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Her Secret War

Irish novelist Pam Lecky shines a light on WW2 heroines

When I learned Irish novelist Pam Lecky’s forthcoming World War 2 novel Her Secret War was inspired by her mother and aunts, I had to find out more. The historical record reveals little about women’s stories during wartime, but women are just as affected by war as men. Many Irish women’s lives were indelibly altered by World War 2, whether they volunteered to work in the war effort themselves or were personally touched by the tragedies resulting from the long, bloody conflict.

Her Secret War (launching in October) offers a fascinating glimpse of the little-known Luftwaffe bombing of Dublin in 1941—and the lasting impact the event has on a courageous fictional heroine, Sarah Gillespie, who is the only member of her family to survive the bombing. Homeless and grieving, Gillespie leaves Ireland to join the war effort in Britain, just as Lecky’s own mother and aunts did during the war—and soon plunges into the dangerous world of espionage.

Welcome, Pam!

PL: Amy, thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about historical fiction research.

AM: What’s the tagline or ‘elevator pitch’ for your book?

PL: A moment that ruins her life; A decision that changes her life; A mission that could cost her life.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

PL: Up to this, I have written predominantly in the late Victorian era and my Lucy Lawrence Mystery series is great fun to write. However, I wanted to stretch myself with something new. I’ve always been fascinated by the wars of the 20th century, but I was keen that whatever I wrote would have a different perspective with a strong Irish flavour. Luckily, Avon Books UK/Harper Collins really liked Her Secret War and its sequel, and I signed the two-book deal last November.

Her Secret War was inspired by both my family and local history. My mother and her sisters left rural Ireland to work in Britain during WW2. Although my mother passed away when I was very young, her sisters often spoke to me of their time in Birmingham. I could never understand why they left the safety of neutral Ireland to travel to blitzed Britain, so I was astonished when the answer to the question was invariably ‘for the excitement’! One aunt was in fact following her boyfriend. He had joined the RAF. Another aunt wanted to study nursing, and my mother was a ‘clippie’ on the Birmingham buses. Her Secret War is not their story, but there are sprinkles of their lives hidden amongst the fiction.

Although my family provided plenty of material, I wanted to anchor the story in the life of wartime Dublin. Ireland, still reeling from the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War which quickly followed, declared itself neutral during WW2. And despite Churchill’s attempts to get Ireland to join the Allies, the government stood firm for the duration of the war.

So, when the Luftwaffe bombed Dublin on 31st May 1941, the world was shocked. Germany claimed the bombs were dropped on North Strand in error, but as I researched the incident, I discovered there are many conspiracy theories attached to the incident that night. Tragically, twenty-eight men, woman and children died, and ninety were injured. The enclave of North Strand was decimated with almost three hundred homes destroyed or damaged and nearly four hundred people were left homeless. The incident occurred only a couple of miles from where I grew up. As I considered the plot of Her Secret War I felt this event would be the perfect opening for the book.

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era or character?

PL: I wanted to take my readers on a journey with a strong female lead overcoming the direst of circumstances. Her plight resonates with the thousands who survived similar incidences throughout the war, all over the world. My main character, Sarah Gillespie, is the only one of her family to survive when the Luftwaffe bomb Dublin. From the ruins of her life, she has to make some difficult decisions. Like many Irish, she has family in Britain and when they hold out the offer of a new life and a job, Sarah decides to leave Ireland. Unfortunately, her new life slowly falls apart as she is drawn into the dark world of WW2 espionage.

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

PL: Research, research, and more research. Luckily, there is a lot of reference material, and some super books on WW2 espionage. I found it all fascinating.

AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

PL: Although I grew up close to where the bombing occurred, I never knew so many had died or how much devastation there had been. The sad thing is, many Dubliners nowadays aren’t aware of the incident at all.

AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?)

PL: I have a rough outline of a plot before I start, but the development of it relies heavily on my research. Digging around in archives usually throws up some great plot ideas or twists!

AM: What is your usual writing routine?

PL: Since earlier this year, I am writing fulltime. I try to stick to a schedule of 9-5, Monday to Friday. So far, I have failed!

AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research?

PL: Check everything, twice.

AM: Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? If music, what kind and why?

PL: When writing a first draft I will have music on in the background, but I need silence to edit. My musical taste depends on my mood, the type of scene I’m writing, and if possible, I will listen to music of the time. I listened to quite a lot of 1940s music, for instance, while writing Her Secret War and its sequel.

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

PL: I have just finished the sequel to Her Secret War which will be published in 2022 and I now need to complete the third book in my Victorian mystery series. The Art of Deception, will be published later this year.

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

PL: I studied horticulture some years ago and I’m still a keen gardener. There’s nothing like tugging out the weeds to de-stress!

Pre-order Pam Lecky’s forthcoming novel Her Secret War here:

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1 Comment

  1. Pam Lecky says:

    Amy, thanks so much for hosting me today. It was great to chat.

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