The Seven Sisters, 50 million copies later...
As I write this, I have just heard that the internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley - or as I was occasionally allowed to call her, ‘Mum’ - has surpassed fifty million copies sold. No doubt, if she were here, we would have celebrated with a glass of Champagne and played California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & The Papas, our family dancing song.
Fifty million books (translated into forty languages) is a breath-taking legacy. Lucinda was a novelist of immeasurable talent, possessing an unparalleled ability to grip her readers and transport them to far-flung places. Though she is responsible for twenty-six works in total, it is the Seven Sisters series for which she will be remembered. The sweeping saga is anchored around a mysterious figure known only as ‘Pa Salt’, who we learn has adopted six daughters from around the globe. When he perishes in peculiar circumstances at the start of the first novel, we soon discover that he has left his girls a number of clues which point to their true pasts.
Just before the release of The Missing Sister eighteen months ago, Lucinda announced that there was to be a surprise eighth and final instalment in the series, which would tell the tale of the enigmatic Pa Salt. In her Author’s Note at the back of the seventh book, she wrote: ‘It’s been in my head for eight years, and I can’t wait to finally get it down on paper.’
Tragically, Mum died in June 2021 following an oesophageal cancer diagnosis in 2017. Perhaps readers are speculating that she never had the chance to pen anything. But fate works in mysterious ways. In 2016, Mum was flown over to Hollywood by a production company who were interested in acquiring the film rights. As such, they were desperate to know how she saw the series ending – four books ahead of schedule.
The process forced Mum to assemble her fragmented thoughts in a document. She wrote thirty pages of script dialogue for the potential producers, which take place at the climax of the series’ narrative. I’m sure I don’t need to persuade you that those pages are predictably magnificent; packed with drama, suspense… and an enormous surprise.
In addition to this, fans of the series will know that Pa Salt cameos in each book. Mum kept a timeline of the character’s movements across the decades, forming a comprehensive spotter’s guide. In these ways, Lucinda got more ‘down on paper’ than she ever gave herself credit for.
In 2018, Mum and I created the Guardian Angels series for children, and co-authored four books. During this time, she asked me to complete the Seven Sisters series if the worst were to happen. Our conversations will always remain private, but I wish to stress that I was a fail-safe put in place in case of the unthinkable. And unthinkable it was. I don’t believe that Mum ever really considered that she would actually die, and neither did I. Several times, she somehow defied the laws of science and nature to bounce back from the brink. But then, Mum was always a little bit magic.
After her death, there was no question that I would keep my word. Many people ask about the monumental pressure of the task. Ultimately, Atlas promises to reveal secrets which have kept readers guessing for a decade. But I’ve always seen the process as a tribute. I’m doing it for my best friend and my hero. In that way, there’s no pressure at all. It’s been a joy. I predict that some will obsess over which plot elements are Mum’s and which are mine, but I don’t think that’s important. Put simply, the story is the story. And I know readers will be emotionally satisfied at the end of this book. Mum has made sure of that.
Speaking of which, I must tell you that the novel itself is epic. It spans a lifetime of love and loss, crossing borders and oceans. Perhaps Lucinda’s greatest achievement is that no one has correctly identified the secret driving force behind the series – and there have been thousands of theories. Atlas will reward those who have loved the novels since the beginning, but there is a new story to tell, too (although it’s always been there, hidden quietly amongst the first 4,500 pages). Perhaps all I’m doing is removing the smokescreen…
Working on Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt has been the challenge and privilege of a lifetime. It is Lucinda Riley’s parting gift, and I am so excited to deliver it. On May 11th 2023, the whole world will know just who Pa Salt is and why he adopted the sisters. Oh, and as for those pesky film rights… the trip to Hollywood in 2016 failed to bear fruit. But in 2023, we’ll have a big announcement to make. And, wherever she is, Mum will be raising a very large glass of Veuve Cliquot.