Interview with LINDA.nl Netherlands (A crude English translation)
Son LUCINDA RILEY WROTE THE LAST ‘SEVEN SISTERs’ BOOK for his mother: ‘It’s an ode’
22.01.2023 | 12:00 UUR | MARISSA KLAVER
With fifty million sold copies, Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series has been immensely popular for years. She passed away before she could finish the series, but asked her son to write the eighth and final book.
Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt will be published on the 11th of May. “Above all, this is a son’s ode to his mother,” Harry Whittaker tells in an interview with LINDA.
THE SEVEN SISTERS
When six sisters suddenly lose their adoptive father, they are left with mysterious letters full of clues to their pasts. It is the starting point of the Seven Sisters series, which will soon consist of eight books and several thousands of pages. Riley actually didn’t type one word of the series: she recorded all her love stories and family histories with a voice recorder.
And she did that with immense success. In 2020, fourteen of the hundred best sold books in the Netherlands were written by Riley. The millions of readers who love her books don’t care that some people like to dismiss her work as trivial. In each book, a different sister flies across the world to discover her roots, and Riley herself also travelled a lot to research the history of those countries extensively.
The names of the sisters derive from the Pleiades: seven nymphs from Greek mythology. Where the previous book still was a search for the seventh, missing sister, the last book finally unfolds the life story of their mysterious father. Who was the billionaire who adopted many children, and did he really pass away?
Readers didn’t know whether that mystery would ever be unravelled when Riley’s family announced her passing in June 2021. In the fourth year that she was ill – the writer suffered from cancer – she said little about it in public. She did, however, write five more books. It was only the last book of her bestseller series that she wasn’t able to complete. She had already taken that into account. Three years before she passed away, she asked her son Harry whether he wanted to write the last book if she wouldn’t be able to.
“My mum has never considered that she would pass away, and we didn’t either,” Harry says. “That sounds crazy, but it is the truth. She has been very ill a couple of times, but every time she would recover. We thought that it would go on like this forever.” In 2018, she became very ill during Christmastime. “We went to her bedroom together, where she said: ‘If the unthinkable happens, I want you to complete the series.’” They stayed there for hours. “What has been discussed will forever be private, but it was the most important conversation of my life.”
They never talked about it afterwards. “That wasn’t necessary. Sometimes she brought it up as a joke, like: ‘If I plop my clogs, it’s your turn, Harry.’ I said: ‘No worries mum, because you will write the book yourself.’”
Unfortunately, it turned out differently. Riley left behind thirty pages of dialogue: a conversation that takes place at the very end. “Many readers know that my mother has said that Pa Salt appears in every book. And of course, I know where he is. Together with the thirty pages, she has given me a beautiful route to follow. Aside from the many conversations about The Seven Sisters series that we had through the years, of course.”
Whittaker started reading his mother’s books when he was young. In the 90s, she published a few books under her maiden name Edmonds. The second book of his mother that he read was The Murders at Fleat House. This thriller wasn’t published until last year, and more the of ‘Edmonds books’, will be (re)published in the coming years. “I was thirteen, and the story took place at a boarding school where I just started. I lived in the setting of the book, which was very fascinating.”
When he was older, he read all her manuscripts. “Sometimes I read them when she was still writing. We were best friends, my mum and I. We were each other’s greatest supporters, but also each other’s sharpest critics – in a friendly way. For me, there was nothing better than reading what my mother had just written, and then discussing it with each other.”
ATLAS As DEBUT
In Riley’s last years, they wrote children’s books – The Guardian Angel series – together, but Atlas is Whittaker’s debut novel. “For every one of the children’s books I wrote ten pages of plain text, and with Atlas I knew that it would approximately be eight hundred pages. I also had to live up to the expectations of fifty million readers and uncover a decade of mystery. That is such an enormous pressure that there actually is no pressure left at all.”
“I have written this book because my mother asked me to. Above all, it is a son’s ode to his mother. If I look at it that way, there was no pressure. It was very personal, and it was a privilege to be able to do this for the person I loved the most.”
He also calls his mother his mentor. “My mum was, without a doubt, one of the best writers in the world. It was a privilege that I was able to learn the craft from her while we were writing our children’s books.” Additionally, he calls Atlas a co-project. “We did it together: fifty fifty. Thanks to all her notes, the document that she left behind and the conversations I had with her in my head. I am hopeful that readers will recognise Atlas to be a Lucinda Riley book.
STORY OF PA SALT
Atlas will be published worldwide – in all translations – on the same day. That is exceptional and happened before, for example, for Harry Potter. After seven books there are still many loose ends regarding the sisters and their father in particular. Does the last book contain all the answers? Whittaker guarantees it does. “For the full 100 per cent. It seems impossible, but I have not come across one question that is not answered.”
“Atlas is about the remarkable life of a remarkable man, who we meet as a little boy in very difficult circumstances. I know I’m giving away so little, and believe me, I would love to tell you everything – I have loose lips, just like my mum – but I try my best to reveal as little as possible. I owe it to my mother and her readers to remain silent.”
Harry confirms that this really is the last book of The Seven Sisters series. However, it was announced in 2016 that the film rights had been bought. “I cannot say much about it, because we are already far in the process. But I never have been so sure that people will be able to see The Seven Sisters on their television within a couple of years. I’m not allowed to do the announcement myself; the producers have to do it. We hope this will take place in May, around the publication of Atlas.”
‘Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt’ is available from May 11th.