the huge amount of research on the historical sections of each book, I’ve had to make sure that the timeline fits accurately with the movements of the previous sister’s book. For example, if Ally has had a conversation with any of her sisters at their home ‘Atlantis’, each location and the exact words spoken have to be double-checked for timing and accuracy. But I am a perfectionist when it comes to the editing process, so I enjoy catching any inconsistencies.
4. Is it easy to switch off from the series and work on other projects like The Angel Tree?
As much as I love all the sisters, I do really enjoy working on other creative projects too. Especially with something like The Angel Tree, it was really interesting to revisit a novel I had published a very long time ago (Not Quite An Angel) when I was a younger writer, and re-write it, immersing myself in another world for a while.
Alternating very quickly in between projects can get a little confusing at times, but it’s just like with any kind of multi-tasking. As well as writing, I’m also always travelling, doing research, connecting with my readers, and spending time with my family. The best way to ‘switch off’ and focus on a single project is to go away to my house in France and become a bit of a hermit – just me and my Dictaphone, powering through for 18 hours a day.
5. What’s the best thing about writing a series?
The best thing is knowing where I’m headed for the next five years. Even though each book is stand-alone, I see them as one huge 4500-page book (1.2 million words!) split into seven instalments. So for the foreseeable future, I won’t come to the end of a novel and have that dreadful moment when I have to think ‘what do I write next?’ I can’t wait to get on and start!
6. What’s the worst thing about writing a series?
Oh, I don’t know if there is one! There are challenges of course, but they’re all challenges that exhilarate and excite me. The trickiest thing is weaving the overall plot through each book and keeping tabs on each sister, when and where they are. This gives me sleepless nights – I must make sure that as I write each book, I think back to previous stories and forward to future ones to ensure I don’t contradict myself or find the plot line I wish to take is blocked by circumstances I had not foreseen.
It’s a little like playing on a Rubik’s cube – one line fits, but then another falls out of place. This series has stretched me cerebrally as well as creatively.
7. What advice would you give to writers wanting to write a series?
What’s most important is that you keep the readers engaged and excited for each instalment. With The Seven Sisters, I have tried to make each book a fantastic read in its own right, but all leading towards a satisfying and exhilarating conclusion in the seventh and final instalment.
I’d give the same advice I give all writers:
1. Let your imagination run wild – live, breathe and inhabit the world you write about and your characters. This is especially true for a series, because you have so much more scope for building an entirely new world, you can really go into detail and transport your readers. Never ever think that anything you write is ‘unreal’ – truth is really stranger than fiction sometimes!
2. If you have a bad day when nothing seems to be going right, don’t read back or tear up the pages in a rage. Simply get up the following morning and continue your story. This happens to the best of us. When you’re faced with a series, it can feel like standing at the bottom of a very high mountain… but you climb it the same way you would a smaller one: step by step.
3. Above all, once you start, DO NOT STOP until you’re at the end.
Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland, and after an early career as an actress in film, theatre and television, wrote her first book aged 24. Her novel Hothouse Flower (also called Orchid House) was selected by the UK’s Richard and Judy Bookclub in 2011 and in only four years she has been translated into 30 languages and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. She lives with her husband and four children on the North Norfolk coast in England and in the South of France.