Q and As for ‘The Royal Secret’

1. The Royal Secret could be described as a thriller and therefore very different to your previous novels – what inspired you to write it?
2018 was my 25th year as a published author. I think it is vital to make sure that as a writer, you are constantly pushing your boundaries and challenging yourself to tackle different genre’s/explore ideas so that your stories don’t become stale. It’s easy and safe to stay in one’s box and write the same thing over and over, but if I’m not inspired and excited when I’m writing the books, how can I expect my readers to be? Especially whilst writing The Seven Sisters series, I’ve found it refreshing and therapeutic to come out of my Pa Salt ‘bubble’ and work on a standalone title, I have always wanted to write a thriller. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d have absolutely loved a career in the secret services as a female spy!

2. Joanna and Zoe are both very different women. What are their unique strengths?
What I admire about Joanna is her fearlessness. She refuses to give up even though she knows her life is at risk. I love her relationship with Simon – I have a best male friend called Simon, and he really is like a big brother. We have weathered a lot of storms and had seven kids between us!

I identify with Zoe as a wife and mother, and also her difficulties with fame – in fact, that’s what ultimately stopped me from pursuing my acting career. Her devotion to her son is how I feel about all of my children.

3. Marcus’ motivations and loyalties change dramatically throughout the story. Did you enjoy writing his character?
Yes, because I think most of us females have fallen for a handsome charmer at some point, even though we know exactly what they are! His character treads a fine line between louche, selfishness, to being a lovely brother and boyfriend who through the book, grows to the point of being a hero, willing to sacrifice his life for the woman he loves. I don’t like characters that are black and white – often humans will do something that surprises you, for better or worse. Characters should surprise, and it’s his love for Joanna that brings the best in him.

4. The Royal Secret is full of intricate plot twists – how did you keep hold of all these threads while you were writing?
As always, when I write the first draft, I’m never sure where I’m going with the story and the characters come to me as I go along. The twists came to me as I was writing. I kept no notes on the plot – I simply plough on – my aim is always to get that first draft down on paper. Then any plot glitches get ironed out in part two of the process – the extensive line editing. However, the epilogue was literally the very last thing I wrote before sending it to my publisher.

5. Ireland is a central setting for the very dramatic events in the story. Did you choose it for a special reason?
I was born in Ireland and I’m an Irish girl at heart. West Cork is actually where I wrote the very first draft. I was living in a small cottage with a brilliant view of the estuary, caring for my two young children. It is a place I know intimately well, down to the flow of the tides, the lyrical voices of the people who live there and the house that served as inspiration for the Coast Guard’s house.

6. How different would the story have been, if you had set it in the present day (2017), rather than in 1995?
Our entire world has changed dramatically since I wrote the very first draft, especially in terms of the new sophisticated technology Simon would have available to help him these days. And also in terms of journalism – with the decline of print sales, Joanna would not have such an easy time getting a salaried job at a national newspaper today. In 2017 she would be working freelance, or even writing for free for internet blogs.

Technology has truly revolutionised so much of our daily lives that we take for granted what we have now. Writing about Joanna still using her home answering machine, or using a fax machine was strange, but I remember doing the same myself, even my children find it completely alien!

7. Royal family scandal lies at the heart of this novel, a topic that you explored in The Shadow Sister. Do you have a special interest in the British royal family? Is the character of the Duke based on a real life member of the royal family?
Whereas The Shadow Sister was inspired by the historical relationship between Edward VII and his mistress Alice Keppel, The Royal Secret is completely fictional.

When I was writing the first draft of The Royal Secret, Princess Diana’s death was still very fresh in our cultural consciousness. The power of the tabloids and now social media, is enormous and I wanted to explore it from different points of view: those within our world, such as Joanna, and those targeted by it, such as Zoe.

The tensions between love and duty and how different characters navigate this to find personal happiness is a central theme in many of my books. Nowhere is this more exemplified than by royal families around the world, and having grown up in the UK where the royal family has been a constant in the headlines for my entire life, as an author I was naturally drawn to a question of ‘what if…?’

As with all my books, this story is fiction, and it is not unusual for me to involve real characters from the past (eg in The Seven Sisters series – and specifically members of the British royal family in The Shadow Sister.)

The book has now been substantially re-written since its original publication as Seeing Double in 1999. At that time there was some media comment about the likely reaction from the British ‘establishment’, but it must always be stressed that it is an entirely fictional story and is similar to the play Charles III which is simply a ‘what-if’ scenario.

8. Are you planning on writing more books in the thriller genre?
At the moment I am focussing on The Seven Sisters series, although I do have some ideas in mind for what I will write afterwards. Actually, I have written one other thriller, entitled ‘The Blacksmith’, but that one is still sitting in a drawer in my desk. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to let anyone else read it.