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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Author Interview: Lucinda Riley, author of 'The Midnight Rose'

When I first started reading this ‘The Midnight Rose’, I saw so many similarities to my own life. Coincidences, one may call them. But actually at the end of this interview, I do not think that it would be acceptable, if I did. Wonder what my 90-year-old grandmother would say to that, or my cousin who is pretty much into the technology filled world as Ari?

Lucinda Riley is a former actress who is blessed with a brilliant sense of writing and a keen idea of what exactly she needs to do, to write a book. The supernatural elements in this book do not seem so very strange at the end of this interview. The Moon Palace in India is real and Astbury in England though an ‘imaginary amalgam of several stately homes’ seem so real to the reader, that one cannot differentiate between the two, in terms of the beauty. It is a wonderful thing known as imagination! Or was it something else...

So, read my review on the book and Lucinda Riley’s take, in this interview.

This book was brilliant in a lot of ways. When did the idea behind the story, first come to you?

I have always 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 knew that some of my family lived out in India at the turn of the century, though I knew virtually nothing else about them, not even their names.

Strangely, just thinking after I’d finished the first draft of ‘The Midnight Rose’, my mother came to visit and told me I should sit down and prepare for a shock – she proceeded to show me a wonderful photograph album that she’d just found in the attic. It chronicles in photo form, the experiences of my great-great uncle, 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 photos, it seemed that my ancestors physically ‘fitted’ the characters I’d created.

How did the whole thing happen? The idea behind India and then in the UK, how did you conceptualize it?

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 huge culture shock. It is a country of such contrasts. The beauty, the landscape, with its stunning temples and palaces, yet coupled with so much deprivation for mane of the human beings that live there, has had a lasting effect on me.

It is only when you have experienced the noise, the heat, the dust and the intense claustrophobia of so many human beings – many of whom live on the streets – that 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 so many others.

Astbury in England is an imaginary amalgam of several stately homes, although the closest resemblance is Castle Howard in Yorkshire, famously used as the setting for both the original TV series and the recent film version of ‘Brideshead Revisited’. I also have plenty of experience of staying in draughty, freezing bedrooms with ancient plumbing when I’ve spent weekends with friends at their stately homes! So, I really felt for Rebecca when she arrives at Astbury for the first time, used as she is to her five-star ultra-modern apartment in New York, replete with every material comfort, money can provide.
Even though these grand old houses look beautiful from the outside, it doesn’t necessarily mean they make comfortable homes. I live in an old Hall in Norfolk, where every floorboard creaks ominously and the air conditioning is provided by a 2 inch gap between the original Georgian windows and the frames!

You have created a whole other world, especially when you created Anahita with her powers. What all did you have to study when you did that and how were you influenced by the world around you?

We would be very arrogant if we thought that everything in life could be explained by ‘hard facts and science’. I am very open to the idea that these ‘gifts’ exist and it’s just that we do not fully understand them. I’ve certainly had some very strange experiences myself, things that can’t necessarily be put down to pure chance.

For example, the story about me finding out about my relatives in India had the same names as in my book, as described above. There was a similar story when I wrote my previous book ‘The Light Behind the Window.’ As with all my books, I research the past time period before I start writing.

I do this by reading every book I can find on the particular place and period. However, I read very broadly at this point, because I never know where the actual story will head.

When I’d finished writing the book, and whilst I was in France, I came across a wonderful  elderly man, Monsieur Chapelle of the Domaine du Bourriane, whose surname, chateau and vineyard I’d written about before I knew such a family and their beautiful home actually existed in reality. I walked into my own fictional story and it was a humbling and magical experience.

How have you developed the characters? Are they influenced by people you have met in real life or do they just come out of your head?

Anahita is probably my favourite character ever, and with many of the qualities I would like to have. She's so gentle, loyal and clever, with an acceptance of the way we can only control our own destiny only up to a point. She also listens to her instincts, which is a way of living that comes naturally to me.

In your book, Anahita and Rebecca are your central figures. What have you researched of them? Are there any real life influences? How much of your real life is in the book?

I was a stage and television actress when I was younger, so I’d already had experience of being in the spotlight by the time I started writing. I also have a number of close friends who are famous in their field or married to someone who is so I’ve learned from their experiences too.

The whole concept of fame terrifies me, so when I was writing about Rebecca, there were certainly personal parallels to the way she feels about her celebrity.

To be honest, I have no idea why anyone would go out of their way to seek fame for its own sake, like today’s reality TV stars seem to do. I treasure and protect my private life and my family – they’re what keep me sane!

How do you manage to switch from one character to the next? What does it exactly require?

As an ex actress, I write by walking around with my dictaphone and acting out and dictating the dialogue and movements of my characters. The switching between characters should therefore feel natural to the reader.

There are lots of points of view in the book. Are they yours or have you developed them for your characters?

I feel that the characters develop their own points of view.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing a book?

Finishing the first draft and realising that I have created a good story with believable and interesting characters.

What book is coming from your desk, next? When do you see it released?

I am writing a seven book series called ‘The Seven Sisters’ based allegorically on the mythology surrounding the famous star constellation. I am very excited about this project and have not only finished Book 1 called ‘Maia’s Story’ based in Rio and Paris in the 1920’s, but am half way through Book 2. 

'Maia' will be published firstly in Brazil in August and then in England and India in November.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

I never told anyone I was writing a book until my first novel (‘Lovers and Players’) was completed in 1992.

What else do you write, besides the novels?

Short stories and articles, but mainly I write my novels (and rewrite my backlist from the 1990’s which are now in demand).

Which book are you currently reading?

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

What else do you do on a day to day basis?

Spend time with my four children and husband.

What advice do you have for the newer writers of today?

Keep believing and don’t stop until it’s finished!

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