Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders, dividing her time between writing, church related voluntary activities and presenting talks, readings and workshops on writing related and historical topics.
An Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer, her first novel Turn of the Tide was the Historical Fiction winner in a Harper Collins competition for an unpublished novel. Originally published by Capercaillie Books, but now re-released by Sanderling, she has been awarded the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Novelist 2014.
Given her background perhaps it was inevitable that her debut novel would focus on the pressures and problems that living within conflict places on families, on relationships and on personal integrity. Although set in 16th century Scotland the issues it raises are equally relevant today.
The sequel, A House Divided – a sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of a religious war, feuding clans and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597 – was published in October 2016 and was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2016.
The third part, By Sword and Storm, continues the story of the Munro family, now at the court of Henry IV of France, where religious tensions remain high, Paris holding dangers as well as delights; and the ongoing conflict between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames in Scotland. For the Munros and the Montgomeries alike these are troubled times. It was published in July 2018 as an ebook and in print in October 2018.
In her first foray into biographical fiction she published Katharina: Deliverance – a novel based on the life of the wife of the reformer Martin Luther – which has just been placed 2nd in the international Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2018, the lead judge, Catherine Cho of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency saying of it –
‘The writing is very assured and evocative, the research and historical accuracy very apparent. The opening is particularly compelling and the writer captures her child narrator’s voice. It felt very immersive and a fascinating reading experience.’
The sequel, Katharina: Fortitude, completes her story, following her through the tumultuous years of her marriage. She deals with persecution, penury, plague, war a it was shortlisted for the BookBrunch Award 2020.
She is also an accomplished short story writer, with many credits for those, including in the Neil Gunn, Fish, MsLexia and Winchester competitions and some of those stories are available in the collection Dust Blowing and Other Stories.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Turn of the Tide (Munro series Book 1)
William Cunninghame, Master of Glencairn, turned from the gable window, his dark eyes sparking. He made no offer of his hand to Munro, nor any concession to ordinary courtesy, his voice echoing under the high-raftered ceiling of Kilmaur’s long hall.
“What kept you? The job is done?”
There was only one suitable answer. “She will provide the signal.”
“As she should. And willingly I hope.”
“She can be trusted?”
“Oh yes…” Munro thought of the look with which Lady Margaret had dismissed him. “Your father is a dangerous man to cross. She understands that.”
“As do we all.” William’s laugh was a bark, rolling over the clusters of men grouped in each deep window reveal, muting their conversations as if he swallowed them whole. Munro inclined his head to each group in turn. They numbered about thirty and all were known to him, albeit slightly, for all hailed from North Ayrshire or thereabouts and all shared allegiance to the Earl of Glencairn and the Cunninghame name. What they did not all share – clear, even from his cursory glance – was an equal inclination to answer this summons. Prominent among them was Clonbeith, noted both for intemperance and, more importantly for the current purpose, his skill with a hackbut. And with him, Robertland, another close kinsman, who no doubt thought to make capital from the venture. In contrast, Glencairn’s brother, John, stared at the Cunninghame arms carved into the lintel above the hearth and shifted his weight back and forward from one foot to the other, as if he suffered from a stone in his boot.
Munro studied the floor. – Dear God… There is not a house within twenty miles that will not feel the weight of what we do.
Margaret is happy to run workshops and give talks on the craft of writing or the history behind her novels in a variety of settings and to groups of any size, including Libraries, Rotary Clubs, Rurals, U3A, etc and also to visit book groups, who have chosen one of her books to read. For more information or to arrange an event visit her website at www.margaretskea.com