Stats are boring – right?

Not being a mathematical sort of person (and being married to someone whose degree was in Statistics and with three children who have all been inclined to the sciences) I’ve always contended (on principle) that stats, and mathematics topics generally, are boring.

But today, while updating my ‘Events’ page on my website, I was seduced into gathering the statistics for the last four years, since I moved from being traditionally published to first of all Indie and now a hybrid author, with a foot in both the traditional and Indie camps.

And I have to (reluctantly) admit that I found them rather interesting (don’t tell my family).

In the hope that you might too – here they are:

Numbers first –

Author events: talks, presentations – 55

: workshops – 5

:panellist in shared events – 4

: 5 minute reads (open mic events / shared festival events) – 11

Chairing events: involving others – 10

Book Launches: 2 launches for each of 3 novels, 1 x Short story collection

And one (wonderful) month-long writer’s fellowship. For those who might find it interesting –  a link to some reflections on my time  at Hawthorden Castle.   

And if I haven’t totally bored you with the figures, some detail:

Author presentations – (I love making up Powerpoints, but I so wish I really knew what I was doing, as it would be a much more efficient use of time…)

I love talking about writing, about my books and a wide variety of related topics – from the trials, tribulations, and sheer joy of research, to the historical context for Macbeth. Macbeth

From Food Standards Agency 16th century-style                          What's in this meat pie copy

to the influence of place.  From my (long) road to publication to the impact of faith on fiction.

Brother wordprocessor Salt and Light

 

And many more. Some are very personal, some focused on history and the historical background both to my books and the 16th century in general. And while I feel very at home in the 16th century now, I’m quite glad I don’t have to actually live there!

Workshops  range from the more general He said She saidHe said, she said. Writing Effective Dialogue.’ and ‘Stealing Stories – Where fact and fiction meet.’ to the specific ‘Writing authentic historical fiction.’  Always good fun, and the more attendee participation the better they are.

 

Chairing events has included the joy of being in conversation with a fantastic writer, Robyn Young (Brethren / Robert the Bruce trilogy) and historian David Crane (Went the Day Well – Waterloo), as well as introducing many writers in the context of Open Mic events.

Highlights as a panellist –  It’s Nae the TudorsGrantown – a new historical fiction festival at Grantown in the Scottish highlands, and taking part in an Amazon Academy Day at Newcastle upon Tyne (yes I am happy to stray over the border from time to time and it was lovely to meet and share a platform with L J Ross – a fantastically successful author who writes crime set in Northumberland). Newcastle Panel One - closer in

The book launches have been exhilerating and daunting in equal measure and I am very grateful to Waterstones, Edinburgh, Blackwells Edinburgh and Mainstreet Trading, St Boswells for hosting me.

I could hardly believe when I counted them up, that I had more than 80 events under my belt, and with some exciting new opportunities already booked ahead, I am looking forward to 2019.

An average of just over 20 events per year doesn’t really seem very many (especially not when compared to Kate Mosse’s 60+ appearances in connection with her newest book) but it’s a start…

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Why I write WW2 fiction by Clare Flynn

This week I received a forwarded email from Corazon (my ebook publisher) to inform me that Amazon had decided to offer Turn of the Tide as a monthly deal for October. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant until I posted a question on FB. Clare Flynn was one of the folk who responded – and when I discovered her book, The Chalky Sea, also the first in a series, was on offer too, I was delighted to welcome Clare onto my blog to explain why she chose to write about WW2. Over to you, Clare.

Clare Flynn Author photo

Why I decided to write about WW2

I used to say I’d never write about war. The idea didn’t appeal, and I doubted I had anything to add to the huge body of existing WW2 fiction.

Then in 2016 I moved to Eastbourne, after twenty years in London. Knowing nothing about the history of Eastbourne, it was a surprise to discover it was the most heavily bombed town in SE England. 199 people were killed in sustained bombing raids on Eastbourne between July 1940, a month before the London Blitz began, until March 1944.

The first raids were probably to ‘soften up’ the town ahead of Hitler’s planned invasion, Operation Sea Lion, on the Sussex coast. When that was called off Eastbourne saw no respite. It was subject to “tip and run” raids, where bombers flew under the radar then, as they reached the coast, soared over Beachy Head, banked and swooped on the town before nipping back across the Channel.

In July 1941 Eastbourne had its first influx of Canadian soldiers. Volunteers, they were eager for action, but had spent the first years of the war in reserve, doing exercises and manoeuvres and seeing nothing of the enemy. Their arrival was not announced officially, but within a week the local newspaper was already referring to “our guests”.

This concentration of Canadian soldiers was another reason for Eastbourne being a target, especially in the run-up to the catastrophic Dieppe raid. Intelligence may have been leaked to the Germans about the forthcoming attack, as the residential area where numerous Canadians were billeted was heavily bombed.

The Canadians must have been frustrated by their lack of combat. Instead they scaled the cliffs, practised on the firing ranges on the Downs, and undertook large scale manoeuvres and tank movements. They made use of the leisure activities including dances at the Winter Garden. The town produced 150 war brides.

My interest was heightened when I discovered many Canadians were billeted in the area where I live, Meads – with an officers’ mess in a house in my road and gatherings around the piano in the local pubs, The Ship and The Pilot.

The idea of setting a book here became irresistible. Within two months of arriving, I began The Chalky Sea. It’s set mostly in Eastbourne, as well as the Aldershot garrison and Ontario, Canada.

Chalky Sea cover image

The Chalky Sea is the story of Gwen an Eastbourne woman, alone and refusing to evacuate the town after the departure of her officer husband to war; and Jim, a young Canadian farmer, who joins up to escape a broken heart. The book follows their individual journeys and examines the impact of war on them and how it changes them profoundly.

My home is above the town with views of the Downs and the sea. Each morning in the kitchen making tea, I imagined Gwen looking out at the ever-changing chalky sea. Instead of tankers and container ships in the Channel, she would have looked out for those low-flying planes. Instead of a lawn, the garden would have been a vegetable patch, along with an Anderson shelter.

Wherever I went in the town, I pictured it in the 1940s. The famous Carpet Gardens on the promenade became vegetable plots, the pier was cut in half and mined to impede German landing-craft, and the beaches were covered in barbed wire and tank-traps.

I wrote The Chalky Sea, as a standalone book – but many questions about what befell Gwen and Jim after the war, so I wrote a sequel, The Alien Corn, set in Canada and on the Italian front. This year The Frozen River followed. Writing about World War 2 has proved fascinating so I’m working on an unrelated novel set in 1938/39. This time the sea and the merchant navy are at the core – and I’ll take the characters on into the war itself in a subsequent book.

The Chalky Sea is available on Amazon (UK, USA and Europe) for 99p (99c) throughout October.

Brief biography

Clare Flynn is the British author of eight historical novels. Her books deal with displacement – both physical and emotional and have a strong sense of time and place. They draw on her extensive travels and experience living in many different places.

Links

https://clareflynn.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn

 

Munro meets the Poldarks.

Now here’s a thing – every writer has authors who have inspired them, whose work they admire and whom they would like to be compared to.

For me, one of those authors is Winston Graham, and in particular, the Poldark novels, especially the earlier ones.  (Another is Daphne du Maurier, but that’s another story, for another day.)

In fact, before I began to write my first Scottish novel, I dissected Graham’s first – Ross Poldark, analysing it in terms of, for example, structure, the interweaving of plotlines, the balance between dialogue, narration and description, and the methods used to convey the period.  In Turn of the Tide I didn’t set out to mimic Ross Poldark, but rather to apply the principles that I’d drawn from it.

So, in a sense, I’ve always though of Graham as a mentor. Which is why I was delighted when by chance I looked on Amazon one day and found Turn of the Tide sitting just below Demelza in the Amazon rankings. And thus began a wee contest with myself (some might say obsession!) – to try to collect screenshots with all of the Poldark novels.

And here they are – it took several weeks and countless quick forays into the Amazon lists, on both the UK site and the Australian one, but finally I got them all. They aren’t in the order I collected them, but in the order of the Poldark books.

Turn of the Tide + Ross Poldark 3 UKTurn of the Tide + Demelza Aug 2017 UKTOT and Jeremy Poldark Aug 2107

I wanted to ‘capture’ the books in pairs, but in the case of Warleggan that wasn’t possible and I had to settle in the end for a group of four. (I’m sure someone really technical could have cut out a diagonal, or blanked out the others, but that isn’t me – sadly.)

 

And as you can see I haven’t mastered the art of equalising the size of images either, but hey – I have them all – and that (ridiculous as it may seem) gives me a wee frisson of pleasure. It was interesting to see the different covers that had been produced over the recent past, my favourites are definitely the ones with some kind of paper in the background and a central image. And the idea of a distinct branding for a series is one I shall remember. I’m not sure about the image of Ross in the bottom corner, though. (Sorry Aidan Turner!)

 

Turn of the Tide + Four Swans Aug 2017 UKToT (#21) + Angry Tide Aug 20 AUTot + The stranger From the Sea Aug 2017Some of the titles I could have ‘captured’ multiple times, others remained elusive. The final one – which happened to be The Miller’s Dance – was frustratingly tricky – for days, as it went up, Turn of the Tide went down, and vice versa and as the maximum distance between them allowing me to capture a screen shot was one row either way, there couldn’t be more than 4 places between them. However, I got it in the end and as you can see from the numbers, came very close to not getting it at all.

Tot + Miller's Dance AU 11:09:17Each time I look at them it reminds of the way an individual story (or stories) take centre stage in the different books, but there remains a cohesion that runs through them all.Turn of the Tide + The Loving Cup (2) (UK) Aug 2017Interesting, too, for me, to see how the series develops, particularly over the lengthy time span and the move from a focus on Ross and Demelza themselves, to their children. And as a result how it is Demelza who increasingly becomes the more important character in the marriage partnership, through her empathy and greater understanding of their struggles.
Tot and Twisted Sword Aug 2017
Tot + Bella Poldark BB (AU)2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an example of how to develop a saga it continues to impress me and I couldn’t help be encouraged when someone likened the Munro saga to a Scottish Poldark – that can’t be bad. Though whether I could sustain their story for 12 books I’m not sure. Time will tell…

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: https://thequietknitterer.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/celebrating-indie-publishing-with-margaretskea1-indiereads/

 

 

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.