My ALLi author guest this week is Margaret Skea, who lives in Scotland and writes historical fiction about violent periods in Scottish history. It is a subject that hits closer to home for Margaret than you'd think. She spent her childhood in Northern Ireland, where sectarian violence was a daily fact of life, and Margaret is able to convey this sense of danger and uncertainty in her fiction.
Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: Margaret Skea Interview
For self-publishing advice and news, alongside indie author interviews, subscribe to the ALLi podcast:On Inspirational Indie Authors, @howard_Lovy features @margaretskea1, who writes fiction about violent periods in Scottish history. The topic hits closer to home than you'd think. She spent her childhood in Northern Ireland. Click To Tweet
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Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: About the Host Howard Lovy
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: About the Author Margaret Skea
Margaret Skea is an award-winning short story writer and novelist with 5 novels and a collection of short stories published. Credits include Beryl Bainbridge Award, Runner up Historical Novel Society Award, Neil Gunn, Fish, Winchester and Mslexia. She is particularly interested in the challenge of bringing relatively unknown historical characters out of the shadows and through authentic historical fiction providing a ‘you are there’ experience for the reader. You can find her on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @margaretskea1.
If you’re a published indie author who would like to be interviewed by Howard for the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, you need to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Then contact Howard, including your membership number, explaining why you’re an inspirational indie author and what inspires you.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization.
Inspirational Indie Author Podcast: Interview Transcript: Margaret Skea
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is Margaret Skea, an author who lives in Scotland and writes historical fiction about violent periods in Scottish history.
It is a subject that hits closer to home for Margaret than you'd think. She spent her childhood in Northern Ireland, where sectarian violence was a daily fact of life, and Margaret is able to convey this sense of danger and uncertainty in her fiction.
Margaret Skea: Hi, I'm Margaret Skea and I live in Scotland now, but I grew up in Northern Ireland. Currently, I'm primarily writing, and that's historical fiction rooted in real history, and so a lot of the time I'm living in the 16th century.
Howard Lovy: Just why she's living in the 16th century will become clear in a few minutes. To begin with, there is her childhood in Northern Ireland during the troubles.
Margaret Skea: I was a teenager when the trouble started, well, just before I became a teenager. And so, most of my upper school years, the troubles were ongoing, and we had a very different normality, probably, from anybody in the Western world, in that, we went out every day expecting to come home, but always at the back of your mind was the thought that maybe today you wouldn't come home.
And at the time, we just tried to live as normally as possible, but it was always there in the back of your mind. And at the time, it was just for us. As an adult looking back, I think it must've been actually a lot harder for parents to see their children go out, and also to know that they might not come back.
You knew the places to avoid in the main, but you couldn't always avoid it because so much of it was arbitrary, and you got to the point where you would hear a bomb going off and you would be able to compute, by the sound of it, how far away it was, how big it was, whether it was likely to cause casualties or fatalities, and that was just something you did instantly.
Personally, I had friends who had their pub blown up. Yes, it did impact on everyone, really. It absolutely had an effect on me as a writer because, you know, when you're supposed to write your first book, you're supposed to write about what you know, and what I emotionally knew was what it was like to grow up and live in a conflict situation.
And so, when I started looking for a topic for a novel, I had been doing PhD research quite a while before that, and that involved the 16th century, it involved the Ulster plantation, it involved two families, and I found a little footnote in one of these books that has about an inch of text and about 10 inches of footnotes on every page, there was a little footnote about a massacre in 1586 in Scotland, and that just lodged in my mind and I thought, I know what it would be like to live in that situation where you were involved in clan warfare, and it was a constant in the back of your mind as a way of life.
Howard Lovy: Margaret studied linguistics in college and hoped to make a career studying dialects, but marriage intervened, and she moved to Scotland where there was some slight culture shock.
While Northern Ireland might've had its problems, it was not quite as class conscious as Scotland.
Margaret Skea: In Ulster, I was used to a relatively classless society. When I moved to Scotland, we were living in a rural area and I discovered it was really stratified, and I found that quite hard to get used to. That if I was very friendly with my next-door neighbors who were manual workers, then people didn't expect me to also be friends with farm owners or estate owners. I really struggled with that, because I wasn't used to there being a class system still alive and well.
Howard Lovy: Now, before we move on to Margaret's books, there's one other thing you should know about her.
She's an adrenaline junkie, and that includes flying world war II airplanes like the tiger moth.
Margaret Skea: Yes, I absolutely am an adrenaline junkie, and I guess the most exciting thing in my life was when I was given a flying lesson in a Tiger Moth, and I could have stayed flying that plane forever, actually. It was wonderful. It was really easy to fly. It was very responsive, and the person who took me up, we went way away from the little airfield, the little grass airfield, where it was based, and when we were quite far away, he asked me if I'd like to do some aerobatics, which he wasn't normally allowed to do, but we could do it because we were where we couldn't be seen.
So, I was absolutely over the moon. So, we looped the loop, and did all kinds of aerobatics, for which he took the controls at that stage, obviously, but it was still a fabulous experience. The interesting thing was that was a 50th birthday present, and at the same time, my husband's 50th birthday present was a bread maker.
So, that kind of gives you an idea of the relative characters.
Howard Lovy: Now, back to Margaret's writing career, and to discover why she decided to write about ancient Scottish history we have to go back to her childhood in Northern Ireland.
Margaret Skea: The conflict and Ulster was too close and too personal, and I couldn't write about that. I still couldn't write about that, I don't think, but writing the story of the feud in the 16th century was in a way writing the same story, but 400 years removed. So, I was able to cope with that, and actually enjoy doing it. And in a way, I guess there was a kind of catharsis in writing about it.
The Ayrshire vendetta was a clan feud that ran for about 150 years, and it was a series of tit for tat atrocities on both sides. The only time when it was quiet was when there was an external enemy. For example, when Scotland was at war with England.
Originally, I started writing with one of the main historical characters as a key character, and then I realized how constricting that was, but I was 70,000 words in, at that stage.
But I took the major decision to ditch those 70,000 words and start again, dropping a fictional family into the middle of the feud so that I could examine both sides of the divide, just examine what it means or what it felt like to be caught between two warring factions.
So, I have a key character called Monroe and he has a family. And the first book is all about the impact of him changing allegiances from one side to the other, and the fallout that is suffered as a result of that.
And then, books two and three kind of spread their wings a little bit, book two takes into account witch trials in Scotland, and a little bit of the French Wars of religion, and book three then is split between France and Scotland, and there's a dual timeline using historical events in each country, and eventually it all comes together in the one place.
It comes from my experience of living within conflict. It also comes from the experience of losing two children that we fostered full-time for a considerable period, and it was quite a traumatic loss when they were eventually moved on to a full-time fostering placement.
And that was at the point when I was writing, Turn of the Tide, and I channeled a lot of the emotional angst that, that produced.
Howard Lovy: Margaret's Scottish series gave her the confidence to move on to self-publishing, and a different time period. This time, the reformation in Germany. It was a coming together of various elements of her life and interests.
Margaret Skea: It was actually, I was at London Book Fair, and I was talking to various agents because I thought there might be some mileage in foreign rights for the Scottish books, and the general consensus was, no, there wasn't because these were people that were not well-known. If I'd been writing about Mary, Queen of Scots or William Wallace, or someone like that, then yes, there could have been, but writing about relatively unknown characters didn't have that kind of potential to spread.
And so, two of them in fact said to me, what was I going to write next? And entirely off the top of my head, without even really thinking about it, Katharina Luther just popped into my head and I said, I'm going to be writing about Martin Luther's wife. At that stage, actually, I knew nothing about her, except that he had a wife, but I went home from London Book Fair and started to research her and discovered that the reason I knew very little about her was there wasn't a lot of concrete documentary evidence about her. So, it was a significant blend of fact and fiction, but I tried to be as true to what we did know as possible and to work on the basis of, what is the most likely reason that someone would act like this? What kind of a person would they have been? And it was an absolutely fascinating journey.
And I realized by that time that there were so many advantages to doing it myself in terms of control and timing and getting them out exactly at the time you wanted.
The first one, I wanted to hit the 500th anniversary of the reformation. That wouldn't have been possible traditionally, I just didn't have the timeframe to do that, even supposing somebody had taken them on. But I was able to do it, doing it myself. Along the way, I'd been involved with ALLi and lots of other independently published authors, and I'd been at London Book Fair three times by that stage, and Author HQ, and speaking to the guys at Amazon, and it just seemed I was ready. I was ready.
And while I wouldn't say I would never go back to a traditional contract for a specific project, in fact, I'm in discussion with somebody just now about one, for fiction, I think I will always want to do it myself.
Howard Lovy: One other thing you should know about Margaret are her deeply held religious convictions.
For her historical fiction, this gives her a deep understanding of her characters' religious motivations.
Margaret Skea: Well, that's been interesting in all the books actually, because one of the things that quite a few historical fiction authors that I've listened to speaking that they've said has been a difficulty for them, is to understand the mindset of an earlier era, where people started from a standpoint of a belief in God.
And I don't have that problem because my personal faith is really important to me. So, I'm starting from the same standpoint that they were starting from. My personal faith in Christ is absolutely solid, and so I understood where they were coming from, and I think that makes it easier for me to write in that mindset.
So, that part of it was really easy for me because I knew where the characters were coming from. And also, I knew where characters were coming from, from different religious perspectives, because I've also had experience of that, which helps.
Howard Lovy: Margaret says she's absolutely bowled over by the positive reception she's received so far for her books.
In fact, her books have been racking up awards, including being shortlisted for the 2020 BookBrunch Prize, and named runner up for the Historical Novel Society Award.
At the age of 64, she shows no sign of slowing down. She's working on a fourth book in the Scottish series and is in discussion with a charity about writing a contemporary biography.
Her advice for writers who might be having creative troubles during these troubling times, use this moment to do other things. She's revamping her website and learning about marketing. As for writing, she says this, don't be gentle with your own work.
If you're a published indie author who would like to be interviewed by Howard for the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, you need to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Then contact Howard, including your membership number, explaining why you're an inspirational indie author and what inspires you.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization.