Saturday, June 22, 2013


Hello, Pam. Welcome to my blog. What an interesting presentation. I'm sure our readers will find this post as intruguing as I did posting it.

Portraits of strong women


We’ve all read the advice. If you’re writing historical romantic fiction you need a strong female lead. An intelligent, aspirational character. She must be striking, if not exactly gorgeous. Witty, but not too cheeky. Glamorous, under-stated. The list goes on.


Of course, you have to be selective or every heroine would be so perfect I’d want accidentally on purpose to tip a sticky drink down their perfectly-pressed blouse. My favourite female leads are strong and convincing but with a certain weakness that they learn to overcome.


I find coming up with new protagonists is tricky. In one manuscript, many moons ago, the first submission didn’t go well. One agent’s rejection said the female lead was too flawed. She didn’t actually say ‘wet’, but I knew it’s what she was thinking. I’m suspecting she didn’t read to the end. My heroine started out a bit hesitant, certainly, and was recovering from an illness, but the key word is ‘recovering’. Throughout the story she got stronger, mentally and physically. By the end, she is positively Amazonian. My point was that anyone, in extremis, when it’s important, can learn to be strong. But no. They thought she was soppy.


I learned my lesson. I tweaked and rejigged. By the end, the lead was complex, occasionally withdrawn, but strong from page one. And I finally got accepted. Hurrah.


When I began Dark Interlude, a tale set in the troubled winter after World War One, I thought long and hard. The lead originally was a librarian, so I promoted her to acting senior archivist at a top institution. In fact, this was quite plausible, for during the war, there was such a dearth of men that many women enjoyed promotion – for a while. The role of archivist was beginning to be reassessed, especially as so many resources had been lost during the Great War. Alexandra Milton, as I called her, then single-handedly drags the system of old archives into the new century, discovering better ways to preserve the valuable material. She is single-minded, hard-working … and guilty of hiding away from the grim realities of war in her ivory tower.


The fact that Alexandra studied Modern Languages is no coincidence. It was an obvious choice for own grandmother did just that. In fact, I’ve just acquired her actual degree certificate from Glasgow. I myself studied 17th-century Spanish, which also features in the story, in case you’re wondering.


Of course, she is intelligent, hard-working … Oh-oh. I began to feel uncomfortable that she was getting too perfect and prissy for my liking. Dilemma.


It was when I was researching the political history of Glasgow in the early 1900s that the problem solved itself. ‘Red’ Clydeside was a hotbed of protest, and had been since the dock strikes and go-slows of the late 1800s. The first conflict that caught my attention was the Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915. These were feisty women. Those in the poorer districts of the city had had enough of profiteering landlords. They set about obstructing the Sheriff’s officers by forming crowds and creating a human barrier. Hordes of women – and their children – blew whistles and hurled abuse, peasemeal and flour bombs at the bowler-hatted officials, driving them away.


What would it be like to be caught up in such a fracas? I have a phobia of crowds, possibly because I’m only five foot one. Bingo! My clever heroine would have such a fear, and, of course, end up facing her worst demons.


All the women in the book are strong, in different ways. The housekeeper started out like Janet in Dr Finlay’s Casebook. As I researched more about Glasgow’s history, I realised just how many young women worked in the munitions factories and on the docks, resented by the men that were there, not getting proper training and basically learning gruelling skills ‘on the job’.


When the men came back from war, the women were simply let go. What on earth did they all do? How did they cope with being shoved back into pinnies at the kitchen sink?

Enter Maureen Jessop, a tough, fearless character with a knack for reinventing herself. She is not best pleased when given her notice as soon as the demobbed men return. I like Maureen. Her handshake would crush my fingers.


Henrietta, our heroine’s old varsity chum, is tall, sporty, and almost masculine. She was inspired by the stories I read of how women drove fire engines and ambulances during the war. She has her demons, too. Another female figure has a dream to assist women’s professional equality through education (modelled on some stalwart female educational reformers of the time). I didn’t even need to include a suffragette: ordinary women were fighting the cause in different ways.


Just key in ‘women in the first world war’ into Creative Commons, and you can see some of the photos for yourself, such as two women at shipbuilding yard at Govan along the River Clyde.


Speaking of causes, the story tells of how Alexandra becomes embroiled a massive protest, a fictional retelling of Bloody Friday, when Glasgow teetered on the brink of revolution.


I began to look into the history of revolutionaries and anarchists, and was drawn to the stories of women from Russia and northern Europe, who sought a different solution to inequality. Some were aristocrats, some serfs, and their different journeys in the struggle against oppression make fascinating reading.


Their lives make the world of Doctor Zhivago seem tame. When I started to read their potted biographies, I was staggered by their commitment to the cause, intelligence, determination to train in difficult professions, ability to endure shocking physical hardship, social disgrace, poverty, sickness, prison, torture, ruthless execution. Some gave up husbands, noble prestige, even babies and children …


Some started out by trying to train as doctors, but ended up being exiled. Others tried to open orphanages, run schools or clinics, which upset the authorities. Others started out as socialists and ended up as terrorists, blowing up trains, shooting Lenin, attacking a tsar. There was no difference in punishment. These revolutionary women were fascinating and, admittedly, quite terrifying.


Books have been written about these women (Revolutionary Women in Russia 1870-1917: A Study in Collective Biography by Anna Hillyar and Jane McDermid). Websites such as the history site, Spartacus, describe their lives.


While writing Dark Interlude, I discovered so many ideas for strong female characters – good and evil – that I’ve stored some away for sequels. Caveat lector.


So, I’ve now decided not to worry about inventing the perfect female character ever again. I just do the research and let the real women from history spring back to life.


Who’s your favourite inspiration? Or darkest villainess, come to that?


By Pamela Kelt



Female workers heat rivets in a portable furnace at the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yard at Govan along the River Clyde in Scotland during the First World War.


A female tram driver and conductor on board their tram, in Scotland.


Mary Barbour (1875-1958), thread twister and carpet printer who settled in Govan. She masterminded activity during the Glasgow rent strike and became a working class hero in Govan and further afield. Later, she was instrumental in founding the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow.


Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952), Soviet politician, feminist and ambassador in Helsinki.
Nadezhda Krupskaya (1869-1939), Bolshevik revolutionary and politician. She married Vladimir Lenin in 1898 and was later Deputy Minister of Education and a Doctor of Education
Maria Fedoseevna Vetrova (1870 - 1897) Russian revolutionary, daughter of a peasant woman. She was incarcerated in the Trubetskoi bastion she later took her own life, burning herself as a protest against the harsh conditions. At her funeral, 6,000 students attempted to protest but were surrounded by mounted police and dispersed.

Wow, Pam, certainly strong women of yesteryear. Lovely pictures.
Give us a peek at your cover now and tell us where we can find out more about the book.

 Dark Interlude is released on MuseItUp on 21 June. Find out more on the accompanying blog where you can see the extract, view the book trailer and read an extract.

Follow Pam on Twitter and Facebook. Find out all the latest on my author website and blog. Or why not send an email to See her author pages on,, Goodreads and Smashwords.

With a background in journalism, languages and educational publishing, it was inevitable that Pamela Kelt would say to heck with a career and try writing for herself. She really only got around to it to avoid the empty nest syndrome when her daughter left for University. She landed six book deals in as many months and declared herself reinvented. Dark Interlude is her first MIU title. Tomorrow’s Anecdote is a dark newsroom thriller set in Thatcherite Britain. Others follow; two more historical mysteries (Half Life and The Lost Orchid) and two teen fantasy adventures (Ice Trekker and The Cloud Pearl, part one of Legends of Liria). Pam lives in Warwickshire with her academic husband Rob and their two daft dogs, without whom she would never leave her clunky laptop.
Well readers, who’s your favourite inspiration? Or darkest villainess, come to that?
We'd love to hear your choices.
And we love comments. Leave yours below for Pam.





  1. I remember as a child going to the library and reading all the biographies of women that I could find. I wanted to learn more about my own sex, and the things they'd done. I wanted to affirm my idea that all things were possible, regardless of gender. There have been so many strong women throughout the years, and most of them not famous. Women have always formed the backbone of any society, and kept it running while the men ran about and got caught up in pissing contests with one another. Some went onto the battlefield as well, accompanying their men, disguised as one of them.

    And of course there are the villainesses, such as Lady MacBeth, who pops to mind. Ambitious to the max on her husband's behalf, for she could not rule in her own right except through him. Catherine the Great of Russia. Elizabeth I of England (not a villainess in my eyes, but I'm sure the Catholics thought differently). Mary Stuart. And so on.

    Off the top of my head, I would say my favorite inspiration, as far as women goes, is Jane Eyre, for she was truly strong, and was possessed of a good mind and heart, and the courage to stand up for her convictions.

    Great post, Pam, very thoughtful. Thanks to Lorrie for having you here. Two of my favorite people, together. :)

  2. Hi, Julie,
    All the above! I love them all. Jane Eyre was my first icon. I came across a fascinating article the other day - on National Geographic, of all places - featuring six women scientists shunned by the system, which made me pause for thought. 'Despite enormous progress in recent decades, women still have to deal with biases against them in the sciences.'

    All grist to the mill for the sequel of Half Life, eh, Julie? (For other readers, it's a film noir story I co-wrote with my husband and due out on MIU in August.)

    1. Absolutely, Pam! I cannot wait to read the sequel! No, that's not a hint, not at all. No, I'm not saying write faster, would I do that? Never!


      It's shocking how girls are, or have been, turned from the sciences in school toward the more 'womanly' subjects - English and history and home economics (I never took home ec, never interested lol) Away from science and math. Most men don't take women in those fields near serious enough.

    2. I'm proud to say I got a D minus in needlework - and yet 84% in the exam. A small but significant protest: 'I can do it if I want to, but I don't care to, thanks.'

  3. I think the shrinking violet of a woman waiting to be rescued is an idea long dead and buried where it should be. History is filled with strong women and our books should be too.

    I recently put out a blog post on warrior women of the middle-east so I'm familiar with a few of those tough gals (who still mesmerized their men).

  4. I so agree. I have this feeling that we're still sneaking up on the issue. It's not just men that need to catch up, unfortunately. Sometimes women can be their own worst enemy.

    Thanks for your comment.

    PS. Mesmerize! What a great word.