WomensHistoryReads interview: Julia Kelly

Hello from the road! Or at least the train tracks. It’s my most whirlwind segment of the Woman 99 book tour, so I’m writing this from a 6am train and hoping desperately the Amtrak wi-fi can hold up its end of the bargain.

Today’s guest is Julia Kelly, author of The Light Over London, and like many of the authors I interview for this series, she has an amazing story of women of the past to share with the world. Have you heard of the Gunner Girls? I hadn’t! For more, here’s Julia…

Julia Kelly

Julia Kelly

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Julia: My favorite thing about writing is introducing readers to incredible women they may never have heard of before. For The Light Over London, I wanted to tell the stories of the Gunner Girls, a group of British women who worked in mixed gender anti-aircraft gun batteries in World War II. They did everything on the guns except for pull the trigger. (Firing a gun was considered to be active combat, which Parliament said only men could engage in.) The Gunner Girls were incredibly brave women who made a serious contribution to fighting in Britain and on the Continent.

Greer: Play matchmaker: what unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it?

Julia: I am dying to read a modern biography of Nancy Wake, the infamous World War II spy. She was brash and bold, earning her nickname the “White Mouse” for all the times she slipped through the Gestapo’s fingers as they tried to hunt her down. I actually wrote about Wake for my Lightseekers series, which is all about incredible women during World War II. Who knows, maybe I’ll write the book myself!

Greer: Nancy Wake’s name has been cropping up more and more lately — can’t wait to find out more about her! Ariel Lawhon has a novel about her in the works, I believe. Last question: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Julia: I love a good murder mystery, whether I’m reading or watching TV. I always love books on the grittier end of the spectrum like Val McDermid or Peter May—both great Scottish authors. For TV shows, I’m happiest watching programs like Endeavour, Grantchester, and Luther.

And a question for you: What was the book that first got you interested in history?

Greer: Great question! I’m afraid I don’t have a brilliant answer. But I do distinctly remember being fascinated and thrilled by my European history course in college, not just because of the facts — I love facts — but the words! The names! I walked around muttering “Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen” under my breath for at least a month.