Today on Writers In Ireland, I’m chatting with Pam Lecky, an Irish historical fiction author, also writing crime, mystery and romance. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and has a particular love of the late Victorian era/early 20th Century.
Pam’s debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion; shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award. Her short stories are available in an anthology, entitled Past Imperfect, which was published in April 2018. She is currently working on her next couple of novels, a Victorian mystery series.
Tell me about The Bowes Inheritance – what inspired you to write this story?
My debut novel is a Victorian romantic suspense, set against the backdrop of the Fenian dynamite campaign in Britain during the 1880s. It started out as a simple romance but as I did my research more and more interesting facts emerged. Having the threads of a mystery/crime running through the story gave it more depth and I have to admit I do prefer to read stories like that myself. The premise for the novel was a woman inheriting a property in a different country and having to fight to keep it. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between the Irish Ascendancy and the British upper classes. So I had lots of conflict to make the story interesting!
What is it that attracts you to write historical fiction genre?
Overall my work is classified as historical fiction although I have written contemporary and ghost stories as well. There were a lot of influences in my childhood and the earliest one that I can remember was actually television. Historical dramas in particular caught my attention, even though at that young age I didn’t really understand the stories. Ah but the costumes, the architecture and the way people behaved – something clicked. My father was a great reader and encouraged me to be as well; as a child and a teen I devoured books and I mean devoured. Then Dad bought me the complete works of Jane Austen and a foundation was laid. For those familiar with the 19thcentury world, I think I actually became a bluestocking! I munched my way through classics, dined on crime (modern and historical – Dorothy L. Sayers and P.D. James my absolute favourites – what fantastically twisty minds those women had), and supped at the feet of Georgette Heyer’s heroes and heroines. So I suppose it was only natural that I would lean towards historical mystery and crime with a pinch of romance.
However, I would like to try my hand at other genres and other eras of historical fiction. I just need to find more days in the week!
How long does it take you to complete a book?
My debut novel took 6 months to write the first draft but from start to publication was about 18 months. My second book, which is currently out with publishers, took a year plus about another 4 months of reworking for my agent. My short stories can be written in a couple of hours or weeks depending on whether the muse is co-operating or not!
On literary agents, I’ve spoken to authors who don’t think it is necessary to have one, and others who absolutely depend on their agents. What’s your opinion, Pam?
Earlier this year I signed with the Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency in London – a huge step forward in my career. My agent, Thérèse Coen, has been a great support and has given me lots of feedback and advice. What impressed me most about her at our first meeting was her saying she viewed our working relationship as a long-term thing not just about one book. My next novel, No Stone Unturned, the first in a trilogy of Victorian mysteries, is currently on the desks of commissioning editors in the UK. Hopefully, the book will find a publisher and I know my agent is pushing it as best she can. As to whether an agent is necessary or not depends on what you want. I have happily self-published but find the lack of support and enthusiasm from the Irish literary community very frustrating. My debut novel has been longlisted and shortlisted for literary competitions but, because it’s self-published, it doesn’t get noticed. My reviews are generally four and five stars, so I know I have produced a good book and people have enjoyed reading it. I feel to get the recognition my work deserves I need help and an agent can do that. A traditional deal, if only for a couple of books, would be a huge boost to my career. Don’t get me wrong – I love self-publishing but I want my work to have a chance to compete. I will self-publish again, I have no doubt, and earlier this year I published an anthology of short stories (mostly historical fiction), entitled Past Imperfect.
What’s your opinion on Indie publishing in general?
Well, I love it but then I love to be in control. It’s not for veryone – you need a fair few skills to do it completely independently. And, there are a lot of scam artists out there preying on vulnerable authors (vanity publishers, etc.). The reality is that traditional publishing is a business and I think many authors forget this. Publishers want guaranteed sales so tend to look for tried and tested work that unfortunately can be a bit formulaic. Indie publishing throws the doors wide open – you can write what you want, mix up genres (which is something that brings trad publishers out in a cold sweat!) and experiment to your heart’s content. Big plus for creativity. Unfortunately, with opening the floodgates to creativity you can lose out on quality. Thankfully, most Indies realise they need professional editing and graphic design, but there are still far too many poor quality books published. Why should I care, you may ask, but poor indie publishing hurts all of us and reinforces the negative reputation that’s already out there. We are competing with the big publishing houses with big budgets – you owe it to your readers to produce the best quality book you can – after all, you are taking their hard earned money. And you are shooting yourself in the foot – you only get one chance to make an impression with your work.
And on literary competitions and awards – how important are they, in your opinion?
I can only comment on my own experience. The Historical Novel Society made The Bowes Inheritance their editor’s pick and then long-listed it for the HNS Indie Award. That was such a thrill for me and obviously it was something I could use to promote my work. Luckily, I discovered the Carousel Aware Prize, the brainchild of Carolann Copland. This competition is for Irish self-published authors only. To my amazement Bowes was shortlisted for the novel category. Again, it was a huge confidence boost with the added pleasure of it being for such a worthy charity as Aware. Last year the book was awarded the Indie B.R.A.G. medallion. I was able to use these listings and the award in my submissions to agents and publishers. I’m not sure if it made any difference, but I’m sure it didn’t do any harm. The Carousel Aware Prize, in particular, wants to promote quality Irish indie work and hopefully will become synonymous with it. Part of the prize is the opportunity to have your books stocked in bookshops – something which is difficult for indie authors in general.
Being such a prolific writer Pam, how much do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?
Presently, I do all the marketing and PR. It’s all about creating a brand and to do that you must write well, have your work professionally edited and have great cover s (professionally designed). A cohesive look to your work and your social media platforms will help to create your brand. As I work part-time I dislike sacrificing writing time to marketing, but it is necessary. However, one of the most positive things about jumping on the social media rollercoaster is that you meet the most amazing and supportive people. The Indie author community in Ireland is wonderful and with the formation of the Irish Independent Authors’ Collective, it will go from strength to strength. We are promoting quality paperbacks by applying a minimum standard for an author’s books to be included, and plan to host Indie book fairs a couple of times a year. Through the use of social media I have found an amazing editor and writing groups and heard about competitions and awards. I use Facebook and Twitter and have a blog/website. Writing is a very solitary business so it is wonderful sometimes to walk away from the laptop and go online to see what everyone else is up to. For new writers social media can be very daunting. You have to experiment and when you find the one or two platforms that suit you, you’re comfortable with and actually work, then stick with those and ignore the rest. There are only so many hours in the day – you have to use your time as cleverly as possible … you also need to write! The more work you have out, the better chance of success (I define success as readers finding your work and loving it).
And what about reviews – do you read them? And If you’ve ever had any negative ones – how do you handle those?
I don’t think you are a proper author until you have received at least a few stinkers! They hurt – of course they do, particularly if they aren’t warranted or a bit silly (I got a 3 star one because the reader had to pay a lot of postage to get the paperback – Amazon’s fault not mine, but I took the hit!). I read all my reviews but tend to monitor my overall rating as opposed to obsessing over the negative comments. But sometimes those negative comments are helpful, even constructive. You have to ask yourself does that reader have a valid point and if they do, act on it, particularly if a few people make similar comments.
Finally, Pam, can you share with us what you are working on now?
I am currently in the very early stages of the second book in my Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series. The working title is Footprints in the Sand and it is set in Egypt in 1887 and involves a murder and the notorious black market in antiquities. The first book in the series, No Stone Unturned, is the one my agent is promoting at the moment. I am really enjoying this book as I have always loved reading about Ancient Egypt. I get a buzz from doing research too, so you could say I’m in author heaven at the moment!