A Literary World: An Interview with Pam Lecky
A Literary World
An Interview with Pam Lecky
My guest today is the highly successful author, Pam Lecky. Pam is an Irish writer of historical fiction with a particular love for the late Victorian era and early twentieth century. I first got to know of her through her book, Her Secret War, a WW2 thriller, and admire her writing very much, but she has a background of writing long before this. So without more ado, let’s get to know the person behind the wonderful books.
1. Welcome to A Literary World, Pam. Tell us about your background? When did you decide to become an author?
Thankfully, as an only child growing up, my parents encouraged me to read. As I grew older, I devoured all genres, but particularly historical fiction and crime. It is little surprise, therefore, that I write primarily historical mystery and crime.
I first dabbled with poetry as a teenager – I found it a wonderful way to express myself as I was extremely shy and lacking in confidence. A few years later, I worked on a community newsletter, editing and contributing articles. Then life took over; work, marriage and children, and so it was only after my third child was born that the desire to write came back. I had just read a particularly disappointing ending in a book and found myself thinking that I could write better than that or at least as well. So, I set off to prove to myself that I could write a novel, never dreaming I would someday publish. I completed it and that was the catalyst. It is unlikely that story will ever see the light of day, but it was an important first step. When my debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, did very well, I realized that writing was something I wanted to pursue as a career. My dreams finally came through at the end of 2020 when I signed with Avon Books UK/Harper Collins. I took the plunge, gave up my job and became a full-time author.
2. What are your novels about and where are they set?
Both my Victorian and WW2 series are predominantly mystery reads with a dash of romance. I love strong feisty lead characters and both series are seen through the eyes of strong women (within the constraints of the time). My Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series is set in the late Victorian era, with locations as diverse as London, Yorkshire, Scotland and Egypt. The fourth book will be set in Italy. The main character is Lucy, a widow with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. It all starts when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone over the body of her dead husband in the mortuary… My WW2 series, features Sarah Gillespie, a young Irish girl who is not content to stay in neutral Ireland after her family is wiped out in a bombing raid. Seeking revenge for their deaths, she joins family in England, only to become caught up in wartime espionage. The first book, Her Secret War, begins in Dublin and then moves to Hampshire. The action in the second book in the series, Her Last Betrayal, takes place in Wales. The final installment, which I am currently working on, is set in London and Lisbon.
3 What is it that inspires you to write about WWII?
I was keen to write about the war from the perspective of neutral Ireland, as I was eager to highlight the roles played and the sacrifices made by many Irish, despite the country’s stance. Members of my own family left the relative safety of Ireland to work for the war effort or indeed, to enlist. I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between the Irish and their ex colonial masters, and I explore this to some extent in the novels, too.
4. Can you tell us about your latest novel?
Her Secret War was only the start of Sarah Gillespie’s journey. I was keen to show how she matures when she becomes involved in high risk and extremely dangerous situations. In Her Last Betrayal, Sarah is now working for MI5 on the trail of rogue IRA operatives who are helping the Germans. She must work with an American agent, who tests her to her limit, and when someone on her team commits the ultimate betrayal, she does not know who to trust. But somehow Sarah must find the strength and courage to complete her mission.
5. What sort of research did the stories require?
Luckily, I had plenty of material I could use as both my family and local history inspired the novels. My mother and her sisters left rural Ireland to work in Britain during WW2. One aunt followed her boyfriend, who had joined the RAF, and she worked in a munitions factory. Another aunt wanted to study nursing, and my mother was a ‘clippie’ (bus conductress) on the Birmingham buses. Her Secret War is not their story, but there are glimpses of their experiences hidden throughout the fiction. The German attack on North Strand, which opens the first book, happened only a few miles from where I grew up.
For me, the greatest challenge was getting up to speed on day-to-day life. I knew a lot about the overall timeline and events of the war, but it was the nitty-gritty details of life on the Homefront which would ground the stories in reality. Essentially, I had to read a lot and, thankfully, there is an enormous amount of material out there, from eyewitness accounts and books to newsreels.
Then I was lucky enough to come across a wonderful website dedicated to the people who had worked at Supermarine in Hampshire, the company who made the iconic Spitfire plane. The owner of the site was amazing, providing a huge amount of background material which enabled me not only to build a picture of Supermarine, the facility and the workers, but also helped with some tricky aspects of my storyline.
Essentially, the stories are about spies and fifth columnists, a subject covered in some depth by Tim Tate in his non-fiction book, Hitler’s British Traitors. This was the source for much of my background information and threw up a few plot ideas too (always a bonus!).
However, when I set about writing the second novel, I came up against a brick wall. In Her Last Betrayal, Sarah is now working for MI5 and along with a colleague, is trying to track down IRA members who are facilitating British fifth columnists and Abwehr agents entering and leaving the UK. Again, I referenced Mr Tate’s excellent book only to find that the port was only alluded to as being in South Wales. I knew the UK National Archives document reference number, but the text in question was only available to view in person, not online. Due to Covid, I could not travel to Kew to look at it. So, in the meantime, I had to make an educated guess (Fishguard seemed likely as it connected Cork and neutral Lisbon at the time—a possible route). As the deadline for finalising the book approached, however, I panicked and took a chance and messaged Mr Tate directly through social media. A few weeks later, he responded and emailed all the information I needed. But, as it transpired, the identity of the port used remains a mystery. The document Mr Tate had seen only mentioned South Wales. And then the bombshell: the British Secret Service had destroyed the other file which identified the exact location. Although disappointed, at least I had an answer. And let’s be honest, a bit of mystery is music to the ears of a writer of espionage!
9. Do you think fiction helps us understand the past?
I’d like to think it does, but the current situation in Ukraine shows us that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
11. Do you have a special writing space?
I’m lucky to have my own office at home, where I have all my research books close at hand. I also have 3 PAs! Two cats and a dog (they are, of course, completely useless!).
13. What is favourite WWII movie
The Darkest Hour
14. Do you have a favourite piece of music from the WWII era?
I like to include music in the books as I think it gives a real sense of time and place. My heroine is also a keen dancer and is often found dancing the night away to the likes of a Benny Goodman tune.
“Why Don’t You Do Right” – Benny Goodman Orchestra and Peggy Lee 1943
15. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do to chill out?
Besides reading and photography, I love my garden and find I can switch off completely when I’m out in nature. I studied horticulture and have always had an interest in garden design but unfortunately never got to work in the area. I did, however, design and build a show garden for Bloom, which is the Irish equivalent of the Chelsea Flower Show. I also love making mosaics and I am currently creating one for a newly updated patio area of my garden.
16. Who are your favourite authors?
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L Sayers, PD James and Elizabeth George.
17. What’s next for you?
I am currently working on the first draft of the third Sarah Gillespie book for Avon. During the summer, I am going to Italy and will be researching the fourth Lucy Lawrence book (any excuse to go to Italy!) All going well, I hope to start on a fourth book for Avon at the end of the year, which is a stand-alone murder mystery set during the Blitz in London.
Thank you so much for sharing your writing life with us, Pam. It’s certainly given us a fascinating insight into your books and has made me want to find out more about Ireland during WWII. Your research is inspiring. I know how much time goes into this. We share similar interests – gardening and Benny Goodman to name just two. It’s also been a long time since I heard the word “clippie”. On behalf of my readers, I wish you continued success and all the very best for your new release – Her Last Betrayal.