The RONA shortlists: Lucinda Riley on The Midnight Rose

Richard Lee

Lucinda Riley is shortlisted for the Epic Romantic Novel Prize. See the other shortlisted historical titles for the Romantic Novel of The Year. The winner will be announced on Monday 17th March 2014.

Lucinda-Riley-on-her-book-The-Midnight-Rose-YouTubeWhat was the initial inspiration for this story?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated by India, its differing cultures and diverse landscapes. In fact, the entire country presents such a vivid, rich tapestry that it naturally provides the kind of colourful, exotic background I so adore writing about. Also, I vaguely knew that my ancestors had been resident in India at the turn of the last century, although I knew nothing else about them when I began the book. It’s my most ambitious story to date and when I started, I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for.

I’ll never forget writing the ending of The Midnight Rose. I’d finished the story and knew I had to complete the circle and write the Epilogue, bringing it back to Anahita. I almost deleted what I had after a page, because I couldn’t see where it was heading, but suddenly I knew. I wrote the last page with tears streaming down my face and sobbed for an hour afterwards.
When I’d finished writing the book, my mother came to visit me. She’d found an old family photograph album which belonged to my great-great-uncle, Donald, who was a British Army Officer out in India in the early twentieth century, the time period my book is set in. The album not only showed photographs of many of the places I’d used in the story, there were also numerous photos of family members called, ‘Donald’, ‘Daisy’, and ‘Maud’ – names I had randomly chosen for four of the main characters in the book. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes as my ancestors in the photographs even resembled the characters I’d written about.

History and romance, or romance and history?

The history is definitely the first part of the process – and therefore, by definition, most important to me. In my teens, I was the nerd that took myself off to museums on a Saturday rather than Top Shop. I’ll always get the initial inspiration from a location or a house that I’ve visited somewhere in the world. Then I do a huge amount of research around the time period and country I want to set the book in. Normally, during that research, I’ll hear a nugget of a true story that will inspire my fictional one. There is always a romantic element to the books – I’d call myself a ‘romantic historian’ , and I find the past love-stories far more juicy to write as there were so many taboos. These days, we have so few – anything goes and we live in an unshockable world. As moral dilemmas play a large role in my books, these are much scarcer in the present day.

Which writers have most influenced your work?
I have always instinctively been drawn to the past. Most of the fiction I’ve read has been historical. My favourite period is the 1920/30’s and the wonderful authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Evelyn Waugh who wrote so evocatively on that part of world history. I also adored Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. As for where I’m going with my writing… I’m currently on Book two of a seven book series entitled The Seven Sisters. It’s a huge, complex project, based allegorically on the stories of the Seven Sisters of the famous star cluster and the Greek myths surrounding them. Although all the sisters are modern-day girls and a reader doesn’t necessarily need to know a thing about the mythology to enjoy them. As for what we writers can do better these days… well, when I first started writing, I’d spend hours in The British Library researching my subject. Now, I walk to my laptop and google a particular fact or date I want to double-check. It means that historical writers in particular can really conjure up an accurate back-drop to their stories. Also, the world is so much more accessible to reach a particular place we need to visit.

Quick questions

Cathie Earnshaw or Elizabeth Bennett? Actually, there’s a part of me in both of them, therefore I love them equally. Being a romantic and a mother of many children, including three girls…

Shabby chic or National Trust? National Trust. I hate shabby chic. It’s so … contrived!

Jamie Fraser or the Scarlet Pimpernel? Jamie Fraser from his photograph, although I’ve never read Outlander!!!

Call the Midwife or Downton Abbey? Downton Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey or Wells Cathedral? Glastonbury Abbey

Dinner with… Tony Robinson or Dan Snow? By a mile, Dan Snow.

Share a panel with… Lucy Worsley or Bettany Hughes? Bettany Hughes

Movie or theatre? Theatre.

Wolf Hall or The Other Boleyn Girl? Wolf Hall

15 Folgate Street, or the Duke Humphrey Library? Duke Humphrey Library

Rococco or Greek Revival? Neither. I dislike Rococco but equally dislike anything revival.

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Posted by Richard Lee

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