Pam Lecky was born and bred in Dublin. A historical fiction nut from an early age she recently decided to take up her pen to make her mark on the world. Her novel The Bowes Inheritance was longlisted in the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award and achieved an Editor’s Choice from the society.
Tell us about your writing background, have you always been a scribbler?
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. I also kept a diary at that time but it was more about expressing feelings and thoughts than what I did on any particular day. A few years later I worked on a 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.
Do you think being an only child contributed to your writing talents?
I’m not sure that it contributed to my writing skills but it certainly accounts for my love of books. I spent a lot of time on my own and my parents always encouraged me to read. I was a total bookworm growing up, devouring all genres, but particularly historical fiction and crime.
What is your writing routine? Has it changed over time?
I work part-time so getting time to write is often difficult. No time of day seems to suit better than any other; it’s more down to when the writing juices are flowing. Sometimes I could write an entire chapter in one sitting; another day I’m lucky to get a couple of sentences down. It can be frustrating and I really admire authors who write full time and have a set routine – they have the luxury of treating it like a 9 to 5 job.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Oh yes! I’m currently having a bit of a crisis. Stuck on a scene and can’t get past it. It’s probably more to do with time constraints than anything else. I can usually overcome it by listening to music and relaxing. But the last few months have been spent entirely on promoting my debut novel. I find stressing about it only makes it worse.
You self-published The Bowes Inheritance. Tell us about the background to this book and why you self-published?
I completed the first draft of my book in six months and thought I had a masterpiece on my hands. Little did I realise that typescript (which turned out to be draft one of about six hundred!) held every novice writer error it is possible to have. So in my innocence, I decided that the world definitely needed to see it and that an agent would bite my hand off to represent me. The response from the publishing world was polite but negative. Worst of all, I had burnt my bridges – a traditional book deal was dead in the water as I could not resubmit.
Feeling rather glum I sought advice from a published author friend, Ciara Geraghty. She recommended two things: get an editor and consider self-publishing. Invaluable advice as it turned out. I contacted Inkwell in Dublin and arranged for a structural edit of my book. This proved pivotal – the editor considered the story was strong, suggested changes, and told me how to eliminate those errors that blatantly proclaimed the script as a rookie effort. My confidence was boosted and I started to consider self-publishing seriously.
In the meantime, I attended the Dublin Book Festival and sat enthralled by authors, agents and publishers – I was starting to get a feel for the industry and how it all works. A Self-Publishing Day in the Irish Writers’ Centre clinched it for me and I could see that my dream could still be a reality. At this stage I knew I had to have another more in-depth edit done, preferably by someone who had an interest in my genre. I sought recommendations from historical fiction Facebook groups and found Hilary Johnson in the UK. Hilary did a copyedit on the book and was kind enough to encourage me to publish.
How did you feel when you held your own book in your hands for the first time?
It was amazing and also a huge relief to finally see the first proof. It’s still on my desk (yes, I know that is sad but it is an inspiration when my brain has turned to mush!) It was a long eighteen months of effort, frustration and my poor self-confidence being constantly battered – but it was more than worth it!
What sort of research did you do for the book?
Historical fiction is particularly research intense. You have to check every little detail or your readers will turn away or give you awful reviews pointing out your errors or inconsistencies. Luckily, I love research and often had to pull myself back from it to actually write. As it happens, the research put a lot of flesh on the story – suggesting sub-plots and characters. Thank heavens for the internet – I was able to root out so many of the little details. 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 literally able to describe the climb in detail, even though I have never set foot on the mountain!
Authentic detail is my obsession but I try not to overwhelm the story with it. Many authors in this genre fall into the trap of overkill with historical reference to the detriment of the story. At the end of the day you are writing fiction not a history thesis.
Why write in the time line you picked, has it always appealed to you?
The 19th century has always fascinated me. From an early age I loved historical dramas on TV and when my father handed me the complete works of Austen at age 11, I was hooked. The Victorians in particular intrigue me. It was a time of such rapid change (which is often a nightmare for research, let me tell you!). It wasn’t that long ago but their mindset was so different to ours now. As a writer, it is interesting to explore this. I also have a strong interest in my family history which prompted me to delve into Irish history. So my writing will generally be set in the 19th or early 20th century and will always have an Irish angle to it. But, I have to admit, that I would like to write contemporary fiction too. I just need to find a few more hours in my day.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
My second novel is starting to take shape. I have a couple of chapters down and I am currently in the research stage. It is a little different to The Bowes Inheritance in that the emphasis will be more on the suspense/crime aspect than the romantic. It is set entirely in Ireland during the 1890s and is about how the past often creeps up on you with unexpected results. It will be a lot darker and grittier.
What would you say to writers who are considering self-publishing?
Research it thoroughly and get professional advice. Most of all, do not for one moment think that you don’t need to have an editor. The next most important thing is your book cover – again go the professional route. The most difficult part of the process for me has been marketing and promoting – it takes up an unbelievable amount of time, as you must become very active on social media. I’m a very private person and found this very difficult at first but I am getting better at it.
Take all of this on board and if you still feel this is for you – go for it. The rewards are great and the sense of achievement is off the scale. There have been several great moments for me along the way. The first, as mentioned above, was holding the first proof. Next, a total stranger emailed me to say that they had loved the book. Recently, the book was reviewed by the Historical Novel Society (UK & US), achieved an Editor’s Choice award and was long-listed for the HNS 2016 Indie Award. Just the other day it received an ‘Honourable Mention’ in the General Fiction Category of the London Book Festival. Trust me, you can’t beat the buzz and confidence you gain from acknowledgements like that!
What advice would you give to other historical fiction writers?
Research is key but don’t be a show-off. People read fiction for enjoyment, not to be lectured. If you love the period you are writing in, it will show in the subtle detail of your work.
How important is social media in your writing life? Tell us about your blog?
It’s more important that I’d like, to be honest. It sucks the hours from my week that I’d prefer to spend writing but it is essential. No one can walk into a bookshop and see my book – I have to promote it on-line.
My blog, Pam’s Victorian Treasures, started last June. I was really nervous about it as I had never done anything like that before. I try to keep it interesting by mixing my subject matter between author interviews, pieces on self-publishing and posts on Victorian themes or crime. Thankfully it feeds my love of research and I have networked with some amazing fellow authors, reviewers and bloggers. It’s probably my favourite platform now and with over 4,000 followers it is a powerful marketing tool as well.
What do you like to read?
When I have the time, I like a mix but predominantly historical fiction, historical crime and biography.
Where do you write?
I’m lucky to have an office at home where I can surround myself with my favourite books, pictures and research material. It is nice and quiet and generally the only company I have is the dog and perhaps the cat if he’s in the mood!
LadyNicci comment: Pam is a lady after my own heart. She writes in the genre I am most interested in and she describes exactly the feelings I have around research and historical writing. I am taken aback at her reasons for self-publishing. It never occurred to me that you could burn your bridges in such a way, by sending out a script that’s not ready yet and it’s cemented my plan to have anything I decide to send out to the world, professionally edited. Also, Pam writes a blog in support of her writing work and it’s interesting to hear that she too can struggle with the time required to keep the blog up and running and feel guilty that it may take time away from literary writing. I’m half way through the Bowes Inheritance and enjoying it. Pam has offered to return the author interview on her blog whenever my work is out there. Let’s hope that’s not too far away!
How I write is a weekly blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.