I’m so pleased to have this interview with author Margaret Skea which is aimed to appeal to writers, fans and potential readers alike. Margaret is a successful Indie Author of Historical Fiction.
Hello Margaret, thank you for joining us today,
Do you mind me asking, was the success in your writing career a gradual process or very sudden?
‘Fits and starts’ might be a better way of putting it! I dabbled in writing from a very early age – and as a child and a teenager won several local competitions – the first in a local festival when I was eight – I can still remember the first and last stanzas of the poem but not the verses in between! That was followed by several more poetry prizes when I was at secondary school, but towards the end (teenage angst past), I started writing short stories.
For 20 years I just wrote for fun, until I entered my first adult short story competition, in Woman and Home in 1995 – which I won. That was my first published story. Part of the prize (along with a word processor) was an advice session with a literary editor – who told me if I ever wanted to make any money from writing I should go home and write a novel. I didn’t, largely because 3,000 words was my comfort zone, and I didn’t think I could write anything longer. I did continue writing short stories, won some more competitions and had more published.
I might never have progressed, had not someone said to me, ‘A novel is just 30 short stories, without the difficulty of devising new characters, plot and setting.’ That was a light-bulb moment and 10 years after the Woman and Home win, I finally began my first historical novel – Turn of the Tide – the story of the ‘Ayrshire Vendetta’. Several years after that, and 70,000 words in, I ditched 67,000 words and re-started with a fictional main character trapped in the middle of the feud. (Note to writers – painful at the time it taught me a valuable lesson – a book isn’t a baby and can be chopped up or thrown away.)
25 years on from Woman and Home I have 5 published novels – a Scottish trilogy, which might continue to grow, and a two part fictionalised biography of Martin Luther’s wife and a collection of my favourite short stories. Four of the novels have either won or been placed in international competitions, and I’ve been privileged to speak at various book festivals and to mentor other writers. Not quite a ‘sudden’ success, but I’m getting there.
Well done for all those prizes! I know it’s a cliche Margaret but I do believe ‘writing IS a journey’; hopefully one which we will enjoy along the way, rather than leave all our enthusiasm for a destination.
Are you single minded in your writing? Do you treat it as your main work and plan your day accordingly or write when the mood takes you?
For years my family (justifiably) thought of it as my ‘hobby’ and, by extension, so did I. Since the publication of Turn of the Tide in 2011, I think of it as a career I’m pursuing, and try to schedule writing time, alongside my other family and church commitments.
You would call your main genre Historical Fiction wouldn’t you? How would you describe your writing style to potential readers?
My main genre is Historical Fiction, though many of my short stories are contemporary – but they are often as far removed from me in location, as the historicals are in time. I am passionate about authenticity and aim to give readers a ‘you are there experience’ – whether that is in the 16thc or in modern-day Afghanistan.
Secondly, my Christian faith is central to everything I do, and therefore key to both what and how I write. So you won’t find explicit sex, or strong language in my books, and where violence is required because of the historical context, I try to ensure it isn’t gratuitous. No room either for the attitude my old headmaster used to describe as A.I.D.R. – ‘Ach, it’ll do rightly.’ I believe I owe it to readers to treat writing seriously, to write to the best of my ability and to take the time to edit and hone until it’s as good as I can get it.
Can you give fellow writers any marketing tips?
Pre-covid, as a hybrid author (both traditionally and self-published), though I paid lip service to e-books, I mostly marketed traditionally – focusing on paperbacks, speaking at live events and to book groups, and so on. However, in March I had to quickly start to think like an ‘Indie’ and began to learn Amazon ads and to use paid promotional sites. Marketing is most effective if multi-faceted and visibility is key – whether on social media, Amazon or wherever. An important rule of thumb on social media particularly is to ‘give’ more than you ‘ask’ – be generous with advice and encouragement where you can, rather than constantly plugging your own work.
Have you one annoying habit you can share with us?
My husband would say it is finishing his sentences for him – when I’m too impatient to wait for him to get to the end of what he wants to say! I have also been known to do that to others sometimes – which is not so good…
What pastimes keep your feet on the ground, or maybe not, when you aren’t writing?
Not so sure about keeping my feet on the ground, but I love houses, particularly old ones and have ‘Escape to the Country’ set on permanent record, as well as browsing estate agent windows wherever I go and downloading particulars from the internet. One bonus of the current crisis is that almost all of them come with a virtual house tour – generally great (apart from the choice of background music).
Was there a single moment in your writing life when you thought ‘YES, THIS IS IT’? Can you describe that moment for us?
I think it has to be when my second book – A House Divided – was published. I found that second book the hardest to write – partly because I was aware (and scared) of reader expectations, and partly because I wondered if I was a ‘one-trick pony’. It was an enormous relief to see it ‘out there’ and even more so when the first reviews came in and when it was long-listed in a competition. It was confirmation a) that I could keep it up and b) that folk enjoyed what I wrote.
We’d love to hear your latest news:
The big thing for me just now is Audio versions of the Scottish trilogy. I have found a wonderful narrator in Dave Gillies – the books are demanding because of the many and varied characters – but he’s doing a fantastic job. My part is to proof-listen to his recordings and send back any edits / corrections / comments before he does a second pass. It has been an interesting process.
The first book is now on Audible, Amazon, Google, Apple, Kobo and various other sites, the first review of the Audio has appeared on Goodreads and we are at the final edit stage of Book 2. By early October the whole trilogy should be available, which is both an exciting and a daunting prospect.
And finally Margaret, do you see yourself writing in five years time and have you ever been tempted to write in a different genre to surprise your readers?
Short of Alzheimers, I can’t imagine myself stopping – although it isn’t the easiest way to make some income, I love almost every minute of it, especially the face-to-face interaction with readers, which sadly isn’t currently possible, but vaccine-permitting I hope will be soon. As for genre – just now I’m considering a contemporary biography, and an historical mystery series, but whether for adult or YA I’m not sure – watch this space!
Thank you so much for inviting, me, Diana, I hope I haven’t rambled on too long! And if anyone wants to contact me directly they can find me on my website, FB or Twitter.
A most enjoyable Interview Margaret. Thank you once again and I wish you success in your new audio book venture!
Links to find out more about Margaret’ writing:
@margaretskea1 on Twitter