Norfolk author who sold 33m books dies from cancer aged 56

Novelist Lucinda Riley has died aged 56 after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago

Novelist Lucinda Riley has died aged 56 after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago - Credit: SUPPLIED

An internationally bestselling novelist who was inspired by the Norfolk skies has died aged 56 after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago.

Lucinda Riley, of Wymondham, became one of the world’s most successful authors, selling more than 33 million books across 37 languages, becoming a number one bestseller in 18 countries.

Lucinda was born on February 16, 1965, in Northern Ireland, and lived there for five years before moving to England. In Leicestershire, she was sent to a vocational school and began ballet lessons aged three. 

Author Lucinda Riley

Author Lucinda Riley - Credit: SUPPLIED

She grew up in a creative world as both her mother and great-aunt were professional actresses, and her great-uncle was chief lighting designer at London's Royal Opera House. But it was her father who encouraged her writing after sharing stories about places in the world he visited for work.

At 14, she joined her mother’s alma mater, Italia Conti, to study ballet and drama alongside her academic studies. During this time, she spent her free time at the V&A, the British Museum, and The London Library exploring an obsession with history and philosophy.

At 16, a BBC director picked out Lucinda during a ballet class to audition for a six-part drama series of E Nesbitt’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers. She got the part and was subsequently offered other parts in professional productions on stage and screen.

After she suffered a knee injury, she began carving out a career as an actress aged 18 landing roles such as Bomber’s daughter, Tracy, in the popular comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet.

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She married an actor she met on a DIY commercial. They would later divorce.

As a young adult, she was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus and, while stuck in bed recovering, she began writing. A friend would later read her book, all 600 pages written in longhand, and pass it to her author father, who then gave it to his literary agent. A few months later, aged 25, she found herself not only with a three-book deal but also pregnant with her first child, Harry.

North Norfolk writer Lucinda Riley with TV stars Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan. Lucinda's novel,

Author Lucinda Riley with television's Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan after her novel, Hothouse Flower, was chosen for their book club reading list - Credit: Archant

She gave up acting to pursue her writing career and by the time her eldest was eight, she had had three more children, published seven books, remarried, and returned to Ireland for a time.

She then took a break from publishing but continued to write and produced three novels while her children slept. Two of these books were eventually rescued from the depths of a drawer and became published as The Butterfly Room and The Olive Tree.

When her youngest child started school, she changed her name from Lucinda Edmonds to her new married name of Lucinda Riley, applied to do a university degree in philosophy, but was amazed when Penguin Random House bought world rights to her novel Hothouse Flower.

It became a number one bestseller around the globe and another four books were published in the following years. 

Cover of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

Cover of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley - Credit: SUPPLIED

But it was eight years ago, as she stood outside during a starry night in Norfolk, Lucinda came up with the idea of writing a seven-book series based allegorically on the myths and legends of the seven sisters of the Pleiades star cluster. The Seven Sisters have become a worldwide phenomenon. 

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley.

Cover of The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley - Credit: Steve Adams/ARCHANT

Her proudest moment after 30 years of writing came recently when her latest novel, The Missing Sister, became her first number one book in the UK’s Sunday Times hardback bestseller list, and in Ireland. 

Her books have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Italian Bancarella prize, The Lovely Books award in Germany, and the Romantic Novel of the Year award.

In 2020 she received the Dutch Platinum award for sales of over 300,000 copies for a single novel in one year – an award last won by J. K. Rowling for Harry Potter.   

Other projects include The Guardian Angels children’s series, written in collaboration with her eldest son.

Lucinda Riley, EDP Norfolk, December

Lucinda Riley in Norwich - Credit: Archant

A statement from her family read: “To Lucinda’s friends and readers around the world. We are so sorry to have to tell you that Lucinda died peacefully [on June 11], surrounded by her family, who were so important to her.

"We realise that this will be a terrible shock for most people, who won’t have been aware that Lucinda had been battling cancer for four years.

“During those four years, Lucinda penned five novels.

“Lucinda touched the lives of all those she met, and those who turned the pages of her stories. She radiated love and kindness in everything she did, and will continue to inspire us all forever. 

“Above all, Lucinda loved life and lived every moment to the full. In her own words: 'Through the pain and the joy of the journey, I have learnt the most important lesson life can offer, and I am glad of it. The moment is all we have'.”

A previous resident of Wood Dalling, near Holt, in north Norfolk, she described the county as a place she "completely fell in love with”.

She leaves behind her husband Stephen and her family.

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