16 August 2019

Guest Interview with Historical Fiction Author Margaret Skea


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Margaret Skea to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Katharina: Fortitude is the story of one of the most controversial marriages of the early 16th century – that of the escaped nun, Katharina von Bora, to the reformer, Martin Luther. It was a sign of apostasy to Luther’s enemies and a source of consternation to his friends and sent shock waves across Europe, even Henry VIII of England publicly condemning them - but from an inauspicious beginning, it became a strong and successful relationship and a paradigm of clerical marriage, then and since.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I am a morning person, but not terribly disciplined, so I need to start my day’s writing first thing, or I probably won’t start at all. When I’m in the writing phase I aim to write c 1000 words per day. If I’m struggling, I don’t allow myself to give up until I’ve hit that target, but if I’m on a roll I keep going.

My passion is for authentic historical fiction which reflects the life and times my characters inhabited and so extensive research is vital. I ‘front-load’ my research, with the aim of writing as naturally about the 16th century as if I was writing about last week. When I’m unsure of something, I don’t stop to check during the writing phase, but type in red and my first editing process is to fact check the ‘red’ passages.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Whether you are naturally a ‘plotter’ - planning everything out in detail, or a ‘panster’ – allowing the story to evolve as you write, the key is to keep going, ideally writing something every day. Find a writing routine that suits you and stick to it. A first draft is just that – not a finished novel. Don’t expect it to be brilliant and don’t rush to get it out there. Editing is vital, but until you’ve written a draft, you’ve nothing to edit.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

I’m not a natural marketer, so this aspect of self-publishing is difficult for me, but I’m trying to learn! I do however love meeting potential readers and so take every opportunity I can get to speak at events and festivals and recently have begun taking books to craft fairs.

I’ve found general craft fairs to be better than dedicated book fairs – although not everyone at the fair will be a reader, those that are aren’t faced with an array of books and authors to chose from, but only me! It’s good to target fairs where the visitors are likely to have an interest in your genre – so, for example, I go to a pop-up fair at a stately home, on the basis that visitors there are likely to have an interest in history. Works a treat!

Although my books are available to order in any UK bookshop via Gardners, I also look for outlets that are a little out of the ordinary – for example one of my best outlets is a coffee shop in the middle of nowhere, but on a tourist route, and they are great at selling sets of my Scottish trilogy to folk who think they’d better just buy them all at once in case they don’t find them easy to get elsewhere!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

On the ground research is really important, even if just to experience landscape and terrain where nothing else of the period remains and so I went on a solo trip to Saxony to research Katharina. I drove 1000 miles, and visited every location that had a connection to her. It proved a challenge because I didn’t speak German and discovered that as part of former GDR most folk there didn’t speak English, their second language being Russian, but was a vital part of the research process.

While there I found answers to questions that I wouldn’t have known to ask, if I had just been armchair researching, and discovered details that I would definitely have got wrong. For example – in England in the 16th c the pattern of leaded glass in windows was either diamond-shaped or rectangular. In Saxony, by contrast, it is circular – no idea why as it must have been much more difficult to make, but it was a significant detail for me when describing patterns of light coming into rooms.

I already knew that songbirds were considered a delicacy, but one of the most surprising details of everyday life I discovered was that lures, in the form of whistles that replicated individual bird song, were given to children whose role was to attract the birds and enable them to be trapped.

Perhaps the two most surprising discoveries were 1) Martin Luther changed nappies- who’d have thought it? And 2) while sand clocks were still the most common form of timekeeping within a home, one of the reformers had a pocket watch, which looked very like those in vogue in the early 20th century!! And if you don’t believe me - you can see it in the Lutherhaus today.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In all the books I have written the deaths of individual characters have been the hardest to write. Perhaps because they embed themselves so closely into my life that although they actually died some 450 years ago, their deaths feel like a personal loss. This book was no exception and (spoiler alert – she dies in the end) in the case of Katharina it was doubly hard because it comes at the end of the book and the final chapters are always hard, with the aim of finishing on a ‘high’ in terms of the writing, even if it’s a ‘low’ in terms of the plot.

What are you planning to write next?

Now that is a problem. I have various ideas all vying for attention – all of them historical – some would be, as before, tied closely to historical events, some would be much more fictional, although set in an historical context, and I honestly don’t know which will win out. I need to choose quickly though, because I don’t want my writing ‘muscle’ to get out of condition.

Margaret Skea

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About the Author

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the 'Troubles', but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. You can find more details, including why chocolate is vital to her creative process, on her website www.margaretskea.com  and follow Magaret on Twitter @margaretskea1


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