And as it’s Wednesday of course, I have a Meet the Author interview for you! Today I’m chatting with Margaret Skea about inspiration, dreams of living in a castle, her hardback book incident (this made me belly laugh!), flying a WW2 Tiger Moth, her most recent book Katharina Fortitude and more…
Adult Historical Fiction / contemporary Short stories
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I was first inspired at age 8 when my dad had a book published. Although it was a Geography textbook, I felt sure that if I wrote a book it would get published too. Sadly, my 8-page story about a family of white mice wasn’t published – but it made me determined I would be one day. However, despite writing lots of short stories as a teenager, it took me 30 years to realise my ambition.
For too many years after my first publication – in ‘Woman and Home’- I focused on short stories. The ideas for them stem from anything – a snippet of overheard conversation, a newspaper article, a derelict building, an event that touched me and so on. What they all have in common is that they trigger ‘What if…’ questions and it is those questions I like to try to answer.
The novels are somewhat different – they are all set in real history, with pre-dominantly real people, so the plots, to some extent, already exist. I am filling in the spaces between real events and seeking to breathe life into historical figures.
The Scottish trilogy noted below was triggered by a footnote in some family papers which mentioned a massacre. That struck a chord with me as, growing up through the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, I understood what it was like to live in a context of violence, but couldn’t have written about it, because it was too personal. The 500-year-old Ayrshire Vendetta allowed me to tell a similar story, but from a safe emotional distance.
As for Katharina von Bora’s story – she was one of those shadowy figures in history that I thought deserved to be better known.
How many books have you written and published?
I have 5 novels – a trilogy set in 16thc Scotland in the context of the Ayrshire Vendetta – a notorious and long-running clan feud, and a two book fictionalised biography of the escaped nun who married Martin Luther. I also have a collection of short stories – my personal favourites – some of which have won or been placed in various competitions.
How long does it take you to write a book?
On average about 18 months, though it does depend a little bit on how much research I need to do. The first Scottish book took around 3 years – much longer than the second and third, because I front-loaded much of the research for the whole trilogy. If I was to write a 4th book in that series now, I could probably do it in about a year, but I’m not one of these writers who can produce a book every couple of months!
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
That’s a really hard question – because I love them all, but in different ways. So maybe the real question for me is which most satisfies? The answer to that must be Katharina Deliverance. It is written in 1st person present tense and is also dual time frame – so a real challenge and the first time I’d attempted that style and format. I’ve been delighted to find that it has worked, even for readers who don’t generally like present tense or 1st person narration.
Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love houses, particularly old ones – and can while away many an evening looking up properties for sale and drawing sketch plans of how I would renovate or alter them. It all began when I was 10 and a small castle came up for sale about 30 minutes drive from where we lived. I was desperate for my parents to buy it. (Who wouldn’t want to live in a castle? Especially aged 10!) They, being more practical, thought of the heating and furnishing and carpeting costs and the inconvenience of needing two cars, and declined. (In recent years my dad admitted it would have been a very good buy for lots of reasons, and he regretted not giving in to my pleadings!)
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Don’t waste time. Just do it.
What’s your favourite film of all time and why?
Anne of Green Gables – the original version with Megan Fellowes as Anne. I have watched it many times and still love it, even though I know both it and the story backwards. I still get a lump in my throat when it approaches a certain point and I have watched it with a succession of children we fostered, because the storyline is particularly affirming and positive for them.
If you could travel anywhere (world/universe etc!) where would you go and why?
The Hindu Kush.
I find ancient, abandoned cities incredibly atmospheric and have always been fascinated by the stories of the cities of the Mogul Empire. They lie abandoned and (I presume) crumbling, but the sheer scale of them is breath-taking – some stretch for three miles.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you (that you’re willing to share?!)
I’ve always been rather impulsive. One evening, walking home from the library with several hard-backed books in my hand, I saw a person I thought was a friend of mine. I ran up behind her and hit her over the head with the books! When she turned round, staggering under the impact, I’d never seen her in my life before…
What is the funniest typo you have ever written?
I meant to write, referring to a child, that ‘she could out-stare a basilisk.’ What I actually put (or being charitable to myself, perhaps it was an unfortunate auto-correct), was ‘she could out-stare an obelisk.’ That would be a lengthy competition!
What present have you been given that sums up your personality?
A flying lesson in a WW2 Tiger Moth. – An utterly fabulous experience, complete with aerobatics – including looping the loop…
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
The book I wrote most recently was the conclusion to Katharina’s story – Katharina Fortitude – which is available in paperback by order from any UK bookshop and some shops abroad, and, of course, in ebook and paperback from Amazon worldwide.
However, during lockdown, when covid-19 halted the project I was working on, due to travel restrictions and my inability to carry out the necessary research, I’ve been concentrating on audiobooks of the Scottish trilogy. The 1st one – Turn of the Tide – is already available on Amazon, Audible, Apple, Google, Kobo and various other sites, and I have just finished editing the narration of the sequel – A House Divided. It will be available soon, and the third – By Sword and Storm should follow in October. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but a fascinating process and I have a fabulous narrator.
final words from chelle…
Thanks so much Margaret for coming over to chat with us. This honestly had me belly laughing – especially at you hitting a stranger round the hear with a book and imagining a staring contest with an obelisk!! Looking at houses for sale online and sketching sounds wonderful, I love looking at old houses, especially one’s I’ll never afford!! Your flying lesson sounds amazing! I’m definitely not brave enough but it sounds like a wonderful experience. And as we know I love historical fiction (only 3 weeks until I start my history degree!), so I’ll definitely add your books to my Wishlist!
If any of you have any questions or comments for Margaret, then make sure you get in touch.
Have a wonderful day lovelies, and I’ll be back tomorrow!