By Sword and Storm – Review no 2

Well, I can’t ask for any more, can I? – ‘This is an author whose grasp of the period is absolute.’

Review no 2 for ByS+S –
Just reviewed Margaret Skea’s By Sword and Storm – such a fascinating read.
” In this highly readable finale to her Munro trilogy, Margaret Skea is as sure-footed in the French Court as she is amongst the Scottish nobility. The plot has many strands and, intriguingly, many locations, reminding us that while Europe has never been politically unified, its countries have always had close relations and even given the risks of sea-crossings, Belgium, Ireland or France were always possible havens when things at home were not working out. The trilogy as a whole is highly reminiscent of the Poldark series in introducing new personalities as time goes on, in this case young Robbie Munro,gets into serious trouble in Paris while falling in love with a girl from a Huguenot family. Meanwhile in Scotland the travails of childbirth vie for our attention with the Montgomeries’ old feuds.
This is an author whose grasp of the period is absolute and if you think the storm of the title is metaphorical it is not, since Skea has added late 16th century sea-faring to her remarkable knowledge of history. From first to last page this is indeed a ‘you are there’ experience. A great finale, but I do wonder if there might not be more to come.”

I couldn’t be more thrilled!


An Unexpected Pleasure

Having a quick look on Facebook (yes I know I should already be working, but it is before 9.00 am)  I found a link to a lovely interview with me that had just been posted on another blog. It’s beautifully presented and reading it I even remember giving the answers… But what is really nice is that the blogger had taken the trouble to check the current status of my books – the interview was a while ago and I didn’t exactly know what was happening at that stage with  By Sword and Storm (not sure if we even had settled on a title). So Thank you, Kate Noble.

Here’s the link:



The wait is over!

One week in from release of By Sword and Storm and the scary wait is over – the 1st review (verified purchase) has arrived. I can breathe again!


‘A gorgeously satisfying end to Margaret Skea’s rich trilogy. Skea brings Scotland and France to life in vivid colours. Although I believe this completes the series, it seems to me that the door might have been left slightly ajar to meet up with the members of the family again at a later date. I do hope so.’
As regular readers will know, this book is the third in a Scottish general HF series – rooted in a real-life clan feud that ran for c 150 years, it follows the fortunes of some of the main protagonists plus, importantly, a fictional family trapped within it. Publisher is billing it as the conclusion of a trilogy – and I guess it is, but I am hoping to revisit this story at a later date…
Undiscovered Scotland reviewed A House Divided – the 2nd book in the series, post-publication – and this time round were sent an early review copy.  They have written a comprehensive (and rather nice) review, but as they won’t be publishing it in full until the print launch I can’t reproduce it here.
I can however give a taster from it.
“There are colourful individuals, opulent settings and clashes of personality aplenty. There are thoughtful and level headed characters as well as those who let their tempers get the better of them. There are relationships which work and those that are destined to fail. The result is a hugely satisfying read which leaves this reader, in particular, hoping that there will be another book in this excellent series.”
The publisher has put this out to various bloggers – it will be interesting to see what their reactions are. I just hope the wait for these isn’t too long…

Finally! By Sword and Storm.

Many of you will know that I began By Sword and Storm in February 2016 at Hawthornden Castle – in atmospherically chilly conditions, when the central heating broke down – it was one of the most productive months of my life.

The ebook has been available for a week now – it has the publisher’s choice of cover – and I have been having a little bit of fun collecting screen shots of it sitting near or next to various Sharpe novels in the Amazon rankings.





Next week I expect to receive the print copies. Here’s a wee preview of the cover from The Book Depository pre-order service and suggestions of accompanying books from them and from Waterstones Online



– it seems they’re placing me in good company!

The print will be officially launched in September – but it’s rather nice to know that it’s already available to pre-order – the discount on the pre-order was a new and unexpected bonus.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

You want me to go to the execution?’

Kate shut her mind against the horror of it, said,

‘I shall scream with the rest.’

 The French Wars of Religion are drawing to an end, the Edict of Nantes establishing religious freedom in all but Paris.

For the exiled Adam and Kate Munro, the child Kate carries symbolizes a new life free from past troubles; despite a lingering nostalgia for Scotland and the friendship of the Montgomeries.

When Adam foils an attempt on the French king’s life his reward is a place at court for the whole family. But religious tensions remain high, and Paris holds dangers as well as delights.

For the Munros and Montgomeries alike, these are troubled times…

And a wee taster from the opening:

By Sword and Storm

Chapter 1.

At first it was no more than a whisper, carried on the breeze. The King is coming. A priest crossing the cathedral close heard it and, shaking his head, boxed the ear of the urchin who dared give it voice – a malicious rumour, surely, Mercoeur’s flag still fluttering above the chateau, but no less dangerous for all that. For a rumour once started could travel like flame through the city, trailing destruction in its wake. The boy, one hand clamped to the side of his head, retaliated with a well-aimed kick, before darting through the gate leading onto the Grand Rue to melt into the crowd that thronged there, his excitement undiminished.

It was not rumour, not a flame; rather water, a trickle become a stream, slipping through the dense alleyways, lapping at the doors of the narrow half-timbered warren of houses jostling each other as they stretched upwards to find a sliver of sky. It gathered momentum, flowing southwards to the Rue des Jacobins and La Fosse, to the hôtels of the merchants who grew fat on the spoils of commerce. It reached the Maison de Tourelles, and the ears of André Ruiz, who, so the story went, had once entertained an emir with capons and truffles, frangipane and apricot tartlets, custards and cheeses and succulent curls of artichoke, washed down with the finest of wines from the Loire. Ruiz regarded the messenger with narrowed eyes, his fingers raised to his lips and pressed tight together in contemplation. After a pause in which the messenger studied the floor, awaiting dismissal or the flare of rage of which the merchant was on occasion capable, Ruiz nodded twice and thrusting back his chair called for his cloak. If the tale should prove to have substance he would take care to ensure he was among those who greeted this king, for what use wealth if gain could not be made of it.

Extract from an early review:

“There are colourful individuals, opulent settings and clashes of personality aplenty. There are thoughtful and level headed characters as well as those who let their tempers get the better of them. There are relationships which work and those that are destined to fail. The result is a hugely satisfying read which leaves this reader, in particular, hoping that there will be another book in this excellent series.”   Undiscovered Scotland.

A first for me – a feature in a German newspaper

Torgau paperYesterday a link dropped onto my FB author page which, once I’d realised it was a link (several hours and someone’s comment later) took me straight to an article in a German newspaper, featuring the research visit I’d made to Torgau in Saxony just over a year ago. I was travelling in the footsteps of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who became Martin Luther’s wife, in order to paint an authentic background to my novel Katharina: Deliverance. Although I can’t read German, and have to rely on the less than idiomatic FB translation, it seems a lovely article and I’m chuffed to bits.

Yesterday I also discovered, in the spam folder of my email, that Torgau Information Centre had written to me two weeks ago, wanting a photograph to go with the article, but  by the time I found it the piece was written and published. Moral of the story – check your spam folder more than once a month! I am hoping that they might be able to send me a scanned copy of the article that I can print out and keep – to join my wee archive of newspaper coverage that I’ve had over the last few years. For those of you who can read German here’s the link

For those who can’t,  google translate gives the gist!

So my thanks to Anja, Ursula and Katrin of Torgau Tourist Information Centre and to Sebastian who wrote the article.


Latest news

Munro no 3 – By Sword and Storm – will soon be hitting the bookshops (and e-readers). The proof-reader has been through it, but I still need to check anything that needs altered as a result, and I’m in discussion with Corazon and with myself re the cover. Formatter is on standby (at least I hope she is) as is the printer, (ditto). And we’re working on the possibility of some ARCs to be sent as review copies. (There are some technical hitches with those, but hopefully they will be resolved soon, courtesy of the KDP print service, which may solve the problem of getting a small number of print copies without having to re-mortgage the house).

If all goes well it won’t be long now…

In the meantime two Amazon related notifications that some of you might be interested in. The first is an article about Eoin Purcell – Head of Amazon Publishing UK – the publishing wing is distinct from Amazon marketplace.

The second is an Amazon Academy day to be held in Newcastle on the 5th June. I was an attendee at a similar event last year in Edinburgh and it was very useful and informative. This time I will be one of the panellists.  Oh, and it’s FREE. If you’re within shooting distance of Newcastle (or even if you aren’t) it would be good to see you there.



A lovely lady – Drue Heinz

The papers this week have been full of obituaries of Drue Heinz, the lovely lady who gave so generously to support writers in both the US and the UK. I was fortunate enough to be awarded two Hawthornden Fellowships (in 2011 and 2016). It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience, suffice to say they have been two of the most productive writing months of my life and I am immensely grateful for the generosity that made them possible.

Here is a flavour of the Hawthornden experience

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 2016 I was privileged to be one of those ‘Fellows’. hawthornden

I arrived on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in February, just as the light was beginning to fail. As I keyed in the code I’d been sent, tall gates swung back allowing me entrance to a long drive curving downwards through woodland carpeted with snowdrops. Beyond the main entrance to the castle is 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 of 100 feet or more to the river below. The inner door opened onto a flagged stone hallway with a welcoming open fire. Later there would be time to examine the coat of arms above the entrance, the commemorative stone plaque on the castle wall and the library, but for now the priority is 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 folk have to open their cases in the entrance hall and ferry their belongings up by the armload. 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_n

Our first meal was in the formal dining room with linen napkins and elaborate place settings, including pewter water goblets. It was also the opportunity to meet the other ‘Fellows’ with whom I would spend the next month. Aside from me (from Ulster, living in Scotland) there was one American, one Dane and three English, all with very different backgrounds, which made for lively and interesting discussions and unexpected insights.

Breakfasts and dinners (other than Sundays) are served in the ‘hearth room’, the elm table scarred by centuries of use, the porridge served in pewter bowls. Lunch is delivered to our rooms in Fortnum and Mason baskets, and at night our chat in the drawing room is presided over by near life-size portraits of Aldous Huxley, Jean Cocteau and Truman Capote.drawing-room

paintings-in-loungeThere is a sense that work can and must be done here. 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, and to return re-invigorated. My target was 20,000 words of a new novel, for which I had no idea of plot. I came home with a storyboard covered in post-it notes and 23,500+ words of a first draft.

For almost 2 weeks there was no central heating, courtesy of a boiler failure, which in February in a 17th century castle is atmospherically chilly, despite the administrator’s best efforts. So I turned my room into a ‘cave’ covering over the windows with double layers of heavy card, the lack of natural light far out-weighed by the increased comfort. And when the sun shone, I worked in the greenhouse in the walled garden.


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

Would I go back? Like a shot.

Here’s the link to the Herald obituary (in which I get a mention).