Bestselling novelist Lesley Pearse tells Joanna Davis how she was inspired by Dorchester's Prisoner of War camp when it came to writing her new book.

THE kindness shown by Dorchester people towards German prisoners during the First World War took novelist Lesley Pearse aback.

Lesley, a bestselling author who has sold more than 10 million copies of her books, was on a research trip to the county town for her latest novel You'll Never See Me Again.

The book is dedicated to Carsten Frasch – a German man who bid in a charity auction to have his name in Lesley’s next book – so before Lesley even started writing she knew she wanted to use a German character.

Having decided to set this book, her 27th novel, in the First World War, Lesley was looking for a town which had a German prisoner of war camp.

Torquay resident Lesley said: "I thought of World War One and prisoners of war. I had no idea what they did with prisoners of war, I'm sad to say I thought they shot them. But then I started looking into it and I found a prisoner of war camp in Scarborough and realised it was too far away for me to go and research there and then I came across the Dorchester POW camp on the internet."

Lesley rapidly discovered that the Dorchester camp is the only one in England with a memorial dedicated to it.

She said: "With World War One you often hear about the Somme and the mud but I wanted to find something nice for people to read and what happened in Dorchester with townsfolk going out of their way to see the Germans off when they left and looking after them, it seemed like a different story."

Lesley said her research led her to believe that a lot of the goodwill towards the Germans came about in Dorchester because residents were influenced by novelist Thomas Hardy, who hired one of the prisoners as to work in his walled garden.

"People seemed to be swayed by Hardy," Lesley said. "I thought it was quite remarkable."

When Lesley visited Dorchester the main thing that struck her was that not many local people knew about the existence of the POW camp.

"Some people looked astounded when I was telling them about the camp and what went on. It's amazing how little people know about their area," she said.

Dealing with the complication of a broken ankle at the time of writing the book, Lesley said You'll Never See Me Again worked so well because she wrote it in a short space of time.

Just three days after its release You'll Never See Me Again had already reached number five on the Sunday Times bestseller list.

Lesley thinks the secret of her success as a novelist is that she offers something different.

She said: "My books are always different. Some writers do the same books under different titles. Catherine Cookson was a brilliant author but towards the end of her life you always knew how her books were going to end."

Lesley has built up a legion of dedicated readers across the globe.

"People think they know me and they say to me 'I feel as though you're part of my family or a close friend, I think it's probably because there's something quite cosy about me."

Having grown up in London, Lesley eventually moved to Bristol, then the Somerset countryside followed by a move to Torquay in Devon.

She said: "I love being by the sea. When I was a child I used to go on holiday to Rye and I always loved the water. I think the sea gets into your blood. There have been a lot of sea-going men in my family and maybe I've inherited that. I used to have a sea view in my house for when I was writing but not any more."

Lesley has now completed her book tour and is looking forward to a much deserved holiday in Croatia.

She is already thinking about her 28th novel.

"I've got the idea in my head," she said. "I get things rolling around in my brain so I can see the pitfalls."

And there's not much chance of Lesley switching off completely when she's holidaying - she's always thinking about her characters.

She said: "I think about them all the time when I'm at home or out walking my dog. I feel like I have to get to know the characters in my books. By the time I've finished my book I feel like the characters are part of my family. I keep on having to remind myself they're not real."

*You''Never See Me Again by Lesley Pearse is available in hardback now from all good bookshops.


OFTEN referred to as Dorchester’s best-kept secret, the POW camp set up on its outskirts turned the town into a place of national military importance.

The camp at Poundbury, where the Grove trading estate now stands, was the largest in the country and was the ‘parent camp’ of institutions stretching from Birmingham to Penzance to Sussex.

At the time, Dorchester had a population of less than 9,000 – and at its busiest the camp held almost 4,500 internees, many of them civilians to start off with but with increased numbers of combatants as the war progressed.

There didn’t appear to be any bitterness towards the prisoners, and by all accounts they were treated well – 14 men died of Spanish Flu and were buried in the churchyard with full military honours and a memorial was created in Fordington Churchyard by some of the other POWs.


You'll Never See Me Again

By Lesley Pearce

This book definitely needs to be read on a winter's day by a roaring fire. The elements play an important part in setting the descriptive scene for much of the action.

The story is set at the end of WW1 when Betty's husband returns from war shell shocked, and Betty's life is made a complete misery by her shrewish mother-in-law. Experiencing such unhappiness, Betty leaves the refuge of the family home and reinvents herself by giving herself a new name. The reader follows all of Betty's adventures in various locations and hopes that the outcome will be a happy one for Betty.

The book is a nice easy read and very difficult to put down. Some of the story is set in Dorchester and other locations in the West Country. This is the first of Lesley Pearce's books that I have read and I would certainly recommend her to readers who enjoy an historical novel written in an easy style.