A week in publishing…

Dust Blowing and Other Stories has been out for 2 weeks in ebook format and 1 week as a paperback. It has been fascinating and rather humbling to see what other authors the collection has been ranked beside in the Amazon listings in the first days following publication, so I thought I’d share some screenshots here.

amazon-ja-2110First up – Jeffrey Archer – I’ve always enjoyed his short stories, so very happy to just a few places below his latest collection. Hopefully reviews will start to come in for my stories too…

That was followed by Barbara Erskine – another writer that I have long admired – ever since I first read Lady of Hay, so it was rather exciting to briefly find myself sitting just above her collection. amazon-barbara-erskine-2210

The following day it was Edgar Allan Poe  and who wouldn’t be delighted to be ranked alongside that most accomplished of short story writers?amazon-edgar-allan-poe-2210

No doubt it is a reflection of the fact that there aren’t so many short story collections available on Kindle, but it didn’t diminish my pleasure in sitting alongside such fine writers, even if just for an hour or two, and it was fun to check in each day to see who I might be beside.


I’ve never heard of Yahya Hakki – maybe this is an author I should be getting to know, but it was interesting, following Poe, to find myself sandwiched between Franz Kafka and Jeffrey Archer. The next two days brought three more authors that I’m proud to be able to share a screenshot with – first  William Trevor and Anton Checkov.amazon-chekov-trevor-2410

and finally, Hilary Mantel.  Not that I’m comparing my writing with any of these authors but it has been nice to be associated with them, however tenuously! And to have the photos to remind me of that first week is rather special.




Now why did I never see this before?

Almost a year ago I spoke at Ayr Writers’ Club on creating a sense of place. And being an historical writer for me that includes period, but the principles apply whatever era you’re writing in even if it’s only last week. Though of course for last week it’s easier to take your reader with you. – Or it should be at least.  I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with them (and the short stories I read later when judging their competition) and it seems, by this report in their blog, that they (or at least the blog writer) did too.  He clearly didn’t fall asleep while I was talking for he covered most of what I said.

It was a nice surprise to see this for the first time today – thank you again, Ayr Writers’ Club.

Margaret Skea: A Sense of Place and Period


The end of the (publishing) world?

Involving audiences and children particularly in helping to create the story is  a great idea and looks like a lot of fun, but I do hope it’s an ‘add-on’ and not a replacement for the printed book and the author-generated story.

Have a read of this Guardian article and see what you think…



Veteran dies

I felt it appropriate to post this link to  the Scotsman today – so few people left who went through the war as adults, those of us born later need to be reminded of the terrible things that  happened then. And the tremendous courage and fortitude of those who   suffered on our behalf to keep our country free.




Isolation Part 2

Reflections on a Writing Fellowship.


What do you call six total strangers immured together in a 17th century castle for a month, with minimal mobile phone reception, no internet and a rule of silence for nine hours per day?   Answer – ‘Hawthornden Fellows.’

From mid-February – mid-March this year I was privileged to be one of those ‘Fellows’.

The castle is not remote, but so well concealed that most of the locals don’t know of its existence. I arrived on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, as the light was beginning to fail. Automatic gates opened in response to the code I’d been sent, the long drive curving downwards through woodland carpeted with snowdrops, to an imposing red sandstone building perched on a triangle of rock above a gorge.


I passed through the main entrance to a grassed courtyard, bounded on two sides by the remains of an ancient keep and on the third by a low parapet, providing the only protection from the sheer drop to the river below. The inner door leading to a flagged stone hallway with a welcoming fire.


Later there would be time to examine the coat of arms and commemorative carved plaque on the castle wall and walk up to the walled garden to explore the library, but for now the priority was to find my room and settle in.

The writers’ rooms are on the second and garret floors, the latter reached via a steep spiral staircase, so narrow that several Fellows have to open their cases in the hall and ferry up their belongings. Each room is different, varying from tiny to very large, but all are comfortable, and have everything we need. I quickly feel at home in mine.

dining_nOur first meal, and the opportunity to meet the other ‘Fellows’ was in the formal dining room, with linen napkins and elaborate place settings, including huge pewter water goblets. We all have very different backgrounds, coming variously from Denmark, America, Ulster and England, which makes for lively and interesting discussion.

Breakfasts and dinners (other than Sundays) are served in the ‘hearth room’ at an elm table scarred by centuries of use, the porridge served in pewter bowls.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-09-08-26                           lunch-basket

Lunch is delivered to our rooms in Fortnum and Mason baskets, and at night our conversations in the drawing room are presided over by near life-size portraits of Aldous Huxley, Jean Cocteau and Truman Capote.


The food is wonderful, the staff very helpful, and there is a sense that work can and must be done here. The rule of silence between the hours of 9.00am and 6.00pm definitely helps! And work was done, each of us finding our own rhythm, but all I think achieving our self-imposed targets; in between forays into the woods and along the river: ‘thinking’ time in which to process ideas, returning re-invigorated.

I came hoping to start the third novel in my 16th century Scottish trilogy, but with no idea of a plot. I left with a storyboard covered in post-it notes and 23,500+ words of the first draft.

For almost 2 weeks there is no central heating, courtesy of a boiler failure, the castle atmospherically chilly, despite the administrator’s best efforts, so I turn my room into a ‘cave’ covering over the windows with double layers of heavy card, and the fireplace with card and a heavy quilt; the lack of natural light far out-weighed by the increased comfort. Sitting with a sheepskin rug behind my back helped too.


Not to mention the two electric heaters! Between them I only had to wear 2 layers of jumpers and a scarf… The cardboard I used to cover the windows became my storyboard – I brought it home with me when my time at Hawthornden was finished.



When the sun shone I worked in the greenhouse by the library. That way I got a view + heat, and the little table I used was small enough to move around with the sun. working-in-greenhouse-2

It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience, suffice to say it was one of the most productive months of my writing life.

On the last evening someone asked what we each might change when we go home? Imposing a 9-hour rule of silence in my house would be impossible (sadly), but my hope is to maintain a daytime embargo* on internet use.

*Editor’s note – Not so good at that I’m afraid, my next post will be Isolation Part 3  – what I’m trying out now to recreate at least part of the Hawthornden experience.