1) What was the inspiration behind the idea of ‘The Seven Sisters’ and writing seven books?
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 also 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) You must have a lot of ‘white boards’ in your office denoting the plot, structure, characters and time frames?
No, I don’t write anything down; it’s all in my head. Although I do have a tiny notebook the size of my palm which I keep with me if I get an idea.
3) What made you choose Rio and Christ the Redeemer as the backdrop?
I was in Brazil promoting my first book and, having fallen in love with the country and its people, realised I had never read a book based there. I went up Corcovado Mountain to see ‘Christ the Redeemer’, stood in front of him and marvelled at the statue. I wondered what stories lay behind its construction almost a century ago. I began to investigate and heard about the mystery of whose hands were actually used as the model
4) How much time did you spend in Brazil whilst researching the novel?
Having done my initial research I went back to Brazil for a month and lived in an apartment in Rio. By coincidence, I discovered my neighbour was Bel Noronha, who is the great-granddaughter of Heitor da Silva Costa, the designer and creator of Christ the Redeemer.
She gave me access to his diaries and a vast number of documents covering the period of construction. I then went up the mountains to stay in an old coffee farm called Santa Tereza Fazenda which became the setting for Bel’s childhood home in the book.
5) Writing a seven book series must be daunting prospect. Did you have to work out the plot of the final story before you began?
As a matter of fact, knowing where I’m headed for the next six years is a positive, not a negative. Even though the book is stand-alone, I see them as one huge story. So for the foreseeable future, I won’t come to the end of a book and have that dreadful moment when I have to think ‘what do I write next?’ I can’t wait to get on and start! I’ve already finished the first draft of ‘Ally’, the next sister, who could not be more different from Maia in personality. As a novelist, it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever written because it’s so multi-layered. Not only am I following allegorically the myths and legends of the Seven Sisters, but there is an overarching plot that runs through each one, only revealed in the final book – the details of which are hidden in the stories and known only to me!
6) Many characters are based on people that really existed – did this make it easier or more challenging to write the book, and will this be a feature of the next six books?
Breathing life back into these amazing people was definitely a challenge, but one I loved. Although I had to be even more careful about research – I read all I could about Paul Landowski (though everything is in French!) and Heitor da Silva Costa. The best source is always private diaries, of which I had access to. That’s when you can really recreate their personalities - using their own thoughts.
7) Paris in the 1920’s was an exciting and hedonistic place – what influences did you use to capture the atmosphere in this story?
Being of French heritage and living there part-time, I have always been drawn to France. And especially the early 20th century when Paris was the capital of the creative world, when art and philosophical thought was all, and materialism meant nothing. One of my favourite authors is Scott Fitzgerald who lived partly in France during the period this book was set. He and his wife Zelda formed part of the Bohemian Posse that drank all day and danced all night. If I could have been born at any time in history, it would have been then!
8) All the sisters’ stories allegorically follow the many legends surrounding the Seven Sisters star constellation of the Pleiades. Was it hard to align Maia’s story to her mythical self?
Yes, as there are so many different legends, and also there is much unpleasant raping and pillaging of the sisters by over-sexed and powerful Greek gods! One in particular – Zeus – who raped three of the sisters. I decided to split his character into two people in the stories, father and son, to make it more palatable for modern-day female readers. I used the myths as a blueprint – Maia is known as the most beautiful sister and as ‘The Mother’ and ‘The Carer’. She presents herself as a solitary, somewhat isolated figure who had for some of her life lived a hermit-like existence in a cave. All these elements are part of Maia – the modern- day heroine’s story.
9) When is your best time for thinking up a plot?
Definitely on long-haul plane trips, floating between heaven and earth and completely uncontactable!