It’s a real pleasure today to welcome author Pam Lecky as my guest on Being Anne. I haven’t (yet) had the opportunity to catch up with Pam’s full-length debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, but I have read her short story, In Three-Quarter Time, and liked it very much. A few more words about it later, but first I’m delighted to introduce you to Pam with a lovely guest post – on why “I say – I don’t think that’s quite right, old chap” are words to make a historical fiction writer weep…
Those who buy historical fiction tend to know their history but as an author you find yourself in the tricky position of just how much period detail to include. You don’t want to bog the story down with it and yet you need to convey a sense of time and place. Authentic detail is my obsession but I try not to overwhelm the story. Many authors in this genre fall into the trap of bombarding the reader with historical reference to the detriment of the story. The only exception to this is biographical historical fiction where the buyer expects it and there is an obligation on the author to provide it. But when it comes to historical fiction, your reader wants to be entertained not lectured. If you love the period you are writing in, it will show in the subtle detail of your work – how your characters speak and act in the situations you create.
The original premise for my debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was a young woman inheriting a property and having to fight to keep it. It had a beginning, middle and an end, but there was no flesh to its bones. I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between the Irish Ascendency and their British counterparts and that, combined with a wrangle over land, seemed a good place to start. As I researched, the story took on a life of its own. Sub-plots popped up, often influenced by real events I read about in old newspapers, books and on-line blogs. What started out primarily as a love story became tangled up in Irish history, Fenians and the English Lake District. The story ended up being part romance, part political thriller and part crime novel. I love to read multi-layered fiction, so I suppose it was inevitable that my own novel would turn out this way.
I also use research to provide back stories for my characters. Louisa Campbell, my female protagonist, didn’t materialise out of thin air. Sprinkled throughout the book are little details which enable the reader to slowly learn about Louisa and her family’s past and where they lived. A crucial part of character development is visualising your character’s world, and to this end, besides being fun, I spent a lot of time researching all my locations. Without the benefit of time travel, this meant looking up the Landed Estates Register set up by NUI Galway, browsing good old google and checking out Archiseek.com or similar websites.
Here is a wonderful example of an old Irish estate house, Coole Park. It was the home of Lady Gregory, dramatist and co-founder of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In the early 20th century, it was the centre of the Irish Literary Revival. William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O’ Casey all visited the house. My heroine would have lived in a house such as this in her formative years but circumstances changed and the family were reduced to genteel poverty in Dublin lodging houses.
Research is the glue that holds your plot and characters together, and in my case, it suggested sub-plots and minor characters. Thank heavens for the internet. I am particularly grateful to a mountaineer who posted a photo story of his climb of Haystacks Mountain in the Lake District (which is the high point – forgive the pun – of the love story element of the book). I was able to describe the climb in detail, even though I had never set foot on the mountain or been to Buttermere. Happily, last September, I finally visited this location and it was a very emotional trip.
Feedback from readers so far suggests I achieved a good balance in the story. Much to my delight, the book has been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion, was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016 and was shortlisted for The Carousel Aware Prize 2016.
Recently, I published a short story, In Three-Quarter Time, which is very loosely based on my grandparents’ story. It is a romance, set against the WW1 era in Dublin.
A chance remark by my uncle concerning my grandmother and her sister set the wheels in motion. No one in the family knows the full details so, besides the bare facts and locations, it is almost entirely fiction. Having spent many hours researching this particular time, it was easy to place myself in the era and take on the characters’ viewpoints. Although only a short read, it has generated a lot of interest and because of the personal angle, will always be a favourite with me.
Pam, thank you – let me share my thoughts on In Three-Quarter Time…
Those of you who know me well might be aware that I’m not the greatest fan of short stories – I like a bit more “meat”, a bit more extended character development – but this was one that I really enjoyed. Coincidentally, I’d recently read Denise Deegan’s Through the Barricades that had a similar historical background, so there might have been an element of the timing (and the setting) being right. But I really liked the central bitter-sweet love story, the way the characters were brought to life, the evocation of emotion and the way the historical setting gently unfolded in the background. To achieve all that within 22 pages takes some doing, and this story was a lovely hint of what the author is capable of in her full-length writing. For that reason alone, you might like to try it too – then maybe take a closer look at The Bowes Inheritance and her future writing.
About the author
Pam Lecky is an award-winning Irish historical fiction author. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and has a particular love of the late Victorian era/early 20th Century. Her debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was published in 2015 and was awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion; shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; made ‘Editor’s Choice’ by the Historical Novel Society; long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award; and chosen as a Discovered Diamond Novel in February 2017.
Currently she is working on two new novels; The Carver Affair, a Victorian crime novel set in her native Dublin; and Kashmir Velvet, a Victorian crime novel set in London and Yorkshire. Earlier this year she published In Three-Quarter Time, a short love story set in the WW1 era in Dublin which will also form part of a US/Irish Anthology due to be published later this year. April 2017 saw the publication of The Lighthouse Keeper, which is a contemporary short ghost story.