Harry Whittaker inherited a heartbreaking task when his mother, the international best-selling author, Lucinda Riley, died in 2021.
Millions of readers around the world were eagerly awaiting the last book in her acclaimed Seven Sisters series and Harry accepted the challenge of being the one to finish it.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler and on Binge Reading today, we have a special treat. Harry talks about how he tackled the final book in the series, Atlas, The Pa salt story, as the labour of love for his cherished mother.
And how he’s now moving on finding his author voice with books that are very much his own.
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Links for Information in this episode
Lucinda Riley –Video on conceiving The Seven Sisters:
Lucinda Edmonds/Riley: https://lucindariley.co.uk/about-lucinda/
Bonnie Garmus: https://www.bonniegarmus.com/lessons-in-chemistry
Brie Larson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brie_Larson
Nick Hornby: https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/21856/nick-hornby
High Fidelity: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/285092
About A Boy: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4271.About_a_Boy
David Nicholls: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Nicholls_(writer)
The Understudy: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/366842
Starter For Ten: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/107896.Starter_for_Ten
Where to find Harry Whittaker online
Introducing author Harry Whittaker
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Harry. Hello there, Harry, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Harry Whittaker: Hi Jenny, thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited to be talking to you in New Zealand from the UK. We’ve somehow made it work.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. After a little hiccup this morning. that’s right. We’re talking about Book Eight of The Seven Sisters.
Atlas; The Story Of Pa Salt for the one or two people left in the world who don’t know that you inherited one of the most difficult tasks in the world, with this job to complete an internationally beloved series while also dealing with the personal loss of the author of it all.
What force do you think has carried you through all of it.
Harry Whittaker: That’s a good question. In a way there was so much pressure on me that in fact there was no pressure at all.
If 50 million readers, a decade worth of mysteries, the fact that I’d only ever written children’s books and never a novel, and I knew that this was going to have to be a very beefy novel because it’s what Seven Sisters readers expect…
The pressure was so ridiculous, and you combine everything I’ve just said with a really tight deadline.
I had one year to do this and there could be no ifs or buts about that. I didn’t think about it because if you thought about it for more than 10 seconds you’d want to curl up into a ball and cry and never write another word.
I wrote this book for one person and one person alone and that was my Mum.
A final task, now completed
It was a final task that I could complete for her and I really hope I did it justice. I suppose the force that carried me through was the thought of doing it for Mum.
Jenny Wheeler: And having obviously read the book, there’s a seamless transition.
Reviewers comment that they can’t tell the bits that Lucinda wrote and the bits that you wrote. The voice is carried through very evenly all the way. How did you do that? It seems almost miraculous.
Harry Whittaker: That is a very generous thing that reviewers have said. I’m very proud if that is the case.
I am thrilled to know that the majority of readers, I would say, feel like they’ve read a Lucinda Riley Seven Sisters book.
The truth of the matter is, for the first 100 pages of Atlas, I tried very, very hard to imitate my mother’s style.
I would second guess every other word, I would question the decisions I was having her characters make within the context of the book and it caused me great moral stress and panic, and long story short, Jenny, it was taking me far too long.
I got to 100 pages, and I thought, I’m not gonna worry about that anymore, I’m just gonna write Atlas, the story…
Because I was already a hundred pages in, and it had got its own voice. And I think that voice was the voice of The Seven Sisters, or the voice of Lucinda Riley.
It wouldn’t have made sense to write it in any other way. And it just became an unconscious thing. And I’m really thrilled that people have thought that the transition was seamless.
I’m very proud of that.
The night it all began – Harry remembers it well
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Lucinda has got a wonderful video on your website talking about when she first conceived of this idea.
And in that video, she relates how it was New Year’s Eve, I think 2013, if I recall correctly. And she says that she called the children out and pointed up at the stars. Do you remember that occurring and if it had any impact on you at the time?
Harry Whittaker: I remember it very vividly, and a lot of people like to ask me about this story.
And it is as charming as it has been recorded, I think, on the website. although I would alter one detail. So, say it was New Year’s Eve 2013. And I think mum said she went out to sit on the bench in our garden to look at the sky and find a bit of peace because the house was rather chaotic.
Jenny, I’ll be honest, I think she went out for a cheeky cigarette. but nonetheless, she found herself looking up at the sky.
And where I grew up, in the UK, in a county called Norfolk we’re famous for having very big skies, with very low light pollution and very flat land. The skies are always twinkling at night, and she had inspiration in that moment, whether you want to call it divine or creative or passionate.
She knew she wanted to write about the mythology of The Seven Sisters stars. She’d always been interested in astrology and just like you will have read, she came into the house immediately, summoned everyone from their various bedrooms and the kitchen and wherever they were in the house.
I remember, my youngest brother and sister were quite small at the time. I think they probably would have been below the age of 10. So they weren’t thrilled that they’d been pulled away from whatever it was, their X Box or their book.
Beginning a seven book series a step of faith
She sat us all down in the sitting room, around the fire and said I’ve just had this idea. I want to write about The Seven Sisters I want to make them contemporary women.
The little ones obviously were not very interested and my stepfather who had recently become her agent, I remember him looking very worried because the seven book series is very difficult to sell to anyone, and at that time She wasn’t like a global megastar like she is now.
She did well, but you know, there was no guarantee that any of her publishers would say yes, of course, we’re gonna sign up seven books.
But I just remember seeing how excited she was in that moment, and that is what has always stuck with me.
And I thought, oh yeah, this will work, and this is going to be huge, because when Mum was passionate about something, she made things happen.
I do remember it very clearly, and thank goodness she had that idea, because it has brought so much meaning and pleasure to people around the world.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. And it anticipates the obvious next question I was going to ask you, which was when you realized what a major success this book series was, but it sounds like right from the beginning you did grasp its significance.
Harry Whittaker: I knew it would be big. I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would be this big. Certainly not Mum herself. The thing is with the Seven Sisters, my experience of it, is that the growth has been gradual. It hasn’t been an overnight sensation, as it were. You sometimes find that with books.
Seven Sisters big moment came in Covid lockdown
I suppose the huge moment for The Seven Sisters where I really felt it growing exponentially, was during the COVID pandemic in 2020, where we all had to stay at home, and we couldn’t travel.
And suddenly people were picking up The Seven Sisters series, and even though they were sat in their chairs in their living rooms at home, they were going around the globe.
One of the things that I think is so remarkable about The Seven Sisters is that you do feel as if you’ve visited these countries that mum was writing about. You feel like you’ve got a connection.
That’s probably because the research was so important for her. She would visit the country she was going to write about, immerse herself in the culture, meet the local people, hear the local stories, and it was through that research that she was so accurately able to transfer a sense of place to the page.
I think, 2020, ironically, that terrible time, was probably the moment where we all knew that The Seven Sisters was going viral, I think is probably the term you’d use these days.
Jenny Wheeler: Because it’s obviously the classic armchair travel series, isn’t it, when you think about it?
Harry Whittaker: Oh yeah, absolutely. And we were all sat in armchairs in our living rooms, not allowed to leave in 2020, so it makes sense that it exploded at that time.
Jenny Wheeler: When did you first read any of the Seven Sisters books yourself?
Harry Whittaker: I had a very close relationship with my Mum, it’s maybe a little cliché to say, but we were best friends.
We had very similar brains and we really understood each other, and so one of the great joys for us both, I think, was whenever Mum was writing something, she’d give me the pages that she’d written over the last few days.
It was very much the case with The Seven Sisters that I have been reading them since, I think it would be 2013.
Harry grew up reading everything Lucinda wrote
It would be the case that she would go off, write 20 pages, 30 pages, and then I would get those pages, and we’d talk about them, and the plot, and what she envisaged happening, and they were some of the most special conversations I ever had with her.
Jenny Wheeler: Indeed, you were there on the ground level right from the beginning, and all the little intricacies of the earlier books were somewhere planted away in your brain.
Harry Whittaker: Yes, probably the thing that was most helpful in terms of me being ready to write Atlas was the rights for the Seven Sisters for the screen have bounced around so many production companies and producers and yadda yadda yadda.
The company that owned them in 2020, and no longer owns them, they had employed me to work on the books to get them ready to transition to the screen.
And as part of that work, I re-read every single Seven Sisters book and made copious notes on all of them for potential screenwriters and producers.
I was in a really good place to begin things in 2021. If I hadn’t been in that position, there’s no doubt in my mind I wouldn’t have been able to get Atlas out so quickly.
I would have had to reread all the books. I would have had to make meticulous notes, worked out the questions that readers wanted answering. So yes, that was very lucky, Jenny.
Jenny Wheeler: Amidst all this, you also established a career as a BBC radio presenter and you took part in a renowned improv group as well. You obviously inherited Lucinda’s gift for the dramatic arts as well.
Ill health forced Lucinda into fiction
Harry Whittaker: Mum started out as an actor and became an author through necessity actually. She got ill. She got a form of glandular fever, I believe, the Epstein Bar virus.
And it meant that she couldn’t get outta bed for the best part of a year. And Mum being Mum, she just thought, oh I’ll pass the time, I’ll write a book.
And it was a handwritten manuscript and she sent it off to an agent. And Mum being Mum got a three book deal immediately.
So that was her story of her transition there. My father was also an actor turned novelist, Owen Whittaker, is his name. Before that my grandmother was an actor. My great uncle was the lighting designer at the Royal Opera House.
My great aunt was a singer. So, I think, there’s probably an element of genetics in it all.
If you grow up and that’s the world that you know – performing, creativity – that is almost definitely going to feature quite heavily in your future life, I imagine.
Jenny Wheeler: Did you also have a dream to be a fiction writer?
Harry Whittaker: That is a great question. Throughout my entire existence, my mum would say to me, Harry, you have to be a writer. You’ve got to be, you’re a writer, Harry. Harry, you’re a writer.
And I… Being a sort of petulant child and teenager went ‘no, I’m not going to do what you do.’
And that’s how I ended up becoming a radio presenter because I thought I’ll go and do something that is in no way connected to my lineage and that no one could accuse me of nepotism.
What will ‘Harry Whittaker’ books be?
And of course, Mum has had the last laugh there because I have now become a fiction writer and I love it. I really love it.
I was very scared of novels before I wrote Atlas. I’d written four children’s books with Mum beforehand, but they’re very short.
And now, having finished Pa Salt, the prospect of novels excite me, rather than intimidate me.
Yeah, I guess it was a final gift from Mum.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fascinating. I’m going to ask you that question about whether you’ve now got her voice very well ingrained in you, but your next books, which are going to be Harry Whittaker books, are they going to have a Lucinda type of voice? Or are they going to be a completely different genre? And are you looking to discover Harry’s voice more?
Harry Whittaker: I know what my voice is, I’m very clear on that. When I was writing Atlas, I was writing in Lucinda’s voice. And it’s not my natural voice.
My natural voice is more humorous, more contemporary, probably quite British as well. And those are… the sort of novels I’m going to end up writing. I hope in the style of David Nicholls, Nick Hornby, that’s the sort of world I feel comfortable in.
But it’s not the end of Lucinda Riley either, which is very exciting.
I’m not sure whether you’re aware, but in the 1990s, she wrote under the name Lucinda Edmonds and published, I think, eight novels, perhaps nine under that name, and was moderately successful in the UK, but only the UK.
And the plan was always that Mum would re-write and re-release some of the 90s novels under the name Lucinda Riley, so she would totally refresh them, rejuvenate storylines, add new plot threads.
Lucinda Riley’s legacy beyond Seven Sisters
And that’s already been done, that was the case for the novels The Italian Girl The Love Letter…
I’m struggling to remember. Oh, The Angel Tree was another one. And I have three of those novels from the 1990s which I am going to re-edit and they will be released as new Lucinda Riley texts, which is very exciting.
So her story continues.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, yes. No, I didn’t know that. So that’s amazing.
Taking us back to Pa Salt, the writing process, just wonder how much planning Lucinda left in your hands.
How much was totally up to you to decide and how you went about working through all of that. Did you sit at your desk from dawn till dusk, day after day, or did you continue with some of your BBC work? How did it all fit together?
Harry Whittaker: I’ve mentioned the screen rights of The Seven Sisters during this chat, and in 2016 Mum was flown out to LA by a Hollywood production company who said, listen, we’re interested in buying The Seven Sisters from you. And I think at that stage, she was only halfway through book three, so this was very early on.
And the production company said to her ‘if you want a deal, you’ve got to give us an ending. You’ve got to tell us where you think this thing is going, where you’re going to end up.’
And Mum didn’t have a clue. Did not have a clue. But she went into a room in LA and spent an afternoon penning a direction for the Seven Sisters to follow, and envisage where things might end up.
It was 30 pages of script dialogue between two characters.
A life changing five hour conversation
I can mention the characters here. You’ve all read the novel between Atlas and Kreeg taking place on the Titan and the Olympus and within that dialogue, there was a suggestion of where she saw the plot going.
The important thing about that was Mum never wrote anything down. The way she wrote her novels was she was dictated them, because she had a shoulder injury and she couldn’t type anymore.
So, she dictated novels. As a consequence, nothing was ever written down, but by some miracle, these 30 pages existed. I had those 30 pages.
I had my endless conversations with Mum over the years about where things might go.
And then in Christmas 2019… Mum had been very sick. She was quite remarkable, Mum, because she went through periods of being devastatingly ill, but then would bounce back. Miraculously, quite literally miraculously.
And we just thought that would be a pattern that would continue forever. But she had been very ill at this time, Christmas 2019, and we’d just finished writing our four children’s books.
She asked me up to her bedroom, and we had a conversation about five hours long, probably the most important conversation I’ll ever have where she asked me to finish the Seven Sisters series if she were to die.
And so that’s what I had. We didn’t talk about it again, after Christmas 2019, because we both knew what would happen if she were to die, but we both had to believe that she would survive, and she would get to finish the series.
We only ever, ever, had one conversation about it.
The sheer power of a will to write
But we knew what the plan was, and we felt very confident in each other.
In terms of the writing process, wow, yes, it’s very odd looking back now. What a chaotic time, I suppose it was for me. I had a deadline of one year. Because everything was going to be published simultaneously, 11th of May, this year, 2023.
And the translators need at least six months to do their thing. So I had to deliver the manuscript to everyone October 1st, 2022, and I started October 1st, 2021.
I don’t have any romantic or glamorous stories. It was a case of sitting down and writing it. Basically, I did absolutely continue with all my work outside of Atlas; my radio shows continued.
I actually had a UK tour of my improv show as well, which was very exciting for us because we hadn’t toured before.
I had an image of mum in my mind. being furious if I didn’t go and do this tour. So huge chunks of Atlas were written in unglamorous hotel rooms and on trains and planes.
I think the thing that I learned above all else is that you can write anywhere under any circumstances if you absolutely have to.
Yes, beautiful views and organized studies are wonderful things, but they don’t really matter in the end. The way you write is you write. And that was how it got done.
Miraculously, a year later, a finished product was handed in.
Are there any dangling threads for other books?
Jenny Wheeler: That is remarkable, my goodness me.
Harry Whittaker: I’m quite tired, Jenny. I’m quite tired.
Jenny Wheeler: I can understand that. There does seem to me to still be a few threads of Pa Salt’s life that might warrant further investigation. Is there any temptation to at least do any sort of sequel to Book 8?
Harry Whittaker: That’s a very interesting question. The important thing to stress is that the Seven Sisters series is complete. It’s done.
It’s Mum’s world and there will be no continuation of the Seven Sisters series from me.
That would not be the right thing to do. People don’t want a Harry Whittaker written Seven Sisters.
I think it’s fair to say, I did deliberately leave a few knots untied that could be explored in the future.
But I’ve gotta say it would be a way down the line. The Seven Sisters series, it needs to settle and to rest I need to go and write my own books. But it is a magical world, and it would be foolish of me to say that we would never, ever return there in some capacity.
I can say that if we did revisit the universe, it would not be a continuation of the story. It would perhaps feature some characters from the Seven Sisters universe, but it would be its own thing.
Obviously at the end of at the end of we don’t really know who Elle’s brother is, or where he’s gone.
We don’t know what happens to Maia’s son, and what his life has entailed. So yes, there are certain things that do suggest themselves, but there’ll be absolutely no new novels from that universe for at least five years.
Seven Sisters on screen coming soon
Jenny Wheeler: And what has happened to the film idea? Is that still alive?
Harry Whittaker: Oh yeah, absolutely. The world of film and TV, as I’m sure you’re aware, is very fluid and nebulous and complex and there are so many moving parts and different people to please.
Listen, I can just tell you, the deal is signed, the deal is done. I really hope that an announcement will be made in the next couple of months.
I was very hopeful that an announcement would be made in May to coincide with the release of Atlas.
But then there were some circumstances that were outside of our control and outside of the production house’s control that meant we had to wait a few months before certain documents could be signed.
But it’s all done, it’s happening, and I wish I could say more because honestly I’ve been working on it for so long, Jenny that it’s becoming very frustrating that I can’t talk about anything.
But no one will be unhappy when they find out who is making The Seven Sisters. I’m confident everyone around the world will be pleased when they find out who’s doing it.
Jenny Wheeler: And when you say you’ve been working on it for so long, have you actually developed the first scripts?
Harry Whittaker: I am not the screenwriter. I can’t tell you who the screenwriter is, but they are very, very successful.
I respect them immensely. One of the most pleasing things for me, in terms of who the screenwriter is, because personally, and I would say this, I’m biased personally, I think the screenwriter is the most important person on the project.
I’m very pleased to say that… Mum actually knew of her work one of her big projects in the UK. She was a huge fan of that project.
It gives me immense pleasure to know that Mum would have approved of this person that’s going to be responsible for translating The Seven Sisters to the screen.
In terms of whether a pilot has been written, I couldn’t possibly say.
Lucinda Edmonds meet Lucinda Riley
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. Now, Lucinda wrote many books apart from The Seven Sisters.
Of course, her name will now always be linked with this series. But I wondered if you had any favorites amongst the ones that aren’t quite so well known.
Harry Whittaker: Oh, what a great question. Yes, I think my favourite Lucinda book that’s not Seven Sisters has got to be The Girl on the Cliff, which is the second novel she wrote when she re-emerged as Lucinda Riley in 2010.
It’s her most spiritual book. Lots of it is set in Ireland, her home country, the place she loved more than anywhere else.
And therefore, it gives me immense amounts of pleasure to read. It’s not her most popular of titles. And it’s not because it’s not regarded as one of her best.
It’s quite simply due to the fact that she changed publisher during the publication of The Girl on the Cliff.
And there was some, I think, mildly bad blood which meant that the publisher that owned The Girl on the Cliff probably didn’t put as much behind it as they should have.
It’s always my recommendation that people read The Girl on the Cliff because it’s a forgotten and truly hidden gem of her work, I love it.
Jenny Wheeler: Turning from the specific books to your wider career, tell us about your show on the BBC. For those of us who haven’t had a chance to listen to it, what does it consist of?
Harry Whittaker: It’s general entertainment, silly stories from the week, games, callers.
We do a segment called When Harry Met Sally, which is literally where I meet a lady called Sally on the radio. I don’t know anything about her. I don’t know what she does, where she lives and we just have a chat. So stupid stuff like that, Jenny.
It’s a fun way to spend time.
How being a master of improv helps Harry’s narrative
Jenny Wheeler: Look, that’s lovely. I wondered if being good at improv helped with writing dialogue in fiction.
Harry Whittaker: Absolutely.
I’m not sure about dialogue, but one thing I am certain in my mind that my improv career helped with is narrative.
We’re probably best known in the UK for doing an improvised episode of a television program we have here called Doctor Who.
So we will literally make up an episode of Doctor Who on the spot based on audience suggestions.
And the way that we structure those episodes, the beats, the denouements, the threads that we have to weave on the spot, absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind that that contributed to me being able to successfully, I hope I say that mildly successfully plot Atlas. Yes, I think it was important.
Jenny Wheeler: Was there a moment in this whole process that you can think of where you put down the fingers off the typewriter or the laptop, some stage you took a great sigh and said to yourself, I’ve done it. I’ve actually done it.
It could have been weeks after publication date, but was there one moment like that where it finally sunk in that you had actually done what you set out to do successfully.
Harry Whittaker: I wish there was a moment like that. I really do, and that’s how I imagined it would be.
I remember having conversations with friends saying, ‘Oh, I can’t wait for the day when it’s off my desk and I can breathe.’
In truth what happened was, I finished the first draft and, wrote the epilogue and sent it off.
And that was hugely anticlimactic because it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve finished, but I haven’t really.’
Then there was three months of editing, and then it went to the publishers, and I thought maybe that would be the moment where I could breathe and go, ‘Oh, wonderful.’
Seven Sisters a ‘never-ending story’
What actually happened was that because Lucinda Riley has 40 publishers around the globe, which meant 40 editors, and I think there are nearly 50 translators, all of whom had worked on the Seven Sisters series for many years it became, over the next few months, a sort of intravenous drip feed of continuity catches.
Things like oh, you might get an email from, I don’t know… Croatia or Germany saying, ‘Oh, Harry just remember Tiggy’s a vegan and you’ve got a drinking tea with milk on page 204. ‘
So what would then happen is I would then have to go through the manuscript, find any moment where Tiggy was around food or drink and make sure that I added a line saying, with almond milk for Tiggy or vegan sausages or whatever.
And it was things like characters eye colours and surnames. And sometimes you would end up having a debate with the translators because they might have interpreted something in some way, and I might have interpreted something in another way. And it was really that until as late as February this year.
It was exhausting. That was definitely the worst part of writing Atlas, was the… drip feed of editorial comments and suggestions.
On the plus side though, it means that I like to think that despite the immense challenge of finishing the series everything is pretty on point, and it was a huge international team effort in the end in terms of getting surnames and dates and eye colours right I’m sure it’s something Mum would be proud of.
I didn’t get a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, it’s done, wonderful.’ Publication day came around, I honestly hadn’t thought about publication day at all until about three days beforehand, and then I went into a wild panic. Because, there was a strong possibility that people would hate Atlas.
They might feel like I’d ruined Mum’s legacy, and suddenly I was just hugely anxious about what it could entail.
Atlas making No 1 spot in UK a milestone
But thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have been the case so far, so that was good. But you’re still always on edge. I’m still touring Europe, talking about Atlas whilst working on the new project, so it doesn’t, it just doesn’t feel like it’s done.
Particularly with the TV series bubbling as well, it’s very much ongoing for me. So I don’t feel like I have had a moment where I’ve been able to go, ‘Phenomenal.’
I think the closest I came to it probably UK. Just because I had said to my stepfather, who acts as the agent, I’ll be really happy for Mum and I on that day, if we can do that.
And I can look at our names together in the paper, in the number one spot, and say, oh I did that for you Mum, and we did that together. And that was special and that’s probably the closest I came to, breathing and celebrating anything.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a lovely story. You will have the continuity for the TV series pretty well meshed out with all of that back and forth, won’t you?
Harry Whittaker: Oh yeah, absolutely. And the important thing is, I look forward to being able to tell everyone who this sreen writer is. I really trust her implicitly and that is such a joy to be able to hand over such an enormous project when you’re not writing it, and just go, okay, you know what you’re doing, and… it’s yours.
Jenny Wheeler: Now look, turning to Harry as reader, because we always like to ask our guests about their own reading tastes.
And often they say to us that they like to read what they write. But of course, in your case, that’s not necessarily the case at all.
What author Harry Whittaker likes to read
What do you personally like to read? And could you suggest a couple of contemporary books on sale at the moment that listeners might like to have a look at.
Harry Whittaker: Yeah, absolutely. I always try and read really widely because I think that’s the best thing you can do as an author.
I feel like if you just read your own genre. You’re not going to expand your own ability to have ideas. You can quite often, I find, you might find inspiration if you read some Dickens.
You might think, oh, that’s a really wonderful way of writing a character, describing a building. Or F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m in love with.
Some of his visions of settings. I… I will keep with me forever.
What have I read recently that I loved? Oh, Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry. What a wonderful novel.
Have you read it?
Jenny Wheeler: No,
Harry Whittaker: Oh, it’s a book that’s taking over the world at the moment and I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bonnie at an event in Norway and it is just the most funny and thought provoking and remarkable novel.
That would be my number one recommendation. And it’s about to be, I think there’s a huge TV series about to be released on Apple TV starring Brie Larson, and I’ve gotta say, I think it is the quickest turnaround from novel to screen that I have ever known.
It was quite funny when I was in in Norway with Bonnie her phone rang and she stood up and said, I’ve got to go, it’s Brie. I was like, oh wow, that’s incredible.
So yes, Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry would be my number one recommendation at the moment.
Bonnie Garmus a No 1 recommendation
I’ve just done a massive reread of Nick Hornby’s back catalogue. High Fidelity is hard to beat. I just finished reading Slam, which is great, About A Boy.
Anything by David Nicholls I love, One Day in particular. But also you wrote a fantastic book called The Understudy, which is probably one of his least read of the back catalogue. Also Starter for Ten is brilliant.
I don’t know where the Starter for Ten translates though. Do you, have books by David Nicholls if they reached New Zealand?
Jenny Wheeler: yes, we do. I must admit, I don’t think I’ve read any though.
Harry Whittaker: Starter for Ten is about a UK game show called University Challenge, and a boy, or a university student, who has a dream to compete on the game show, and yes, I’ll reveal the ending, he has an opportunity to cheat.
And he accidentally exposes himself in front of the nation as a cheater. And it’s a really wonderful tale. And that probably tells you what I’m thinking about writing.
The fact that I just re read a lot of Hornby and Nicholls. if you want to laugh and you want something that’s quite easy, anything by those two, but the number one recommendation, Bonny Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry.
It’s an amazing book and people will love it.
Jenny Wheeler: Wonderful. Thanks. Now, Harry, you have given us a bit of an idea of the arc of your next 12 months, but perhaps just encapsulating it down a bit.
What’s coming across your desk in the next 12 months? What will your main area of attention be given to?
What Harry is doing over next 12 months
Harry Whittaker: I’m currently re-editing a Lucinda Edmonds book from the 90s which I really hope will – and this is probably an exclusive, so don’t tell too many people – I really hope that you’ll be reading it in Autumn 2024.
I can’t really tell you what it’s about, unfortunately. But the book I’m working on, Mum regarded it as her best work ever.
And it was the second novel she ever wrote. It’s very heavy compared to a lot of what she has written since. Some of the plot lines she’s dealing with here are difficult, and that requires my attention particularly in a very sensitive world. The last thing you want to do when you’re doing what I’m doing, which is releasing something when the author has died, is in any way have any reader say I’m not sure I quite agree with that viewpoint.
It’s proving to be a very interesting task in a way I hadn’t anticipated it being. So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
I really hope that will be done by the end of the year. And then in January I will embark on my own novel, which I anticipate will take a year to do. And it will be contemporary, humorous, British, and about a school reunion. That’s how I’ll be spending my next year.
Jenny Wheeler: And have you got an agent?
Harry Whittaker: I do, yep it’s my stepfather, we have a hugely close relationship with all of Lucinda’s publishers, The way we work Lucinda Riley Unlimited is quite unique in the publishing world. We… Deal with everyone ourself and it’s like a family business, and that’s a much better way of doing things.
We have a great relationship with all the publishers because of that. If we were going through a third party things tend to get diluted and left behind and miscommunicated. It is great to be friends with your publishers, that’s all I’ll say.
Jenny Wheeler: I suspected your stepdad would be the agent, that’s why I asked the question actually, but it is lovely to hear that works that way.
Where to find Harry Whittaker online
Harry Whittaker: It’s good.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you enjoy hearing from your readers and where can they find you?
Harry Whittaker: I love hearing from readers. Absolutely. They can, probably the best thing to do if people want to have a conversation or have something unique to say is send me an email which can be found on my website.
I think my website is harrywhittaker.co.uk And my email’s on there. I’m on all the usual social media, Instagram, I think I’m HarryWhittakerAuthor, Twitter, I’m HarryTwittaker, which was a great name when Twitter was called Twitter but now it’s called X, and so I’m HarryTwittaker on X, it doesn’t make any sense but yeah, you can, you can always reach me, it’s always lovely to hear from, from readers and…
Probably 99. 9 percent of the correspondence is fantastic and it’s people talking about their memories of Mum and how much her books have meant to them. And maybe they’ve read them at a difficult time in their lives and Mum, through the power of her words, has helped them out. I particularly love stories about that.
Then you get the 0.1% being like, you’re a disgrace, Harry Whittaker. This is nothing like Lucinda Riley. On page 24 you use the word misdemeanour.
Lucinda Riley would never have used the word misdemeanour. And you just have to get over that.
It does happen, unfortunately, I think when- and I’m talking about Lucinda Riley here – when you’re so successful, you’ve got to accept that some people aren’t going to like you and want to bring you down
That is just a part of being an author. I think the good news is being a radio presenter for so many years has prepared me for such things because you can get nasty comments in real time.
You can see them coming in on the computer, the texts or whatever. And again, it’s that thing of 99 percent of people are lovely, but you’ll always think about that one text saying, ‘oh, bore off, you’ve got the worst voice in the world’ or whatever. But yes, I’ve been well prepared for the world in which we live, by the radio.
Jenny Wheeler: Harry, thank you so much. I think the achievement you’ve made is remarkable. The way that you’ve remained so upbeat through what has been, a trial really, a long trial is amazing. So congratulations.
Harry Whittaker: Thank you, Jenny. It’s been a real pleasure to talk with you.
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Next Week on Binge Reading…
Next week on Binge Reading, popular Australian historical fiction author, Christine Wells was last on Binge Reading in May, 2020, talking about her World War II spy fiction.
Now she returns with another sweeping historical novel of love ambition and what family really means. The Royal Windsor Secret delves into Edward, Prince of Wales’s shrouded private life.
There has always been a mystery about Cleo’s birth. But could it be she’s King Edward VIII’s secret love child?
That’s next week on The Joys of Binge Reading.
And just a final reminder, everyone. If you enjoy the show. Please leave us a review, so others will find us too. As I’ve said before, word of mouth is still the best form of recommendation.
That’s it for now. I see you next time and happy reading!