Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Edinburgh, but I’ve lived in England most of my life. At school and university, languages were my passion – and I even wrote a thesis on 17th-century Spanish drama, but I shifted into journalism and educational publishing. As my daughter got older, I thought it was time to reinvent myself, so I tried my hand at writing. It took a while, but once I got the first deal (thanks, Lea!), I was off. I do wonder why I took so long to get around to it.
You have a new book out, “Dark Interlude.” Can you tell us something about your book?
It’s a romantic historical adventure set in Britain immediately after the Armistice. The characters are fiction, but the story’s based on a real-life near-revolution in Glasgow when even Churchill himself was worried that Bolsheviks were taking over the country.
What prompted you to write it?
I’d always fancied working up my MLitt research into a book, but comic interludes are quite obscure! We were on holiday in Loch Lomond and I suddenly had a vision of a small lodge, a study stuffed with rare manuscripts, an archivist … and mysterious goings on. I rummaged around for an exciting time period and felt the post-1918 period was under-represented. It was such a fascinating period, when everything was changing.
I watched the trailer for “Half Life,” the book you co-wrote with your husband, and was blown away. How did the two of you decide to work together?
Thanks! It was such fun to do. It all began a few years ago. Rob had been invited to be external examiner for a PhD student in Tromsø – and I managed to chum along. It was a brilliant trip and I just had to write about it the place. I came upon the idea of a research institute, but my knowledge is science is pretty basic – so I turned to an in-house expert. Basically, I just roped him in. His role increased as I, or rather, we, fleshed out the story. It dawned on us that we could produce a story which would appeal to men and women. Besides, seaplanes are cool.
Have you always been a history buff? How much research did you have to do for “Half Life?”
History was torture at school – endless lists of Poor Laws and the invention of mysterious agricultural implements. Sorry, but I hated “history”, as it was taught. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for “history mysteries”, as I call them, and I just found myself choosing other epochs for stories. I’m no expert, so I plug away, reading what I can, mainly online. You should see my bookmarked sites for Half Life! I looked up everything from how many grisly ways you can die on a polar expedition to the actual journals, in German, by the scientists of the time who were trying to solve the mystery of nuclear fission. Apart from writing, research is definitely my favourite thing.
How about “Dark Interlude”?
Having studied 17th-century Spanish, I was all right with the main references. I even plucked up courage to send the manuscript to my former supervisor. He enjoyed it, to my relief. I think he secretly relished the cavalier way I waltzed through 17th-century Spain without upsetting the apple cart. All the rest of the background I had to find out. We didn’t get any Scottish history at school (in fact, not much from the 20th century at all), so that was quite a learning curve. I’ve plotted out the sequel (set in Kirkudbright in southwest Scotland) and I’ve already started collecting material. It’s addictive.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I had to look up ‘pantser’! But I’m a plotter. I don’t know how people ‘wing it’. In fact, I have to draw up the first plan in fountain pen. Nothing else will do. After that, I transfer to the laptop, where I work towards a detailed chapter-by-chapter account before I even start.
Do you have a writing routine?
Ha. Not any more. I was pretty good until last year. I’d do a couple of chunks, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with an occasional late-night blast. Once I got the first deal, I was all over the place. I need to get a grip on the PR side, but I have great plans for the autumn. It features 7am starts.
What got you started writing books?
They just bubbled up. I wrote my first book in the 1980s – a locked room murder mystery set in a Cambridge college – and have been scribbling ever since. I only got serious when my daughter was in her teens and I realised I didn’t want to be rattling about the empty nest while she was having a great time at uni.
What are your favorite books and authors?
With the advent of e-reading, my habits have changed massively. Previously, I stuck to medieval murders (such as Cadfael and so on), then I branched into Roman mysteries, such as Lindsey Davis Falco series. I peppered these with a bit of John Buchan and the occasional Ludlum blockbuster. Nothing highbrow at all! Now, I still do mysteries, but I’ve developed a passion for teen fantasy (The Edge Chronicles and the Septimus Heap series), Nordic noir (The Dinosaur Feather), quirky contemporary thrillers and have even returned to my favourite author, PG Wodehouse, courtesy of the wonderful Project Gutenberg. It’s liberating. No-one knows what you’re reading when you have an e-reader in your hand. Oh, and currently, I can’t get enough of Scott Westerfield. Rob and I are fighting over the third part of the Leviathan trilogy.
What are your writing pet peeves?
I get quite cross when agents and old-school publishers complain about excessive adjectives or use of the passive or whatever. One told me she hated all books written in the first person. I know writing is subjective, but please.
What will cause you to put down a book?
Over-writing. I’m not fond of visceral descriptions when the author is trying too hard to get you to feel what the character is feeling. It reeks of writing group exercises. Simple is good. I do like books that just crack on with the story.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just about plotted out part two of Legends of Liria, a tween fantasy inspired by a family holiday to Montenegro. I need to put it in a drawer for a month before I start writing. After that, Rob and I are working on the sequel to Half Life (including a ‘research trip’ to Berlin) – and I’ve got to rejig the ending to Machiavelli’s Acolyte, a 17th-century thriller which I’ve nicknamed ‘Dexter meets the Borgias’. Busy, busy, busy.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Good question. My main website is http://pamelakelt.weebly.com/. I’ve also done small ‘companion’ sites for each title: this is the one for Half Life, http://halflife-pkrjd.blogspot.co.uk/; and this is for Dark Interlude, http://darkinterlude.blogspot.co.uk/. There are also sites for Ice Trekker, http://icetrekker.blogspot.co.uk/, Legends of Liria, http://legendsofliria.blogspot.co.uk/, and The Lost Orchid, http://lostorchid.blogspot.co.uk/. I also do a small site for orchid fans, http://orchidmania-pk.blogspot.co.uk/.
May I ask a question? How do you come up with such good questions? Thanks, Margaret. Super experience.
Pam, I’ve gotten better at asking questions the more interviews I do. I’m interested in the authors I host and want to know more about them. Plus I check out their books.
“Occupation?” The border guard turned his official grey gaze upon her.
“Oh, I see. Sorry. Chemist.”
“No. A doctor.”
“PhD. I’m a theoretical chemist. Research.” After nearly a dozen years at Cambridge, Dulcie was used to explaining. She pushed her passport toward him and loosened the belt of her macintosh. It was nine o’clock on an August morning in Oslo, and surprisingly warm. The official peered at the photograph. He looked back at her. She smiled and waited.
The guard sighed and dialled his telephone. After a few words, he replaced the receiver and turned to her. “Lyngen Institute? Sohlberg?”
“That’s right,” she said. “I’m with Professor Spinneyfield.”
“Ah.” He nodded, then stamped the page like a baker stamping biscuits. “Velkommen til Norge, Doktor Bennett.”
She nodded, replaced it in her clutch bag and moved away, glad to be back on dry land after the crossing from Copenhagen. The professor passed through quickly and was soon trotting alongside, head tilted like an optimistic partridge in a windswept moor out of the shooting season. He scanned the terrain. “This way!” He veered off toward a sign that read “Tog Oslo-Bergen” next to a picture of a train. She adjusted the strap of her shoulder case. It was heavy. Inside was her calculating machine, which she refused to let out of her sight. It had cost a small fortune, and weighed around a stone, but she was quite used to carting it about—and making sure it didn’t ladder her stockings. She was grateful she’d sent her trunk on in advance.
Ahead, a double door opened. Steam billowed out and a square-shouldered man in a well-cut greatcoat launched out. Both Dulcie and the professor pressed themselves against the tiled wall as he swept on, leading a group of men who moved forward in formation, sleek in black and grey. Some carried briefcases in soft leather. Two more men in black coats appeared from behind Dulcie and approached the party. They saluted, using the straight right-armed salute she’d seen on the newsreels. “Heil Hitler!” The leader nodded, and followed them out of the customs hall into a waiting Mercedes-Benz embassy staff car, its black, polished bodywork gleaming. Swastikas fluttered from the front wings. The soft leather top was already folded down.
“Who were they?” She kept her voice low.
Spinneyfield just stared. A fellow traveller in a sharp suit and brown hat leaned toward them. “German inspection group from Telemark, judging by the arrivals board,” he said, tapping his nose. “Coupla Gestapo and a bunch of tame scientists. I bet they’re scurrying back to the embassy to send in their reports about heavy water production to the Führer.”
“Really?” Dulcie wondered how he knew so much.
“Oh yeah.” He stressed the first word. “The plant’s been producing the stuff since ’34.” He held out his hand. “Sorry, should’ve introduced myself. The name’s Wendell P. Sanger.”
The professor intercepted. “How do you do? I am Stanley Spinneyfield, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, Cambridge, specialising in wave function theory. Oh, and this is my research assistant, Dr. Dulcie Bennett.”
“I heard.” Sanger raised his hat and gave her figure an admiring glance. “Although you don’t look like any research assistant I’ve ever seen.”
Dulcie smiled, but said nothing. This type of comment was all-too familiar but, for some reason, she didn’t mind. In fact, she rather liked Sanger, and his deep brown eyes that looked amused. Easy laughter lines ran either side of a friendly mouth. She also enjoyed his accent with its hard-boiled vowels. New York, she decided.
“And you, Mr. Sanger. What brings you here?” the professor was saying.
Sanger pulled a face. “I’m just a secretary to the head of the U.S. outfit that’s funding our research in Norway. My job’s to report back on our guys’ progress.”
The prof barely listened. “I am looking forward to some pretty lively discussions about Enrico Fermi’s work on bombarding elements with neutrons instead of protons.”
“You don’t say.”
“Battle lines have been drawn.”
“Well then, prof, I guess we’re all headed in the same direction.”
“Geographically, politically, or sub-atomically?”
Photos of Tromso